Archives for 0

Perform Better Pre-Con 2011

Applying the Model to Real-Life Examples

An audio discussion with Gray and his publisher, Laree Draper
(click to listen or right-click to save)

The Perform Better Summit’s Pre-Conference Workshop (Chicago, June 23, and Long Beach, August 25) is an opportunity for me to really stand up and be in front of a group for about four hours. It’s an excellent half-day, specifically designed to help people who don’t have a huge background in the Functional Movement Screen see how easily programming happens once you have the movement screen numbers. For the people who have FMS certification, it’s equally beneficial because many times people go to a FMS workshop and wish more time was dedicated to corrective exercises. You and I discussed this when we were laying out the book, Movement—a lot of people do not understand the difference between corrective strategy and corrective exercises.

Corrective exercises are simply a chosen technique right for this person at this place to hopefully change movement and increase mobility or improve stability. That is just an exercise. But the strategy—the philosophy, the architecture of your philosophy—has to be based on principles. This is where we get into the rules of why we attack this movement pattern before that movement pattern, and why we hold somebody back from loading or causing impact on this pattern as opposed to that pattern.

The philosophy that drives corrective exercises is more important than having a large menu of corrective exercises. Often people who go to the FMS workshop ask for more exercises. When we sit down and talk, we discover they are not actually interested in more exercises; they are interested in the strategy Lee and I use to apply the screen. How did Lee know to do that pattern or how did he change that guy’s toe touch in a matter of seconds? How did he know to go right there for T-spine mobility?

People often ask the wrong question, not realizing what they want is the strategy and not the exercise. Many people have seen me practice, and they are sometimes awestruck at how few corrective exercises I use. I use them all, and we’re building a huge library on our website for people to pick from, but I default back to probably less than 30 maneuvers, all focused around improving one movement pattern of the Functional Movement Screen: chops and lifts, single-leg deadlifts, quadruped diagonals, rolling.

The whole scope is that we are not trying to take people away from their workouts. The entire purpose of this pre-conference is to show that doing a movement screen does not mean giving up normal training to become a corrective exercise junkie, even though many of the schools that apply corrective exercise have probably created overkill.

I use correctives just like a supplement to help your nutritional uptake—as long as I have to but not a bit longer. If we can use corrective strategies to get a person moving better, we come into our element as a trainer, a physical therapist, a strength coach or a consultant as we help people not only correct, but then maintain a minimum movement capability without correction. This means we redesign the workout on the backend so it helps attain fitness goals, athletic aspirations or whatever activities or endeavors a person wants to entertain. At the same time, it maintains a minimum level of movement competency and does not let special interests undo one particular movement pattern that may not be rehearsed as often as the others.

A great workout should keep us free of imbalance and generally mobile and stable. If it does not, it’s lacking in something. Thus, it may take corrective strategies to get a person over the hump and get everything back in line, but we hope to quickly remove those at some point and then use our knowledge of exercise. This would be a good time to find that little dialogue on self-limiting exercise in the Movement book. Read the last two articles, My Preference for Old Stuff, and the forthcoming one, Why We Move Poorly, and you will really see how injecting self-limiting exercise after having cleared up somebody’s movement is a great way to lock it in, make them adapt and help them move better.

In the four-hour pre-conference, I quickly overview the movement screen to make sure everybody in the room is on the same page because we have both certified and non-certified people in attendance. Once there, I quickly do a fly-by of the 10 principles since I can’t assume everybody in the audience has read the Movement book. To those coming to the pre-conference who have not read the book, get busy, put on some sunblock, get out in the sun, take it to the beach, do whatever, but if you can, read the book before you come. You will get more than your money’s worth.

As soon as we review the screening philosophy and the principles, we take a 20-minute break and in that break a few of my instructors knock down two screens apiece, which the participants are invited to watch. I ask the observers not to ask questions or interrupt the process: You may be interested in what’s happening; I’m going to handle that in a second.

