Movement Principles

There are common truths and principles that should be the building blocks of any philosophy, program or system that considers physical development or rehabilitation.

See if you agree with me on these statements . . . I believe strongly in them:

We cannot develop ourselves, or others, better than nature.


We can develop ourselves and others safer and faster than nature.


Proper progression is mastery of one level of development before proceeding to the next.


These aren’t the principles. These are the basic concepts of living within an environment; not taking more than is needed. I’ll borrow language from the environmentalist, Aldo Leopold, who said it succinctly and profoundly:

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve integrity,
stability and beauty.
It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

As we developed Functional Movement Systems, these truths were expressed through ten movement principles; detailed, multifaceted action points to guide movement observation, screening, assessment and treatment.

Oh yeah, and they were difficult for me to cleanly express and even harder for you to remember. As much as I believe all ten still apply (and keep reading . . . they do), I also knew that I could do better if I took it to the very root of Functional Movement Systems’ philosophy.

I realized that I had assembled a collection of movement maxims that point to a consistent theme. That theme needed to be clearly identified and ridiculously simple. As Einstein said, “Everything must be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

That philosophy can be distilled into three movement principles. They are simple, yet contain every aspect of physical development to better our understanding and guide our efforts:

Principle 1 states that we should first move well, then move often
Seek a qualitative minimum before we worry about quantities. If moving well is the standard, moving often is the foreseeable outcome.

Principle 2 directs us to protect, correct, and develop the movement of those in our care
Guided by the Hippocratic Oath, first do no harm and then progress in direction of independence and sustainability

Principle 3 tells us to create systems that enforce our philosophy
Implement of standard operating procedures, practice intelligent selection, always matching the risk:challenge ratio to the growth and development desired.

If you believe in Principle 1, you honor it with Principle 2.
To take action on Principle 2, implement Principle 3.

These are simple statements, but they should force us to contemplate how we currently look at development.

I love Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, and finding a common why statement is the starting point for our discussions on movement. We can have diverse backgrounds and occupations; our commonality is found in our shared principles.

What we do and how we do it are always fairly easy to determine, but why is often lacking or even forgotten. “Why?” is the most important question, because its answer is our emotional connection to the professional actions that we take.

We’ve been working without a shared professional why for far too long, and that, in itself, is part of the current problem with movement health. Without a why statement, we’ve been looking incorrectly at the very basics of movement.

The why statement behind all we do is in these three principles. Learn them, contemplate them, vet them and implement them. That done, we are well on the way to finding and developing solutions. 

Movement Principle 1: First move well, then move often

Principle 1 tells us to move well, then move often. I firmly believe this is the life lesson that nature teaches us; I see it in animals and those people who are the physically and spiritually healthiest.

Principle 1 is our natural principle.

I hope that protecting this beautiful interplay between competency—moving well—and capacity—moving often, is why you go to work each day. It’s definitely what keeps me going.

We must protect it because, despite what many current fitness philosophies say, the principle does not work in reverse. It is not natural to build capacity on incompetence . . . at least, in nature, it usually doesn’t have a good outcome.


You may have noticed that we have incorporated the first principle into the FMS logo. The lack of punctuation after move often is not an oversight, but an insight. The period following move well means that we need a biomarker before progressing to capacity. The lack of a closing period symbolizes sustainability.

Moving well enables us to adapt. Here’s how: It gives us opportunities to develop. Moving often keeps us in contact with environment.

We should move well enough to respond and often enough to adapt. Moving well allows us to respond appropriately to environmental signals. It sets up the feedback that is vital for progressive movement learning. Moving often adds volume across time which allows our patterns and tissues to adapt.

trainingwheelsWe need to see movement for what it is—the most distinguishable sign of life—a true vital sign. If we look at the developmental model, we are born with mobility and earn stability. We transition from fundamental to functional movements. Even the most highly developed running and climbing skills have roots in our primal patterns.

Understanding this amazing process is understanding that movement is driven through perception and behavior.

If we look at movement today, what do we see? The current outlook is a decline of fundamental movement patterns. We see a population that lacks quality in movements that should be a birthright.

We can look at the Kraus-Weber tests of 1954 in which 57.9% of American children failed a postural fitness test that only 8.7% of European children failed; or the United States’ need to continually reduce standards for military service for the past half-century.


This decline is a sign that our environments are now adapted for comfort and convenience. We have stopped adapting to the environment and have instead decided to change the environment to fit our needs. For the most part, this hasn’t worked well for the environment . . . or for us.

Sure, there are fitness revolutions every few years and we’re trying to make schools healthier. But industry is currently pushing a fitness solution to a health problem, and the populace is usually glad to accept.

Food presents a great analogy to this situation; when we had a diet of whole, natural foods, we didn’t have to preface the word diet with healthy and we didn’t have to rely on supplements for our nutrients. Likewise, we should not have to add the word functional to movement.

Why would you do it if it wasn’t functional?

Whether through vitamins or un-focused exercise, supplementation is rarely the answer and it is surely not a sustainable solution.

Movement Principle 2: Protect, correct, and develop

If we lack fundamental movements, the path to fitness and health does not begin with supplementary exercise. That is the paradigm that puts quantity before quality—it attempts to build fitness on dysfunction—it focuses on parts. The first principle has somehow been reversed—people move often and hope that moving well will just happen. It won’t. And movement problems will only get worse when compounded by frequency.

