Redefining Health and Fitness

Do you define health as the absence of disease?

I think that’s an under-shoot and an under-sell.

Along a similar vein, a lot of people define fitness as being lean or well-muscled.

I think we all know that you could lose weight and gain muscle in very unhealthy ways—ways that may compromise your movement, involve performance enhancing drugs and/or some tablets-623706_1920unorthodox dietary practices with undesirable side effects.

There are many ways to get lean and well muscled that aren’t good for you, so I think if we’re going to explore the definitions of health and fitness, maybe we should look at the following words:


Now, let’s define health, bounded by the parameters of these three words.

Health is the independent, sustainable and developmental way to continually heal. You use your rest, your regeneration and your activity to maintain a positive, constructive and contributing state of being.

You manage your stress levels, and rest and regenerate accordingly. After an injury, you understand your own abilities and go slowly enough for the body to heal, but fast enough to stimulate adequate stress for positive growth and continued adaptation.

Fitness can be defined in the same way—the independent, sustainable and developmental way to continually adapt. Adaptation is what we do when we become fit, and the adaptation definition must involve a much greater scrutiny of the environment.

To meet the minimums of health, you basically have to be a living, breathing, eating, drinking and sleeping being who can move. If you can move through a fundamental set of patterns, you can start to learn from your environment.

You are the most complex and accomplished movement learning system we have ever known. The entire system is jump started with fundamental movement patterns that establish movement literacy. Movement literacy, in turn, is the foundation of skill acquisition.

That’s why we have developmental patterns that are reflex driven pre-installed on the human being hard drive. That’s right, you have certain movements as an infant that you just go through that are as involuntary as your patellar tendon reflex. (You know, when the physician taps your knee with a hammer?)

reflex hammer2

They’re reflexes that we go through as infants that run those circuits at about 100%. Simply using those circuits sets up the fundamental movement patterns that allow you to gain head control, prone-on elbows, quadruped, kneeling, half kneeling, squatting, standing, stepping, running, jumping, climbing, lifting and carrying.

In a carpeted room lacking objects or obstacles, a baby will go through every one of the movements I just mentioned. Each of those movements can then be exploited, specialized and taken to a more complex level if the environment demands it.

If I take that baby and put it in a room with ladders and ropes and swings, then that baby will basically take its climbing resources and become really good and engaged at doing vertical things or off-the-ground training.

If we introduce the baby to a bunch of mud and water, that baby will actually become very good at slick and unpredictable surfaces and know how to move and transition between land and watermud2 very well.

If I introduce a ball, that baby will learn to use its movement patterns to develop hand-eye coordination to follow and chase and throw and kick that ball. If I introduce wide-open spaces, the baby may be engaged to run. If I introduce obstacles, the baby may be engaged to jump.

These are your local environments. You bring the fundamental movement patterns to it.

That’s movement health and I can’t talk to you about your fitness unless you tell me what environment you are in.

Is that environment challenging or are you simply maintaining?

Do you independently have the resources to sustain development?

Now, development for some is “let’s just not get any stiffer as I get older.” It’s active development whether you’re trying to maintain what you have or you’re trying to gain something new so let’s go back and look at those definitions of health and fitness again.

Health isn’t just the absence of disease and fitness isn’t just the presentation of a lean, well-muscled body.

Knowing your limitations, knowing how to maximize rest and regeneration, how to gauge activity are vital factors for states of health and fitness.

Sometimes you can sleep and eat less in anticipation of less activity and sometimes you must sleep and eat more in anticipation of more activity or more stress. You must learn how to adapt in environments. You must understand your own limitations and your skill-challenge ratio.

If you overshoot, you’re probably going to get hurt or fail in a way that may not be pleasurable. If you undershoot, you’re never going to adapt, you’re never going to change and you’re never going to send that stimulus—that ping—through the system that takes you from healthy to fitness.

You have to be healthy to receive the signal of stress and then create the adaptation called fitness.

Maybe if our current definitions for health and fitness were better, we would be better at achieving them.

There is one more test you can perform—now—to look at your body knowledge regarding health and fitness.

How are you feeling?
Are you meeting your goals?
Whatever your answers are, there is a follow-up question:
How many supplements do you need to pull this off?