After the break, while those screens are being input into a score sheet that we project onto the screen, we bypass the projector and shine a camera on another person getting screened as we project the image on our screen in real time. I ask the screening participant a few questions about preferences, goals, training and any past issues I need to know about, and I take what the workout, hobbies and activities, aspirations and the  movement profile, and program a corrective agenda and a conditioning agenda. I delete a few of the things the person has been doing that has been counterproductive, and I add a few correctives.

We have a lot of fun in the pre-conference once we get everybody’s scores posted on the screen, because we bring each screened individual up on the stage and literally create program on the fly in less than 10 minutes. We go from the youngest, most robust athlete in the room to the most physically challenged personal trainer, to the oldest person in the room to the person who has a heck of a lot of athletic mileage—we go all over the place. We get every body type, every background—as many as we can fit into the last hour and a half of the workshop—and demonstrate how programming can really fit so much better when we have a movement profile and the opportunity to have a conversation about workout habits, preferences and the like.

The addition of a movement profile takes a 10-minute investment of time. It does require you to do a movement screen, but those numbers provide navigation points when creating a program and getting deep into program design. We must have had six or eight exercise or rehabilitation professionals come up on stage—these are people who do what I do for a living. I would venture to say without being cocky that each one of them had at least one Aha moment, a ‘Oh man, I never thought of that!’ Having an objective analysis and really, really articulating where the limitations are, then going right to the corrective that embodies the greatest restriction or incompetency is absolute money.

We get to do two more of these—Chicago, June 23, and Long Beach, August 25. I hope the readers get an opportunity to come visit or send a friend, somehow to participate in this, because this is where screening gets fun. People ask me questions about the specific tests and the different types of correctives, but really, showing people the advantage we have when we have a movement profile on a score sheet as we move into program design is what I am passionate about—we really having some enlightening moments.

Come join us for a really neat, fun four hours and we will show you the excitement part of movement screening.

My Preference for Old Stuff, Part Two

If you have not yet read Part One, please start there.

In Part One of My Preference for Old Stuff, I discussed insights shared by Dr. Edward Thomas on precision, progression and variety of activity. These were central tenants of old-school training as observed by Dr. Thomas, but the definition of old-school training can reach even further than organized physical education. The recent fascination with the hunter/gatherer Paleolithic man seems to be more focused on his diet than his activity. This means that adherence to “paleo-diet” rules alongside modern impractical —exercises, weight machines and soft running shoes may not really yield the most authentic results.

Early man also needed to possess a fundamental movement competency. Chances are he rested every chance he could, but when he moved it was efficient and focused. His quality of movement competency allowed him to be adaptable instead of highly specialized. Modern culture prizes specialization, and respect should be shown for a high school regional track championship, an Olympic gold medal or a Super Bowl ring. Specific goals should drive us, but not at the expense of our long-term adaptability. When specialists pursue elite status, they knowingly relinquish some adaptability, but most natural athletes and intuitively fit people reclaim physical balance and adaptability once the specific event or special interest has passed. Physical adaptability is the game of life, and to age gracefully is to be physically, mentally and emotionally adaptable.

The subtle message of adaptability is the reason I included a section on self-limiting exercise in the Movement book. These are simply activities that naturally restrict progression without some degree of physical adaptation. The human system has the ability to adapt in two unique ways. The capacity to improve its hardware—physical structure—or software; motor control, coordination and pattern refinement are interwoven and complementary natural forces. At some point in our history, the basic struggle against natural forces was a dominant teacher. Physical labor turned blisters into calluses and refined movement patterns in the process. Speed without control caused unnecessary falls and therefore speed and surefootedness were developed as one. Strength without balance caused unnecessary injuries and the lifting of heavy things became more about efficiency and safety than brute force. These things can occur naturally if we are patient, listen to our limits, and study our surroundings.

Our relationship to our environment is unique. Historically, the environment forced us to adapt since our ability to modify our surroundings was limited. Today we seem to resist natural and practical adaptation at every turn, while we modify every part of the environment that touches us. We have also taken great strides to modify our most common activities to make every aspect of being active totally comfortable and convenient with a minimal learning curve. Unfortunately, comfort does not seem to foster or stimulate adaptation. Stress is a teacher, but we seem to want our stress meal to be served in bite-sized, sugarcoated portions. We want tension on our leg muscles, but we hate all the technical precision required to squat so we invented the leg press. We seemed to forget that the ability to produce tension without the ability to control our posture and balance has no practical advantage in nature.

