When you hear the word compensation, what do you usually think of?  Is it a word to describe something positive or negative?  Something normal or abnormal?  Something done out of abundance or inadequacy?  As a personal trainer in Schaumburg, this is often a topic of discussion.

A quick Google search brings up two prominent definitions for compensation:

  1. The money provided to an employee for their work, or to a party due to loss, injury or suffering.
  2. Something that counterbalances or makes up for an undesirable or unwelcome state of affairs.

As it relates to exercise and movement, the second definition above is typically how compensation is used.  Compensation usually labels a movement that is done in a manner outside of the parameters that we find to be “normal,” “correct,” or “appropriate.”  Essentially, we use this to describe a movement that is not “perfect.”

I want to challenge you to start thinking about compensation as a description of all movement.


Here’s why:

Every time you ask your body to move (consciously and unconsciously) your body must come up with a solution to the movement-based problem.  For example, if you are going to walk to the mailbox, your body must figure out a solution how to get up out of the chair; how to move each leg in front of the other to walk; how to get over hurdles like the door frame and any uneven sidewalk tiles; and then, finally, your shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand need to figure out how to open the mailbox and retrieve the mail.

This “problem/solution” idea could also be applied to exercise.  If you are planning to do an overhead press with dumbbells, your body needs to figure out how to keep the dumbbells from falling on your head; how to lift the weights with your elbows, forearms, and upper arms in the correct position; and how to produce the motion at the desired speed.  

The way in which we do any movement is a SOLUTION to a movement-based problem.  

There are many solutions to each problem.  If an uncompensated motion solution is plan “A,” compensation would be every motion plan “B-Z.”  Each solution can get the job done, but it is not the same as plan “A,” just as Plan “B” is different than Plan “C,” etc.

Here’s the thing: your body is ALWAYS going to move and use whatever plan is easiest and most efficient at that specific time.  You, your trainer, your therapist, etc, has little to no control over this!

The catch is, what may be most efficient at that moment may actually be detrimental in the long term.  So, while we have to respect compensation in the here and now, we should also consider progressively addressing it over time to help minimize potential long-term issues.

Muscle Activation Techniques™ is a systematic process designed to assess for and address these compensatory issues.  With Muscle Activation Techniques™, the goal is to maximize the available options you have to use when you move by improving how your muscles contract and function.  It is not to have you move in one ideal, cookie-cutter fashion.  The Muscle Activation Techniques™ process is able to assess your body as an individual and identify where your biggest issues are that are creating your compensatory movements.  Then, those specific issues are able to be appropriately addressed.

If you do an activity in Plan “B” fashion, that is likely your body’s best option at that moment in time. You need to be extremely mindful when you decide that your motion is “compensated.”  You must keep in mind that however you are moving at a given time is likely your current Plan “A”!

– Julie

Julie Cates

Julie Cates is an experienced, certified, and insured National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certified Personal Trainer and mastery level Muscle Activation Techniques® (MAT®) Rx Specialist (MATRx). She is one of 88 certified mastery level Resistance Training Specialists® (RTSm) in the world. This combination makes her style of training impactful and still preventative and restorative of joint and muscle issues and pain that are common with exercise. Julie specializes working with women 50 and over. Specifically, her main focus is working with women with bone density loss, muscle loss, Osteopenia, and Osteoporosis. Julie has incredible experience working with brand new exercisers. Very specific types and styles of exercises are needed for restoring and maintaining bone density, and Julie guides her clients through these in a pain-free way. She is also well experienced in helping women exercise even with various joint, bone, systemic, and neurological diagnoses. Julie is definitely your go-to personal trainer for women with Osteoporosis! Julie graduated cum laude from the University of Florida. She earned her degree in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology with a specialization in Exercise Physiology. Julie is the co-owner of Muscle Activation Schaumburg in Schaumburg, IL. She is a wife and mother of two. Julie can be reached via e-mail at julie@matschaumburg.com. Follow her on Instagram at @julcates!