The solution is simple—we need to quit lowering fitness standards. We can meet the old ones just fine if we raise movement standards. We also need to quit focusing on parts; reductionism, the breakdown of movement into isolated segments, has not reduced our musculoskeletal injuries nor has it made us healthier or more fit.

Patterns and sequences remain the preferred mode of operation in biological organisms, and that is where our focus do you move2

Why does the first principle work? Why do we move? Because movement affords us opportunity. It is on the foundation of movement that development occurs through the SAID principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand.

Moving well before moving often—this order offers us the greatest exposure to opportunities and risk. Moving well before moving often also offers us the greatest adaptation to environment

Let’s pick back up and look at that word risk. It is not as scary as it sounds if we invoke our second principle: protection always precedes correction, which in turn, precedes development. If we go back to our common truths, we believe that nature’s ability to nurture strong and gracefully aging bodies cannot be bested, but we also understand that nature is not concerned about or even aware of your personal or specific development.

Nature is big and it can be harsh. Nature doesn’t stop to wait for your adaptation and development and sometimes the lessons it teaches are not survivable. The second principle requires us to develop a non-failure environment.

don't walk

The SAID Principle should never be used as the sole excuse to lift more weight, run faster, climb farther, swim harder or fight bigger opponents. That thinking puts more before better.

This statement should not sound negative to you in any way. Our pursuits of success create large amounts of risk and failure. Better to focus on non-failure at each level, ensuring a stable base for each new ability.

Unfortunately, we see the success we want and don’t embrace the slow-growth, cultural approach that creates long term successful development. Nothing in motor science supports early specialization—but that is now the norm.

Protect from opportunities that do not promote productive feedback and/or impose risk.

Correct feedback by magnifying misread obstacles within the learning path.

Develop progressions with rich sensory experience and clear, robust feedback to foster independence and productive self-regulation.

You do not move to the next level of development until you are competent and independent at your current level—and can sustain it. Principle 2 is our ethical principle, and we would rather injure your pride than your body.

Movement Principle 3: Create systems that enforce your philosophy

When discussing progressive levels of development, we believe that we can develop you faster and safer than nature. This belief guides us to Principle 3, directing us to create systems that enforce our philosophy.

Principle 3 is the practical principle.

Standard operating procedures and intelligent selection protect those who entrust their health and fitness to us.

But where should a system start? It should recognize that we cannot know anything without perspective—that we cannot progress without baselines. Earlier I mentioned movement as a vital sign of life, and along with blood pressure and body temperature and many others, it absolutely is.

Unlike that long list, we currently have no baseline for understanding movement as a vital sign.

If we can have a system that looks at fundamental movement patterns, we can create a baseline.

With that baseline, we can identify and demonstrate the fundamental movements that are missing, deficient or dysfunctional. If movement is below a vital sign or ability—that’s dysfunction; below an environmental standard—that’s deficiency (necessary, but not sufficient). We can communicate these states to colleagues and medical professionals in a common language that, in itself, will enforce responsibility and accountability.

With a common language and knowledge of the movement issues, we can help the individual regain these fundamentals. We can use those metrics to determine our protective, corrective and development strategies. We’ll have our version of the pre-flight checklist.


The FMS can be used on intake at fitness—to establish a baseline upon which to build fitness and identify health problems for proper medical referrals. The Functional Movement Screen can set a baseline upon discharge from rehabilitation: Is this individual heathy enough to move often? To develop?

Do you know the number one risk factor for injury? Yep, previous injury—too many individuals are cleared for activity before they are free from the vital signs that demonstrate lack of competency—resulting from poor adaptation, previous injury or poor environmental choices. Current systems are not working.

Click here to learn more about Three Principles you Can Apply to Any Movement

Gray Cook & Greg Rose Three Principles Video

Or check out the Principles Digital Bundle

From Ten to Three

I want to leave you with another favorite quote. Once, when asked what would solve the world’s problems, the Dalai Lama replied, “Critical thinking, followed by action.” 

The three movement principles you’ve just read are the critical thinking you need to observe, screen, assess, treat and develop movement. The original ten principles still apply as maxims or action points, so use them when appropriate—but let the simple principles drive everything.

Here they are, as presented in Movement, each followed by the underlying principles that inspire and power them (plus a few clarifying thoughts).

Movement Principle 1
Separate painful movement patterns from dysfunctional movement patterns whenever possible to create clarity and perspective.

First move well, then move often (Eliminate pain and dysfunction.)
Protect, correct, and develop (. . .through a strategic plan of action.)

Movement Principle 2
The starting point for movement learning is a reproducible movement baseline.

First move well, then move often (Well enough must be standardized.)
Protect, correct, and develop (Standards must be tied to action.)

Movement Principle 3
Biomechanical and physiological evaluation doesn’t provide a complete risk screening or diagnostic assessment tool for a comprehensive understanding of movement-pattern behaviors.

Protect, correct, and develop (Compartmentalize movement behaviors and manage them appropriately.)

Movement Principle 4
Movement learning and re-learning has hierarchies that are fundamental to the development of perception and behavior.

First move well, then move often (Competency before capacity.)
Protect, correct, and develop (Responsible action when competency is in question.)

Movement Principle 5
Corrective exercise shouldn’t be a rehearsal of outputs. Instead, it should represent challenging opportunities to manage mistakes on a functional level near the edge of ability.

Protect, correct, and develop (Standard actions to create or restrain opportunities.)
Create systems that enforce your philosophy (Standard operating procedure for engineered opportunities.)