Call self-limiting exercise and activity an opportunity for stress multitasking. Just pick the appropriate dosage and do the move until you own it! A difficult Turkish getup uses less weight than a difficult shoulder press using a weight machine. This is because the shoulder machine manages all the stress but the downward pushing resistance that follows a predetermined one-size-fits-all movement. Since the responsibility for changing postures, instantaneous balance reactions and sensory awareness is removed, the weight can be increased because other responsibilities have been removed. When exercise complexity is reduced, the loop between movement perception and movement behavior is reduced. Work is done and calories are burned, but learning and adaptability are not a primary stress.

Mark Cheng, Kettlebells LA

Multiple stressors create the need for constant modification based on perception and behavior. Self-limiting activities require the subconscious and conscious movement systems to work together to reach a desired outcome. This indicates we should invite the stress provided by self-limiting exercises, because at every turn one system is disadvantaged and receives a get-better stimulus. Any dummy can create a difficult activity, but great coaches, teachers and trainers create challenging activities that require the trainee to rely on preparation, energy management and movement efficiency.

This is not to say we must endure chaos or create pain to foster adaption. Pain is not the same as discomfort or the feeling of unsteadiness. Unless you are injured, pain is usually the signal that follows unmodified discomfort. If you intelligently listen to training discomfort and make the necessary adjustments, you will most likely avoid unnecessary training pain. Consider pain to be a red light and discomfort and unsteadiness to be a yellow light. A red light indicates danger, the need to stop and observe your surroundings and only proceed or push in the most extreme of circumstances. A yellow light simply means proceed with caution. Be aware of your surroundings and your movement. Physical and mental adjustments may be necessary, beneficial and actually make the discomfort and unsteadiness manageable or absent altogether.

Barefoot running is not initially comfortable, but it does seem to have some merit when it comes to over-striding and undeserved excessive mileage. It embodies the essence of self-limiting activity. Instead of immediately modifying the activity, maybe we should listen to what our feet have to say, and be patient and adapt. If foot sensitivity and discomfort is the weakest link in the running chain, it must have something very important to say. Maybe it’s not saying shoes are good or bad. Maybe it’s simply saying—

Let me help you refine the most authentic stride for your current limits and abilities.

I have lots of nerve endings that provide information about how and when to use all the right muscles most efficient sequences to create a low-impact efficient stride customized to your unique qualities.

I can actually do most of my teaching automatically, so you will not need to memorize anything —you’ll know when you are doing it wrong… trust me.

Just listen to me every now and then, and if you choose to opt for the extra protection of shoes that’s cool. Just revisit me every now and then so we can stay connected and I can give you some feedback

In the Movement book I spent over 400 pages building the case that perception drives behavior. Poor fundamental movement patterns should not primarily be managed with verbal critique or visual demonstration. Corrections should target movement input (not just visual and verbal) to change output. This simply suggests if your movement perceptions are not good, how can your movement behaviors ever be great? They are intimately linked and one represents the quality of the other. We don’t just move… sometimes we think, feel and move, and sometimes we just feel and move. Both our conscious and subconscious mind relies on our perception to refine our movement behavior. Our movement behavior creates more opportunity for perception. The more we modify our environment and activities, the more we limit our perception opportunities. We once thought the benefits of the squat could be effectively substituted by equal activity on a leg press machine. We now know the leg press only addresses the prime movers of the squat pattern and fails to require continual balance adjustments and timing required when performing an authentic squat with respectable weight.

Our contact with the natural environment once shaped who we were. The limitations of the Paleolithic diet shaped our energy systems even though we were able to adapt to agrarian Neolithic diet, but now we push our adaptive capacity to extreme and eat in a way we were not designed to eat. We wonder why we are obese and sick, and think we can fix it by exercise and counting calories. Wrong! For more information on this subject look at Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It by Gary Taubes. For even more practical advice, get acquainted with Robb Wolf and his book, The Paleo Solution.