Our ancestors did not have foam rolls, core exercises, isolation exercises, posture programs, multivitamins, energy drinks or fit bands. They knew how, what and when to eat and how to move well enough to move often enough to survive.

For more on sustainable development, check out my article, The Hardest Checklist You Will Ever Do

I delve into the interplay between organism and environment in my newest video, Three Principles You Can Apply to Any Movement


Gray Cook & Greg Rose Three Principles Video

Or check out the Principles Digital Bundle

Paleo . . . plus: Rethinking Diet and Exercise

I often parallel nutrition and exercise: I believe that the evolution and development of modern exercise mirrors that of nutrition, except that exercise is always about 15 years behind.

I love to ingest, peruse and educate myself on the latest trends in nutrition, which are certain to ebb and flow. That said, I do think the most forward-thinking nutritional advisors in our culture operate by a certain set of principles—historically represented and simply practical. Think Michael Pollan.

As long as the new methodology sits comfortably with those principles, then I think we’re onto something. If we go into nutrition without regard for the fundamental principles of human metabolism and our interactions with our internal and external environments, then we’re just promoting a “one size fits all” or “magic bullet” strategy. Again. 

If we were to observe more natural or holistic eating—both in style and substance, we might be better off. It’s not just what we eat but also how and when we eat. As far as establishing balance in the system is concerned, intermittent fasting is probably almost as important as what you eat.


The things you put in your body are vital and extremely important but the way in which you put those in your body, I think is equally as important.

I like the current interest in the art of elimination, as often espoused by a Paleo diet or lifestyle. The interest in elimination has changed marketing. Products aren’t just telling us that they have Omega 3’s and fiber. They’re demonstrating that they are devoid of hormones, synthetic additives, dyes, gluten and trans fats.

Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, it seemed like the nutritional trend was supplementation. Everyone acknowledged that food sources weren’t adequate or preparation time of adequate food sources took so long that they justified supplementation. Bring on the shakes, vitamin packets and creatine.

The supplements seemed to have benefits and research took off (and hasn’t stopped.) We’ve learned that if you give a supplement to someone with an obvious oversight, deficiency or other impairment in their diet, then any supplementation, by default, will appear to be a benefit when really all it’s doing is meeting a deficiency. It’s removing a negative, but not adding a positive.

Why was the deficiency there in the first place?


The mindset of the past was, “Let’s take crap and add good things to it.” The current trend (hopefully) is to find authentic things and remove all those things that are unnecessary. Unfortunately, it goes down to greed and marketing. The minute they know what we’re looking for, they will engineer a cheap and less-than-wholesome way to feed our curiosity.

Michael Pollan does an excellent job of this in most of his books by simply saying (my paraphrase), Eat whole, real food from clean, local sources as much as possible and enjoy the level of variety that makes you feel best. One of the realities underlying a Paleo approach to eating is the elimination of so many foods that are not local, not whole or not authentic.

Is there a take-away lesson for the way we move in exercise?

I was already a fitness-and-rehabilitation professional when elliptical machines entered the scene. Many of my counterparts jumped on the fact that there was about 20% more gluteal activity and no impact on these devices. Even though these represented a great way to exercise for people who did not respond well to impact or who wanted to do their exercise in a stationary place while watching TV, the elliptical machine offered something different than the treadmill and stair stepper.

Did it make us better? Did we generate elite runners, fit hikers, great cross-country skiers and cyclists because ellipticals were invented? Or was it just another variety of a way that we could ambulate with training wheels? We got the temporary benefit of the metabolic load, but did we stand straighter, stride cleaner and walk with less biomechanical errors?

This is not the article to answer those questions. It’s a great article to ask them.

Whether you remember the Atkins diet and the South Beach diet or you’re a fan of Paleo, each one of these asks you to eliminate much more than you add. Many of us enjoy Paleo foods every day. It’s the other stuff that we wrap around them or put in front or behind them that complicate the issues. Synthetic foods, extra grains, poor quality dairy products, refined sugars and the dependence on energy supplements have all created complications.

We can’t clearly see if a Paleo approach is really helping us because of what it adds or what it eliminates but I think common sense would tell you that the elimination load is greatly more than the addition load. New foods aren’t being introduced. They’re just being made more of a staple with less synthetic enhancers. Right? The sandwich without the bread is called a meat salad. I think the current science in nutrition has instructed us that the elimination of non-authentic food and the elimination of habitual grazing are both going to help us.