Movement Principle 6
Perception drives movement behavior, and movement behavior modulates perception.

First move well, then move often (Well enough to respond, often enough to adapt.)

Movement Principle 7
We shouldn’t put fitness on movement dysfunction.

First move well, then move often (We must have a competency line.)
Protect, correct, and develop (We must enforce the competency line.)

Movement Principle 8
We must develop performance and skill considering each tier in a natural progression of movement development and specialization. This is the pyramid model of competency, capacity and specialization.

First move well, then move often (The organism’s baseline)
Protect, correct, and develop (Environmental engineering)

Movement Principle 9
Our corrective exercise dosage recipe suggests that we work closely to the baseline, at the edge of ability and with a clear goal. This should produce a rich sensory experience filled with manageable mistakes.

First move well, then move often
Protect, correct, and develop
Create systems that enforce your philosophy
(When competency is in question, create feedback loops that remove all questions.)

Movement Principle 10
The routine practice of self-limiting exercises can maintain the quality of movement perceptions and behaviors, and preserve our unique adaptability that modern conveniences erode.

First move well, then move often
Protect, correct, and develop
Create systems that enforce your philosophy
(When competency must be maintained, create feedback loops that demonstrate non-failure.)


Coaching mastery is an art. It is just as much about knowing what not to do as it is about knowing what to do.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an audio version of this article,
Episode 55 of Gray Cook Radio

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Coaching and using corrective exercise is a completely new endeavor. I say completely new because we probably have more recognized movement dysfunction in front of us than at any other time in history. Many have warned us about the landscape of physical decline that current society puts upon us. We’re more sedentary than we’ve ever been before and movement dysfunction is a problem.


Historical coaching methods don’t work sometimes, but not because they’re bad coaching methods. These coaching methods were aimed at people who were not riddled with dysfunction. Or it’s likely that their dysfunctions were so minimal that a good coaching strategy (and maybe not introducing the next progression) was all it took to keep the system from being overloaded.

There’s one more important detail that we must discuss. Western society is not patient. Historical physical conditioning has always been a traditional path where self-reliance, resourcefulness, determination and, above all, patience have been squeezed out of every individual.

We often no longer have those things, patience being the largest deficit. Compound that with greater dysfunction and you could tell yourself, ‘I’m never going to get around to the workout. I’ve got so much stuff that needs to be corrected.’

This was the revelation that we experienced when we introduced the Functional Movement Screen. The last thing we ever wanted to do was slow down your enthusiastic pursuit of physical culture, athleticism or simply the need to just reshape your body and physical lifestyle.

Each of the founders of the Functional Movement Screen has a robust background of dedication to physical culture. We want workouts to move forward. We want athletes to progress. We want people to recapture a youthful body when they are actually wise enough to enjoy it . . . but that ideal wasn’t necessarily what we experienced at first. When we offered our looking glass, our perspective, our measurement of function to the world, the world was almost aghast.

There’s no way that people move this poorly.

Imagine that you were the first person to introduce an eye chart to a society. You would have a quick revelation of how many people were suffering through life with less visual perception than anyone realized. With that knowledge, you may better understand that individual’s miscommunications, their poor decisions. Anything dependent on vision is going to suffer because, for them, that filter is clogged.


How is movement any different?

When we first offer a movement screen to a society, we’re going to have backlash. Why? It’s because so many people have been in decline and their movement skills have been eroding for quite some time. It’s a harsh revelation, but any time you introduce a tighter filter for dysfunction, this is going to happen.

To the rescue comes corrective exercise: exercise and self-help targeted, not at conditioning, but at regaining the minimum required movement quality within a given pattern. Anything less will disadvantage you on your journey to learn and reshape your body, and anything more may or may not offer you a competitive advantage. It all depends on where you’re going.

When we get to movement quality, we have minimum requirements and then the environments that you choose may require some amount of superior performance. The Functional Movement Screen holds the line for the minimum acceptable movement quality in each pattern, allowing natural biological resources and environmental resources to shape, without the disadvantage of a poor filter altering their interpretation and feedback of the movement experience.

If you perform miserably on an eye chart and we hand you a pair of glasses and you proceed to replicate the same performance, my first assumption is not that your problem is more complex or that you’re not trying. Maybe I didn’t give you the right prescription. I will use the eye chart and my knowledge of visual correction to get you in a pair of glasses that dramatically and objectively exposes your visual performance as being better than it was before.

That’s why the baseline is so important.

The feedback loop for corrective exercise is very much the same. When we offer you a corrective exercise, it is strategically designed for you. If you follow the rules and apply the scores correctly, it will drastically improve movement in a very short period of time.


A short period of time, unfortunately, is relative. If you’ve only recently experienced some movement decline, your corrective strategy may take less time. If you’ve had problems with movement for a third of your lifetime, then I think I can ask you to wait maybe a month or two to see corrective exercises start to reshape and remold your movement landscape. Don’t be impatient.

When we introduced the movement screen, many exercise professionals became hypervigilant, almost policing the perfection of movement and not advocating loads or stresses unless movement were perfect. That was never our message.

We argued for minimum levels of competency and a strategic focus on bottlenecks in movement. Instead, many used the movement screen to systematically reduce hard workouts, resistance, impact and tri-planar motion. They were handling human bodies with kid gloves, using precise, corrective exercises to fix things that probably didn’t need to be fixed.