We were created with the gift of adaptability, and that quality above all other qualities probably has more to do with our success on this planet than our intelligence. Maybe it’s a deeper, subconscious form of unique intelligence, intuition and internal drive, or even a sixth sense. The ability to adapt is a gift and a unique trait, but we have systematically distorted the gift in the name of comfort and convenience. No worries—we can fix it and actually make it fun. Let me present three ways we have skewed this most prized survival ability of our humanity, which will also shed light on a path to the remedy.

  1. Physical detachment—we limit our perception experience.
  2. Insistence on over-modification—constant tinkering with supplementary exercise.
  3. Intentional focus on extended specialization—more is better… RIGHT!?

Erwan Le Corre, the visionary behind the MovNat physical education system and, and I recently shared a phone conversation of undetermined length (my way of saying I never once looked at my watch). He eloquently articulated his insight on both functional activity and practical activity, a perspective and observation I share. He stated that the ability to do a pullup, a box jump and a squat are functional, but the ability to climb and adapt to different climbing situations is practical.

Erwan Le Corre, MovNat

Both the squatting pattern and pulling pattern are used in climbing, but simply doing pullups and squatting fall short of creating a great climber. However, a variety of practical climbing activities do a fine job of maintaining a respectable pullup and a functional squat. This example demonstrates that functional activities are responsible ways to prepare and maintain the body, but practical activities go one step further and in fact, create meaning.

Practical activities employ functional patterns, but always offer a variety of daily twists that produce adaptability by offering a wide array of perception. Simple climbing adds meaning to the functional abilities to perform movements, and our brains are hard-wired to cling to meaningful things. Therefore, it can be said that functional training is good, but practical application creates meaning and locks the functional attributes into the system with real experience and not simply the detached rehearsal movement. Functional movements provide an efficient base for the exploration of practical movement opportunities, and that is what actually makes us adaptable.

Erwan also pointed out that more practical activity would likely reduce the need for functional supplementation and I agreed. I compared it to a holistic and complete diet requiring less dietary aids and supplements. However, all individuals do not absorb nutrients at the same rate, and the same could be said for acquisition or reacquisition of movement abilities. Don’t expect practical activities to automatically correct significant movement dysfunction without being scaled. Scaling practical activities is a science, and Erwan is at the forefront of that thinking and technology.

Enjoying a MovNat Experience

The other solution for going from movement dysfunction to practical activity with minimal risk is to follow the functional movement screening technology. Use corrective exercise to restore dysfunctional movement patterns to the level of competency. Then maintain these and reinforce them with the addition of practical activity. The complete trainer and coach should always strive to reduce corrective activities as soon as they are successful, and replace them with meaningful activities that foster reinforcement and conditioning. My professional recommendations are very simple:

  • Always keep some self-limiting activity in the mix.
  • Don’t ever assume the superiority of any program will guarantee an outcome. Be a professional and use a tool to measure an objective movement competency baseline. Always check your work— I use the FMS.

As Erwan and I talked, it was evident we both realized that a scalable sensory experience with responsible supervision allows students to engage in a rich perceptive experience—at their own pace. That experience helps drive better practical movement behaviors over time. Now consider that statement for a minute and then apply some of the things we actually do. Yes, I was once guilty as charged. As a young physical therapist and strength coach, I tried to talk my patients and athletes into better movement and I was not satisfied with the results. I needed a tangible way to gauge my influence on movement dysfunction and improved motor control.

With more questions than answers, my co-workers and I embarked on a journey that produced the Functional Movement Screen. Our collective opinion was that we talked more movement than we actually taught. We loved the sounds of our authoritative coaching voices. We produced exciting exercise sessions, but did not seem to influence movement fundamentals at a level that impressed us. So in 1996 we decided to change things in our own heads first, and then take it into our own backyard. Since then, this simple idea has reached around the globe, mostly on its simple merit and our enthusiasm. Movement screening speaks to the intuitive intelligence that expert trainers, coaches and rehabilitators possess. It does not limit their individual creativity; it simply provides more objective feedback.