Intermittent fasting along with whole authentic food that requires preparation can enhance your life. Add in a few psychological bonuses like a cheat day and you may be well on your way to a nutritional life plan that feels less like a diet and more like a cool way to exist.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get exercise to that state?

diet to exercise

There’s a good general path in exercise just like the one I described in nutrition. But that nutritional path won’t help everybody because some of us have deficiencies. These deficiencies aren’t necessarily because the whole foods are lacking; we absorb nutrients and vitamins at different rates depending on our genetics, our environment, our stress level and our age.

Isn’t exercise the same way? Absorption rates may vary. One person loses weight with kettlebell swings and the other loses their back. What would the process to help you achieve a great diet look like? First, check and see if you have any deficiency. Most of us will probably have a deficiency somewhere. Then, follow as many of the general principles as possible.

After about eight-to-ten weeks, recheck those deficiencies and see if a good, general approach addressed the issues. For some, those issues will still not be addressed. On top of the good general nutritional principles you’ve adopted, you may have to supplement due to a previous disease or other factors that could interfere with natural absorption of vital nutrients.

That statement carries over to functional exercise. If you find out through the movement screen or some other assessment that you’re not functional, first follow some good general principles of functional exercise. I think we each have a pretty good idea of the exercises or activities that may cause us difficulty.

Some cause pain and some cause a significant amount of soreness or tightness (far beyond the normal muscle fatigue that we enjoy) after the workout. Maybe these are red flags—our body’s way of communicating that we may have overdosed the experience or compensated our way through what we thought looked a lot better than it did.

Unfortunately, we’re at the point in exercise evolution where we’re still in the 1980’s and 1990’s. We’re consistently looking to add a supplement before following general principles that would easily produce better function. If we follow those general principles and still don’t have a positive experience, there is corrective exercise—the supplementation in the exercise that’s equivalent to the protein shakes and multi-vitamins we often use to hedge our bet or improve our absorption.

Unfortunately, I see the Functional Movement Screen and other functional movement practices being labeled as ‘bad’ because they ask you to eliminate something from your workout.

There are two logical reasons for eliminating something.

First, if you eliminate it and all gets better, you just learned something. Second, if you eliminate it and nothing changes, you’ve also learned something.

Where’s the fear in learning? I think the number one fear in sports performance and strength-and-conditioning is that somehow you will lose a performance edge, but how? Are we testing performance on such a frequent a basis that we can see all of those environmental factors that would interfere with performance?

Most people who are serious about performance plan to peak at a certain place, which means that we can follow their performance on a graph very easily. If you took a more functional approach and noticed a huge dip in performance, you could take action on that dip so quickly as to keep it a mere blip on the graph.

I think the fear of giving up performance time to regain authentic movement and a good functional base comes from a lack of objectivity and a lack of frequent testing. If I’m not helping you meet your goals or all of your goals, I’ll be the first to know. I’m watching the gauges in a systematic and objective way. This should not be the exception—it should be the rule.

I will have the data to both justify an elimination of a particular exercise and also introduce a new functional move or correction that, for the same amount of time, gives significantly more tangible benefits either in general physical preparation or skillful performance in a specific endeavor.

Now, here’s where the title Paleo . . . Plus comes from. If you follow the rules of an elimination diet such as Paleo and you’ve gotten good results, then it’s okay to reintroduce things that give you pleasure, convenience or allow you to look forward to something. You can introduce that as a little every now and then or in the form of a cheat day.pluschips2

I try to eat local/whole/simple/Paleo whenever I can. If I want a bowl of ice cream, a slice of pizza or some really salty potato chips, I’m going to do that too. If I notice that I’m going overboard, I’ll cut back a little bit.

If I can achieve nearly the same results by cheating a little bit and adding a little plus right alongside an otherwise elimination diet, good for me.

Take that advice to your exercise program, your clients and your athletes. Take that advice to the patients headed back to their active lifestyle after you rehabilitate them (hopefully having learned the lesson that all injuries should provide.) ‘Could I have done anything to prevent this, or at least lessen the severity?’ In some cases, you will say ‘no’ but in some cases, you’ll say to yourself, ‘Well, I couldn’t avoid the injury but my rehab is taking longer because I have 15 other problems that were exposed when I went through the rehabilitation process.’