That is unfortunate because we’ve never moved perfectly, not from day one. Nowhere in the future will we ever move perfectly. There will always be little things that can be improved but the question you must ask is: “Is that the bottleneck?” Is a movement dysfunction causing your poor success in progressing to the level where you want to be?

If your movement screen is clean, we’re going to tell you that maybe it’s something else, which brings me to my last point.

If you’re doing everything right—you’ve done a correct movement screen, you and your resource team have made sure that there’s not an underlying medical problem, and a client or an athlete is still not responding to corrective exercise, you’ve only got one play.

If there’s no ongoing medical problem or history of a structural abnormality in the body and yet somebody is not responding to correctly executed movement screen strategies focused at a particular pattern, there’s still some logic that must be applied.

orgorenv6.jpgMaybe, it’s the environment?

Greg Rose and I spent the summer touring the different time zones in the United States with Perform Better doing a pre-conference symposium on Three Principles You Can Apply to Any Movement that delved into separating the organism from its environment. All too often, those of us who work on organisms try to make the problem the organism.



We’re physical therapists. We’re chiropractors. We’re athletic trainers and we’re physicians. Those of us who strategically engineer environments to shape and mold the physical landscape of the people before us are coaches, trainers, drill instructors, and tactical and technical masters.

It’s very possible that if all we do is engineer environments, we’ll continue to engineer an environment even in the presence of an organism that’s not responding. Likewise, those of us who are more familiar with organisms than environments will always try to tweak the organism even when the environment is broken.      

Greg and I approached this subject from a very biological scientific perspective. It’s probably not appropriate to call patients, clients and athletes organisms. It’s also over-simplistic to simplify everything that touches you as the environment. But humor me and let’s be scientific.

If your movement health has been established, yet your movement function, your interaction with the environment, your movement competency, if you will, is compromised, then maybe you have positioned yourself (or some other person has positioned you) in an environment where you have started to adapt in the wrong direction.

Bone spurs and calcific tendonitis, functional scoliosis and plantar fasciitis, are all adaptations in the wrong direction. Remember, the number one cause of a stress fracture is the human brain. We don’t find stress fractures very often in nature. Only the human brain is stupid enough to cause a stress fracture in the structural framework that supports it. Why? It’s because we don’t have a gauge for quality before we pursue a quantity. It’s as simple as that.


If you’ve done everything by the book—your movement screens are tight, your scoring is correct and your corrective exercise application would make us proud—then maybe it’s not you. Maybe you’ve done everything you can possibly do for the person in front of you. Perhaps the one thing you haven’t done is to challenge their environment. If they’re only getting one REM cycle a night and two hours of sleep total, their body chemistry, rest and regeneration is completely out of sync.

If their diet is extremely poor or they’re on the completely wrong supplements, if their emotional stress is off the charts, if their goals are out of perspective with their abilities, or if their workouts are aimed 180 degrees away from their weakest link, then they’re probably going to be compounding their problem more than correcting the problem.

The next time that you’re wondering if a corrective exercise should be working a little faster, first make sure you’re doing the right corrective exercise and secondly, make sure that you’re planting the seed in the right soil. A previous article referred to the fact that farmers don’t just obsess on seed quality. They also obsess on soil quality. You can never separate an organism from an environment.

The Western medical model has tried to do that. Physicians rarely confront lifestyle and when they do, it’s in a cliché: “Stop smoking” or “lose weight” that nobody can take direct action on. That’s why it’s easier to just prescribe a drug. Find me a number that correlates with health and I will synthetically create that number, reducing the effectiveness of the number and the biomarker.

Start looking at the organism and the environment as two sides of the same coin, knowing very well that even though you’re only looking at one, the other completely exists and can never be separate. If you want to be a coaching master, follow a coaching master. If you want to be masterful at corrective exercise, make sure that you’re not overlooking anything.

The top three obstacles to corrective exercise that are often overlooked are:

  • An underlying medical problem that’s been inappropriately rehabilitated or incorrectly diagnosed;
  • Rest and regeneration practices that do not create independence and sustainability of levels of function and fitness;
  • Workouts and exercise programs that actually compound the problem by being shortsighted or protocol driven without functional feedback loops.
YouTube Preview Image


Tradition no longer serves us. That’s right. I said it.

Tradition no longer serves us when it fails to create an independent and sustainable culture.

Innovation is not the enemy of tradition. In fact, tradition creates a stable base for us to innovate. Tradition provides the knowledge that makes us inquisitive.

The first question to ask is, “are we where we want to be?” If you are following a traditional path and not developing a traditional way, you are at a crossroads. Do you blame the tradition’s inability to develop you? Or do you blame your inability to respond and adapt in a traditional way? That’s a fancy way of saying organism or environment.

You either preserve the tradition that is no longer effective for a certain group of individuals or populations, or the tradition no longer meets the needs of a changing environment.

How do we analyze tradition? How do we analyze culture?

Well, in the West, we make tests . . . and often, that’s where it all goes wrong.

Most of the things we do in Western approaches to healthcare are targeted at longevity—creating active and socially-connected elderly individuals who are still willing to contribute and excited about living.

So why not study cultures that traditionally meet this criteria? Because it’s too simple and because the western model only targets the absence of disease and its symptoms . . . we study sick people, not healthy people.

Our system is built on fear of sickness, disease and disability. A true health model should focus on long, actively engaged lives. The western tradition is all about comfort and convenience . . . and look at us.

The Blue Zones  around the world are areas where people commonly live beyond 100 years of age, and some of the things that you will notice in these populations:

They are closely connected to their families.

They don’t diet.