We all know functional movement patterns are happening long before verbal expression or comprehension. Of course, certain higher skill activities require verbal instruction, but rolling over, getting up and balancing on one foot should be natural and not require total concentration. If these are lost, they can be easily acquired through scalable exploration and minimal verbal instruction. The point is that we should set up the experience consistent with the abilities of the participant and let the perceiving, behaving system do what it was designed to do: become efficient. The better the pattern identification and set-up, the less verbal instruction is needed.

We can apply these timeless lessons to any exercise or activity, but let’s just pick one and let it serve as a template. I challenge you to pick at least three additional topics and apply the same scrutiny—consider these your mental sets and reps for the week.


  1. Physical detachment—over-padded footwear allows increased mileage without natural limits or refinements to technique. Perceptive opportunity is reduced.
  2. Insistence of modification—an unbalanced focus on quantity over quality. We modify our terrain and exchange technical routes requiring a variety of running skills for easy, long flat runs. Invite diversity and scaled variety.
  3. Intentional focus on extended specialization—other forms of locomotion can actually enhance the physical development of a runner. Things like cycling, hiking, trail running, minimalist running, sprints, intervals, climbing, swimming and paddle sports can provide a moving experience and maintain adaptability.

Prior to one of my favorite books of all time, Born to Run, I was already experimenting with minimalist footwear and I was naturally barefoot for all backyard experiences with my children and even during most of my kettlebell sessions. It just felt right. With the popularity of Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, and the availability of Vibram’s well-designed FiveFinger minimalist shoe, America started embracing barefoot running. The minimalist shoe removes unnecessary cushioning the body could easily provide if it was simply asked to move and behave differently against impact. The lack of containment and compression over the toes allows a greater sensory experience in the forefoot. Also look at the New Balance Minimalist if the Vibrams are just too much for your sense of style.

This is all good because the foot is not just a mechanical end of the leg—it is a sensory receptor for our environment. It helps us to gauge our core stability and hip movements, as well as adjust and adapt to changing surfaces while maintaining balance, appropriate alignment and upright posture. We are hardwired to rely on the feedback from the foot. However, this does not suggest a knee-jerk reaction to throw away your conventional training shoes. It does not even suggest short barefoot runs or minimalist shoe runs. I am aware of hundreds of people who were inspired by the barefoot movement and never once attempted to walk in their backyard or on a sidewalk barefoot. Brave and inspired souls immediately came out of a shoe and resumed their normal running pace and mileage while barefoot, in Vibram’s FiveFingers or comparable minimalist shoes, but this was an irresponsible oversimplification even though it was a step in a naturally correct direction. Nature says crawl, walk, and then run. Skipping steps to save time increases the chance of set-backs in the long run.

The sensitivity and limitations of both our hands and feet should give us self-limiting guidelines. Obviously, gloves and shoes are designed to protect our hands and feet, but a blister on the hand or ultra-sensitive foot may mean maximized activity for the upper or lower body for that day. The foot or hand is the squeaky wheel, but each may also be a barometer of low-quality movement in the rest of the chain as well. I may be dating myself, but I recall gym rats using wrist wraps to extend their exercise with lat pull-downs long after their grip strength was gone, not realizing the integrity of the grip and the integrity of the shoulder stability created a delicate balance between perception and movement. Likewise, the foot is made for the ground, and the feedback collected by the foot helps all of the reactions that occur above in the joints that align and propel the body.

I embrace the minimalist approach and applaud Erwan Le Corre in his natural perspective because he emphasizes scalability and enhanced perception opportunities at each level of learning. In the book Movement, I eluded to this natural state of physical development as authentic movement—movement that is created by listening to the body as it responds and moves through a natural environment. Erwan calls this ability natural movement, and I believe we are saying the same thing.

The perspective often overlooked when people explore Erwan’s work or look at my perspectives in Movement is that it is ultimately important to both of us that the activities we introduce are scalable. Scalability means the activity can be somewhat restricted to give the individual time to create physical and mental adaptations. We have the ability to modify nearly all activities, but as we do, we sometimes lose the good stuff. Don’t confuse scaling with modification. Modification is usually a static alteration, while scaling is usually linear with a built-in tendency for progression.