Remember, the purpose of elimination in your nutritional plan is to provide a competitive advantage in your current environment. You want to maintain muscle, be lean and have more energy. If eliminating something provides that, it is a competitive advantage and performance enhancement.

Cleaning up a dysfunctional movement pattern can have that far-reaching effect and change many of the performance metrics that may have plateaued for you. You won’t know unless you look and you can’t retest unless you test something the first time.

Set your movement and performance baselines:

Eliminate exercises that look supplementary or body part-oriented.

Embrace whole movement patterns first: run, jump, carry, climb

If you’re stiff, breathe and get healthy. Then get mobile.

If you’re not strong, carry stuff and lift stuff.

Own your movement patterns. Simple and basic first. Without load and then with load. Always with integrity.

Watch your body and movement patterns change.

Eliminate the things that don’t make a lot of good sense or seem to be supplementary. See how good you get against your baseline test.

Watch your performance so that you’ll have no excuse for making an unqualified statement about what you think performance is and what it’s not. The first requirement of performance is participation and if you’re jacked up, you’re not a participant today.

Enjoy your simple, basic and whole exercise program. Once you own it, add the plus for fun . . . you earned it!


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

The Hack Test

THE HACK TEST: To Hack or To Adopt the Culture

Tim Ferriss is all about the lifehack, and he’s had great success at it (and been very fun to watch in the process). He gets us thinking about possibilities . . .

Ferriss books-4 hour-lifehack

As we seek to make changes in our lives—in our health and fitness, what is a test to see if a hack is appropriate or inappropriate?

In an emergency situation, I would say “anything goes.” In a situation of long-term physical development, I would say it should be done if the hack supports both independence and sustainability.



In The Story of the Human Body, Daniel Lieberman writes that, though human evolution is potentially at a standstill, humans continue to evolve by creating evolutionary culture. The culture that shapes human beings is what evolves first.

Maybe the things that change culture are hacks and the ones that stick become cultural wisdom. The ones that don’t are the shortcuts that we seem to master in the west—the ones that don’t seem to be sustainable.  We don’t seem to be able to maintain them independently.

For some reason, the best hacks in the world take us closer to both economy and ecology—those things that are extremely efficient and have a fair exchange of value, and those things that also support a harmonious balance over long periods of time without exploiting either side of the equation, the organism or the environment.



In Born to Run and Natural Born Heroes, Christopher McDougall has given us two opportunities to see that culture might be the best way to approach something as simple as running and/or something as complex as becoming a hero.

Simon Sinek has warned us to always Start With Why. Many of the things we do culturally just seem to work.  Why we do something is often because it is a thing that will occur whether we intend it or not. When it does occur, it is so profound it becomes part of our culture. We don’t necessarily even identify its impact. We do it because we do it.

Unfortunately, in today’s world of metrics, we’ve become a culture that loves tests and their accompanying numbers. The problem is that we’re shortsighted and teach to the tests.  We directly confront blood pressure and cholesterol with drugs that make pharmaceutical companies rich and continue to not solve your problems. They simply cover your symptoms . . . pain management, not cure.

To create independence and sustainability with cholesterol and blood pressure, first, make sure that these measurements mean something and second, find a culture that rarely has problems with either.  If we apply that simple litmus test to whether we should hack something or not, then when it is time to develop a hack, maybe there’s already a recipe that keeps us from wasting time.

In my attempt to improve both movement health and movement function, I came up with some principles that seem not to just apply to movement but to almost any behavior. Move well always comes before move often. A minimum level of quality should probably precede pursuits of quantity. Anything you do ceases to have value if a minimum standard is not met.

When would this quality requirement be inappropriate? First is a situation where long-term sustainability is not necessary and quantity has a significant value regardless of quality, but these opportunities may be few and far between.

What if you are thirsty? There is a point where water quality can be so poor that it would actually behoove you to avoid that water source because you will experience a greater decline in your health by drinking poison than by going another 10 hours without water.


The second is human intervention. Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician, warned us to “do no harm.”

In our enthusiasm to step between the organism and the environment and say “Let me teach you. Let me train you. Let me coach you. Let me help you heal,” those of us who teach, coach, train and attempt to facilitate healing should heed Hippocrates’ advice.