They don’t exercise.bluezonesmc

Their food choices are cultural and their activity levels sustain their health and fitness. They are active. They are engaged. They don’t follow fitness routines (as we think of them).

How can we embrace the culture that creates robust 100-year-olds when we obsess on diet and exercise?

When the Paleo diet was rediscovered, thousands of blogs opened up negotiating “what is Paleo?” and “what is not Paleo?” Well, the one thing I can tell you that Paleo is not is three square, meat-based meals each day. The Paleolithic hunter-gatherer would usually go from fast to feast. If you really want to get your head around the fast/feast concept, look more into Ori Hofmekler’s Warrior Diet.


There’s nothing wrong with a Paleo approach to diet but it’s the elimination that’s so important, not necessarily the inclusion. However, Western culture looks for loopholes. Attorneys look for loopholes in our Constitution. Students look for ways to pass the test while avoiding learning.

Teachers are no better, but let’s not jump to blame them. The focus of teaching used to be the creation of better learning and problem-solving skills. Now, unfortunately, we have many environments where “standard of learning” tests (Yes, in Virginia, we actually call them SOLs) force teachers to simply teach to the test. There just isn’t much time devoted to real problem solving or critical thinking.

Fitness is the same way. We find a fitness biomarker and completely upend our exercise program to try to achieve that biomarker. Here’s a simple example:

If we produce new research that states you must have a 45-second-completely-still side plank—equal on each side, or your core should be considered weak or out of balance. The knee-jerk reaction of the entire fitness and athletic performance industry would be to start practicing side planks in excess of 45 seconds.

You have to ask yourself: does this arbitrary side plank time correlate with a problem or cause a problem?

Look at the statistics surrounding grip strength. Grip strength is unbelievably connected to overall body strength and is a good predictor of strength across the lifespan. One study even stated that elderly individuals entering the hospital with better grip strength came out of the hospital far quicker.gripdl

Is grip strength a biomarker? Of course it is—One that seems to be associated with positive things. Does this mean we need to go out and grab grip strengtheners? No, it does not. Lifestyles that keep the body aligned, keep the neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand healthy, and keep the posture connected all facilitate robust grip strength.

A grip problem is just not a problem experienced in the hand and forearm muscles. Anyone can do a test with a grip dynamometer showing that extremely poor posture and bad alignment can influence overall grip. Go ahead, try it. Grip strength seems to be a biomarker that identifies people who are engaged and connected with their environment through their hands in an authentic, independent and sustainable way.handsatwork

When I was in college, I thought about why certain athletes had to use wrist wraps. I wondered to myself ‘if you could not do any more lat pull downs because of your grip strength, why do you need to do any more lat pull downs at all?’ If your grip is the weakest link, why not allow that to receive the training effect until the system is balanced?

What do we do in the West? We find the weakest link, and because we have so much fitness and exercise equipment, we create a workaround.

Kinesiology 101 has given most college freshmen a map of the muscles of the body and, at the same time, created a background of isolation approach that we can’t seem to get away from.

To quote Yoda, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Looking at the body anatomically is not a problem. Letting that anatomical miracle create short-sighted fitness approaches and performance approaches is a problem.


The minute you think you’ve figured out the role of a particular muscle, you have walled off the many other supportive tasks that it does to create both structure and function. You may not understand the synergistic effect that it has or the effect that it has when its antagonist is working even harder.

I am extremely sensitive to the reduced effectiveness directly resulting from Western culture’s fondness of embracing new tests and then teaching directly to those tests. I (sort of) founded a testing company. Why do we test? Well, we test to see if you’re going to have a marginal degree of success at the next level of progression.

Continuous failures on our tests, if organized right, are fairly good predictors that you’re not going to do well in the next environment or a slightly more robust or difficult environment. Tests are simply used as predictors.

Why would you teach to the test?

The Functional Movement Screen and some of our performance measures as well as the Y Balance Test, are often done on groups that already have and use their own tests. We don’t ever discourage them to stop doing their own tests.

As a matter of fact, when we go in and test the functionality and physical performance of a particular culture, whether it’s a pro-athletic team or a military culture, we don’t want to change anything. We want to capture where they are on the measuring stick. If we find a dysfunction or deficiency, we don’t target the issue by creating a corrective that simply readjusts the person so they test better.

We try not to add anything. Sometimes, by deleting an unnecessary aspect of a certain physical culture not only do we free up the negative side effects of that action, we also free up valuable time to focus on things that may really make a difference.

As you embark on your journey to train, teach, coach and rehabilitate people, you’re not a professional if you don’t use tests, and you’re a very ‘green’ professional if you teach to the test. Teaching to a test does not change culture. It simply destroys another once-useful biomarker.


Look what pharmaceutical companies have done with blood pressure and cholesterol. They have given us a way to lower these numbers but not change our lifestyle. Even though we’ve lowered these numbers, we’re still on a collision course with world-record epidemic obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Adjusting a number synthetically is not even on the same planet as creating a cultural environment that creates good test results from its complete culture. Christopher McDougall touched on this in his book, Born to Run and he goes deeper into the concept of sound, cultural tradition in Natural-Born Heroes.


If you’re currently part of a tradition that’s not getting good results, maybe it’s time to change your culture. When you see a tradition that has amazing results (A consistently winning team across time like the De La Salle football team, like John Wooden’s basketball teams, or the longevity witnessed in the blue zones around the world,) then you will realize that they’re doing more than teaching to a test.

They have continually adjusted their culture so that no test we invent would ever expose a weakness. They’re focused on the holistic interconnection of all of the things we test, looking for the common variables that connect them all as opposed to seeking a better single metric.

My company, Functional Movement Systems, is dedicated to testing things that should be vital signs for movement, physical capacity and physical performance.

I want to see us acquisition the flow state of play, the focus of practice and the adaptation of training into a free-flowing cultural experience that allows people to progress without worrying about tests.

If they are ever tested, they’ll do just fine.


Here are a few great examples of culture (not just method) in movement:

edthomas  Inspiring: Dr. Ed Thomas





Gray Cook Erwan Le Corre  Interesting: Erwan  Le Corre, MovNat




gregrosetpi  Innovative: Greg Rose, TPI 





KellyStarrett  Current: Kelly Starrett, Mobilty|Wod





pavel  Classic: Pavel, StrongFirst


It’s All About Motor Control

A key component of motor control is muscle tone, and I want to specifically discuss inappropriate muscle tone

Very often, from the perspectives of physical therapy and rehabilitation, we don’t necessarily see just tightness or weakness.

Tightness is often a way that the body uses parking brakes in the absence of real, authentic braking systems. The braking system that the body has is called motor control and it is finely tuned to input, processing and appropriate output. When a fault is present somewhere in that system—somewhere in movement, somewhere in that coordination, timing and symmetry—a dysfunction is observable.

The body is set up to survive and in a situation where the original operation is compromised, it simply creates a parking brake system—one that tends to stay engaged, slow you down and keep you out of trouble. This parking brake is a fail-safe in fatigue, injury, protection of other structures and avoidance of pain. You may have improved control, but you also waste energy and lose efficiency. The weakness issue remains evident. It is often deconditioning; it’s body-wide and not isolated and it’s easily fixed by getting up and moving today  . . . and then moving a little more tomorrow. However, isolated weakness is rarely just weakness.

Isolated inhibition of a single muscle or group of muscles is best diagnosed in rehabilitation as a neurological problem or impairment resulting from injury, disease or dysfunction. The subtle and background inhibition I’m speaking of is the inability for a muscle to take a command to an appropriate level of tone to execute a posture or a pattern. Our real problem here is when we simply discuss tightness or weakness of a muscle, we can go down the rabbit hole thinking it’s a muscle problem. Very often, it’s a command problem.

If there is tissue tightening, everything from deep fascia to superficial scarring or scar tissue from a previous injury, the muscles will be told to tighten prematurely or even maintain a significant amount of resting tone simply to protect the kink in the system. This tightness can also be preserved not from a signal from other tissues but it can be left over from a previous injury that has already been resolved. The muscles never got the memo.

Imagine the child who, having broken a leg bone, graduates physical therapy with full range of motion, full strength, and even a fairly good movement screen, yet continues to limp when walking fast or running. Why? Because it’s a habit. The input is correct, but now the habitual lifestyle burdened with pain and rehabilitation has created a limp that is actually the problem in itself. A new dysfunctional pattern is in place. A limp is functional following an injury because it offloads stress and maintains some degree of mobility. It becomes dysfunctional when there is no longer a reason to offload stress—when the problem causing the limp has been resolved.

The injury that caused the limp is gone and yet the limp remains—that’s a processing problem. Inappropriate input from unnecessary tightness, poor joint mobility or poor tissue extensibility can actually cause protective tone, which we see as tightness. Even when those compensations are gone, the habit of protecting can still remain.

The best way to deal with increased tone when flexibility and mobility are in question is to look at the pattern. Within the pattern is the answer. It shows us all of the other issues that we’re not thinking of that could be driving the mobility or flexibility problem.

Likewise, the weakness that we challenge with strength and exercise routines, loads and movement pattern development may often be inhibition. Inhibition doesn’t reset itself very well. When we have a choice to reset our own system or simply compensate, we often compensate.

Corrective exercise is a methodology that understands the biological need to compensate and removes the opportunities to compensate, usually by exploiting regressive developmental patterns. Rather than doing everything on a functional foot position, we go back through those patterns and postures that got us standing in the first place—rolling, crawling, kneeling, tall kneeling, quadruped. We add action to demonstrate that the posture and patterns at every level support the progression to the next level.

Snapshot 5 (7-22-2015 1-59 PM)

These patterns can actually magnify the problem before we get to our feet, where compensation is our only opportunity. We can often measure flexibility problems locally and even measure strength problems locally, but ultimately, we must understand that there’s a motor control system driving this.

That motor control system is dealing with input, processing and output. Believe it or not, the easiest way to check is to simply look at output. If a movement pattern is at an acceptable level of quality, start loading and stressing that pattern to uncover the physical resources available in that particular movement pattern, shape and posture.


If a movement pattern is broken, we must go down the rabbit hole and dissect out that movement pattern understanding. Is there a mobility problem driving poor input? Or a processing problem allocating poor stability and motor control?


We can find, treat and correct these problems.  We can manage these problems, not by looking at muscle, but by looking at the patterns (or the lack thereof) driving inappropriate muscle tone. Remember, tightness and weakness represent the same problem, just at both ends of the spectrum.

Too much unnecessary muscle tone looks, on the surface, like poor mobility and must be managed. Is something driving it or is it simply a habit that is stuck on a hard drive that could use cleaning?


Is the weakness actually something that just needs sets and reps or is the weakness driven by inappropriate mobility, motor control or inefficient patterning causing compensation?