Sometimes, our enthusiasm clouds the big picture. If we’re focusing on metrics, we may strive to improve one biomarker while creating side effects and erosion elsewhere in the human system.

That’s why most drug commercials (the ones that tell you that you absolutely need their product) have two benefits and 35 pitfalls.  It’s not natural, it’s not independent and it’s not sustainable. You could not derive that drug on your own.  It is not given freely. You cannot be independent.

If you’re poor, you can’t afford it. If you’re not a chemist, you can’t engineer it.  However, it’s great business and that’s the company aspect of pharmaceutical companies.

Healthcare and fitness are not immune to this shortsightedness. We find biomarkers in healthcare. We find biomarkers in fitness. Without focus, we fail to understand the entire cultural embrace that changes these markers.

Our educational system is a prime example. We came up with Standards of Learning (SOL testing – or whatever your state’s equivalent may be) to ensure that teachers were doing their job and to identify children who were not functioning at proper levels despite effective teachers.  Basically, the SOL gives us a gauge.

If all the children in the class are not making the standard, the focus should probably be on the teacher. If a certain percentage of the children in the class make the standard but some don’t, the focus should probably then be on the individual student.  Sounds simple, right?


The problem is that so many teachers have been limited and handcuffed by this new style of analysis of quality that many simply submit and teach to the test.

Physicians, trainers and coaches are sometimes no different. We find the one standard that seems to dictate our success and instead of creating a culture that gets there anyway, we create a shortcut. We take our machete and hack a path.

That path may require high levels of maintenance. It may be unsustainable. It may not teach life lessons or create independence in those people we’re trying to develop and help.

In short, we should try to find biomarkers that both cause and correlate those things that we prize in culture—the ability to exist in harmony with our environments and to live a long, healthy and happy life.

Hopefully, these caveats are self-evident. But all too often, it seems they are not: when we try to gain a competitive advantage, it can only be done for a short time. Rarely can it be done and sustained for a long time—the same way we don’t always see success transfer through generations.

Those very qualities and behaviors that could make a parent unbelievably successful by societal standards may make their children choose behaviors in exact opposition. Remember, that which makes us successful in one aspect of our life could actually be borrowing equity from another part of our life.

So, if there is such a thing as hacking and if it is good, hacking is simply working your way through a maze. If there is a shortcut, then use it if your life is threatened and if time is of the essence. If you discover a shortcut in other circumstances, it might be better to heed the warning that many shortcuts lead to pitfalls, and often, the detour—the long way around—is the safest.


Testing creates detours. Testing simply provides metrics and the opportunity to see or predict failure at the next level. If you can’t pass the eleventh grade, there is a significant statistical chance that you will not find success in the twelfth grade.

If we look at tests as windows into the future and use them accordingly, then we wouldn’t necessarily teach to the tests. We would simply want to adopt a culture that was independently sustainable that got us to the next level.

Now, if it takes a little longer than you want or if it’s a little risky, that’s where human intervention comes in. The job of the teacher, coach or even somebody who’s helping you heal is not to do it better than the natural environment could do these things for you. That said, in every situation we should ask “can these things be done with less risk and with greater economy? Can they be done faster and safer?”

There is a natural cycle of things that requires both qualitative and quantitative balance. A little extra is sometimes what’s afforded and a little less is sometimes what you get.  Human intervention, because of our very short timelines, is focused at success. But nature simply says that non-failure is the best option, especially if tomorrow is in play.

If the physical hack test works for you in your own life on your own body, maybe it can be applied to things like diet, work, relationships, recreational pursuits and lifelong goals.

When the terms independence and sustainability are used, it does not imply that you do not continue to have teachers or learning opportunities. It means that you are self-sufficient at learning.  Sustainability speaks to long-term movement development.


Obviously, we can never be completely independent and nothing is sustainable forever but the higher levels of independence and the greater rate of sustainability are indicators that the culture is the best environment for adaptation and long-term movement development.

Remember, Lieberman says that the reason we’re evolving is because our culture has evolved and then those things evolve us. When development is inefficient, not ecological or not impressive, it’s an indication that the culture is not beneficial and has not evolved in the correct direction.

Let’s look for efficient and ecological development. Let’s explore those cultures.


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

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


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.