Is that compensation due to a lack of mobility or motor control somewhere else in the body that has gone undetected for years or is it simply something on the hard drive that just needs to be scrubbed off?

To easily find these issues, we need systems. But as long as we insist on talking about local muscle tightness or weakness, we will miss it. It has often been said that the finger pointing at the moon is designed to show you the moon . . . most people just see the finger.

Inappropriate muscle tone is a symbol representing disharmony in the system. The disharmony can either be due to an input problem being appropriately processed or appropriate input being inappropriately processed.

We need to approach it in this clean and systematic way so we can find out which is driving, because it is not always clear otherwise. The clichéd answer is that inappropriate input and inappropriate processing is likely what’s going on in every situation.

That may be true to some degree, but now your action points are spread out and you do not have a feedback loop for your intervention. If, on the other hand, you think that somebody’s poor anklemobmotor control in their hip is due to a lack of ankle mobility, you can simply answer that question without even going onto social media. Create a little more mobility in the ankle and then recheck hip motor control.  If the ankle mobility problem was creating poor input and driving the bad motor control and general weakness in the hip, then you’ll have your answer. If it wasn’t, you’ll also have your answer.

This deductive reasoning is the ‘source code’ behind Functional Movement Systems. If you want to know whether it’s a mobility or motor control problem, do the test. That’s why we built it—for us. We had the same questions and could not find a tight system with logical answers. We didn’t set out to develop a screen or a system . . . we just wanted a competitive advantage. If you want to find out what’s driving the inappropriate tone, we have some assessments that will do that very well. If you want to measure motor control with an unbelievably efficient and functional test, we have that too.

We try to embrace movement metrics in a way that helps you have tighter feedback loops—to know whether you need to focus on individual correctives or programming modifications.

At any given time, one of those moves will make the biggest difference. Understanding in a biological system which is broken—the organism or the environment—is the hallmark of good science, and tracking movement behavior is where this starts in exercise and rehabilitation.

We’re Functional Movement Systems. We’re not an exercise company.

We offer better tools to look at movement and to create feedback for the individuals who depend on you for programming, rehabilitation and specialized performance training. It is true that movement screening, testing and assessment take time. No apologies there, as we should all take more time developing an action plan. That time spent in evaluation saves experimental time in rehabilitation, movement correction and physical development.

It’s the old Carpenter’s Rule: Measure twice and cut once.

When a new measuring stick is introduced and appropriately vetted, there are only two reasons why one would not adopt a tighter feedback loop into their professional practice:

  1. They don’t have faith in the new tool. More articles and posts won’t give them that faith. . .they need to put it in action.
  2. They don’t have faith that their methods can positively influence the baseline. Isn’t that the challenge we all face.




I look at the same issues from a mobility point of view in my talk, What’s Behind a Mobility Problem at


Movement Club


The first rule of Fight Club: You do not talk about Fight Club.

It would be easy for me to apply the same rule to the passionate group of people who look at movement in a systematic way.

The first rule of Movement Club: You do not talk about Movement Club.


Let me go back and qualify the reference here. Fight Club is a movie about a counter-cultural movement to release, in a very primal way, the pent-up tension of an over-civilized society encumbered by political correctness, technology and a devaluation of all things manly. (There’s a lot more to the movie than that and you’ve probably got to read the book or watch the movie to understand what I’m talking about.)

The character Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) states the first rule, but I’ll paraphrase. If you do get invited to Fight Club, show up and witness something unbelievably amazing. Don’t go talk about it. If you do have a few fights, understand the benefit of the primal release and actually feel somewhat empowered, then stick around and get better. Benefit from the experience but please, still, don’t talk about it.

That’s the reason for the repetition in rule #2: You do not talk about Fight Club. If it actually becomes a ritual, something that you rely on to sustain a superior level of integrity and resourcefulness, don’t talk about it.

It’s something you simply must experience and that’s the point. Let me borrow the same sentiment for people doing the Functional Movement Screen.

Yes, I’m sitting here writing about the movement screen. I often talk about the FMS but in a way to encourage you to at least sample or experience screening—an invitation. Can it add something to what you currently do?

Now, think about this. Steve Jobs realized that the personal computer could change the world because it put technology in the hands of the single user, for creativity, but also for entertainment. That is why Apple is where they are today.

From the Apple I to the iPod/iPad/iPhone and iTunes, Steve Jobs realized that empowering the technical consumer for both processing power and entertainment largely in the same device would probably change the world. He was right.


Thinking in that vein, the Functional Movement Screen adds processing power to the current trends in fitness. For the last 30 years, fitness and the fitness industry have been more about entertainment than about strengthening our nation.

You want proof? In the last 30 years, we’ve gotten fatter and less fit. There are currently more obese Americans than there are overweight Americans. The generation of kids currently born won’t outlive the generation that’s raising them. Therefore, the current consumption of fitness media and fitness information is largely done for entertainment value and not so much for scientific, tangible, objective outcomes. The outcomes are horrendous.


Another example? Do you know how many personal trainers peruse the Internet on a weekly basis looking for something new because their clients are bored? There you go: fitness is about entertainment.

Sure, some of us get results. But are they sustainable? That’s the big question. We just saw that the big picture is not looking good.

With the metrics in the Functional Movement System, we say “Let fitness entertain you. Let sports entertain you. Let these things engage you and allow you to play and experience new ways to move your body.”

But, if you expect some physical development benefit in any way, whether it’s skill acquisition or weight loss, you must set a baseline. You must check the baseline and make sure you’ve got a reliable tool and you’re at the right level of development with the right test that tells you to move to the next level. The journey to fitness needs tangible metrics—a GPS that tells us where we are and maps the best route to success.

Otherwise, keep looking for new routines and be satisfied with the entertainment value. You’re not going to look any better two years from now but you will have burned a lot of calories. Yes, it’s better than watching TV and it’s better than sitting—but physical development was not the result. Physical entertainment was.

I reference the first rule of Fight Club for people experiencing the Functional Movement Screen for the first time because so much of the Internet discussion about the efficacy or value of movement screening is done by people who aren’t even in the Movement Club.


The people who ‘get it’ have enough of a feedback loop and enough expertise that if they do movement screening and do it correctly, they either find value in it or they don’t. Either way, the minute they find value, they might not necessarily be interested in sharing that value with their competition down the street. They have created a mentorship literally with a systematic mentor instead of a human mentor. They have a tighter feedback loop. They get results from smaller amounts of information than their competition does.

If you’re making comments about movement screening or movement assessment you need to have some background in the system. You don’t have to like the system, you’ve just got to be good enough at it to know that your dissatisfaction in the system isn’t because of your inability to technically replicate the system.

“I did the system good enough to be reliable and it’s not benefiting me in any way.” I can handle that critique all day. I can’t handle scrutinizing a system without at least sampling it. For those of you who have already performed movement screens (whether you value movement screens or not), I would prefer you honing your skills and tightening your feedback loop instead of saying positive or negative things in a public forum.

I want the technology that we created to empower the individual user—to press them to be creative, to press them to utilize that processing power—so that they can create a more entertaining product for fitness or athletic development that keeps people engaged but also delivers significantly better results than the past 30 years of fitness.

I take shots at physical education and fitness because we have all watched the physical landscape of a nation erode before our eyes. I want to leave you with a rule of thumb that might help you in your own journey in understanding and developing movement and movement screening and assessment tools.

First, don’t talk so much. Just do. Participating in Fight Club is fine. Talking about Fight Club is not fine. It distracts you from what the experience will give you—a break from the sedentary and soft dogma that is our modern society.

Secondly, if you’re in the Movement Club, don’t talk about the Movement Club. Do movement. Do movement screening. Do movement corrections. Do physical development. Do skill development. Don’t talk about it.

The more ‘movement’ you do, the more you will be able to say in less words. You will simply refine your ability to think and discuss movement screening, and when you’ve reduced it to something that you could effectively communicate in a matter of well-placed sentences, then talk about it a little.

Here’s a simple rule that will help you in your own physical development but will also help you in the development of your teaching, coaching, training and rehabilitation skills and it will also help you educate another person:

When you are provided with an opportunity to embrace a new experience, whether a new exercise, a new adventure race or a new skill set, start with observation. Look at it from every angle you can. Read and study. Consume information and see how much you can learn without participation. Stay in the bleachers. Develop an appreciation of what you’re seeing.

First, look directly at the activity or the skill set. Then, look at the subtle intangibles that may go unnoticed by others focusing directly on the activity. For example: watch a juggler. Everybody’s looking at the juggling. Nobody is watching the breathing, the foot position or the posture. They’re all important.


Observe, then sample. Attempt bits and pieces of the activity without the obligation of starting or finishing anything.

Once you’ve adequately sampled, consider participation. Participation means that you actually consumed the thing from start to finish. You actually did the entire task. You didn’t work on the beginning or end or the middle of a deadlift. You simply did a deadlift. Only integrity and completion matter . . .  and they are non-negotiable.

After participation, there’s competition.

Competition means that not only did I participate, not only did I go through the entire activity but I actually accomplished something. Now if it’s a race, finish in the top half. If you’re finishing in the bottom half, that’s probably more participation. Participate as long as you want but when you get your window, try to compete.

Last comes winning: beat everybody else in the group. You learned faster than everyone else. Your speed or pound-for-pound strength might be better than everybody else in the group—whatever it is, you’re winning.

How many people go straight to competition and winning with a new activity? Might that not be the current problem in fitness today?

I’ll leave you with this thought. Dr. Ed Thomas said, “We used to go to the gym to acquire a new physical skill and the workout and physical development were the secondary benefit.”


Now, we’re so busy sampling every little thing in fitness for the entertainment value and variety that we never, ever truly compete. If you don’t compete, you can’t win. We’re simply sampling everything and accomplishing nothing.

Sometimes, we quit sampling and participate but never with the quality or skill level that will get us anywhere in physical development, on the athletic field or in our sport.

The same could be said for movement screening. Learn about it. Sample it. Participate. Compete. What do I mean by compete? Do movement screenings and see if you can change the way people move. Enhance movement quality, then quantity. Install it as a successful cornerstone to your movement practices.

The art of technological development is in creating something that you don’t know you need until you consume it. That’s what Steve Jobs did for us with Apple products.

When we originally looked into movement screening, nobody was asking for movement screening. But everybody was asking for better fitness methodology because the results were so poor at the time.

We’ve built a fitness empire without considering movement . . . maybe the better fitness methodology starts with realizing what was overlooked in the first place.

Alwyn Cosgrove, Lee Burton and I discuss using the FMS as part of a fitness standard operating procedure in The Future of Exercise Program Design . . . Here’s a clip of Alwyn talking about using the screen vs. ‘talking’ the screen, just how much the system considers and how easy it can make your choices.