Therefore, if we modify the activity too much, we restrict the adaptive capability of the human movement system. Likewise, if we do not responsibly scale the activity, it is likely to cause injury or compensation before natural adaptation occurs.

Scalability simply means lowering the dosage, not changing the activity. It improves safety and still offers enough perception and stress for growth and learning. This should not be confused with modification where high-end activities are merely imitated. The end goal of scalability is adaptability, but the end result of modification is usually just impractical hyper-specialization.

The bench press is a modification of a natural pushing activity. The postural and balance responsibilities are removed, therefore moving from good bench presses to great bench presses mean only that, and no other abilities can be assumed. It does not imply better striking, grappling or pushing ability. It just implies improvement in a specialized situation, just as better squatting ability can usually transfer to better leg pressing, but the same does not work in reverse. Scale, don’t modify—it is usually an unnecessary step unless you are dealing with disease or disability.

Western culture has influenced our fitness model more than our authentic or natural movement model has influenced Western culture. We want what we want and we want it now, if not a little sooner. That, in many situations, has produced irresponsible physical education. The systematic approach I talked about in Part One discussed the wisdom of physical educators more than a century before us. The scalability of natural sensory experiences goes back thousands and even millions of years. Our ancestors knew we had the ability to modify our environment, and they also knew we had the natural capacity to adapt.

They entertained that delicate balance between physical adaptability and the modification of the environment. They seemed to intuitively know that things made too easy would not yield the most robust physical results, and that things made too difficult would simply create unnecessary risk. We should learn from them and aim our sights at natural and authentic challenges.

We should take what we learn from our historical natural development and also look at the wisdom on display a mere century ago. With that information in hand, we should realize the gap between ignorance and intelligence is far less than the gap between intelligence and action. Anybody ready for some intelligent action?


Author’s note: My family and I will be joining Erwan and his team for a MovNat Experience. I told my girls it’s sort of like Survivor, but Dad has immunity and cannot be voted out—Erwan said so!!!


The following observations and comments are attributed to Dr. Carol Frey, Associate Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Manhattan Beach, California

“We don’t need shoes for proper foot development. Walking is a collaborative effort requiring constant communication between the brain and feet. Nerve endings on the bottom of the feet sense the ground beneath and send signals to the brain that help it determine how and where weight should be distributed with each new step. Shoes alter that feedback to the brain. The thicker the sole, the more muffled the message.

“Shoes are not necessary for support or development of the arch, they only protect the feet from the environment. Babies and crawlers need only wear socks or booties to keep their feet warm. Early walkers, too, should be allowed to go sans shoes whenever they are in a safe, protected environment. Going barefoot helps children develop stronger and more coordinated foot muscles.”

Gray Cook on the Golf Fitness Academy

Click here to listen to Gray’s discussion of his upcoming TPI Golf Fitness Academy appearance

Episode 9: Gray Cook, Airing Monday, June 6-8

6/6/2011 6:30 – 07:00 PM
6/7/2011 2:00 – 02:30 AM
6/7/2011 3:00 – 03:30 PM
6/8/2011 1:30 – 02:00 PM

Live from CK-FMS!

Brett Jones & Gray Cook

Live from Minnesota, Saturday, May 14, 2011!

Click here to listen to Gray and Brett discuss their work with the RKCs at the Certified Kettlebell-FMS workshop.

My Preference for Old Stuff, Part One

Part One

Those of you who follow my work may have noticed a recent trend pointing at the wisdom of old-school teaching and training. In the three products, Kalos Sthenos: Kettlebells from the Ground Up, Club Swinging Essentials and Dynami: Kettlebells from the Center, we showcase some old school training with a functional and systematic and progressive twist. This was our best attempt to align the wisdom of older training methods with the current understanding of motor learning and developmental progression that a movement screening and corrective exercise approach reveals.

Kalos Sthenos, Club Swinging & Dynami DVDs

This refocus in our educational DVDs and training manuals may confuse some exercise and rehabilitation professionals. I went from saying, “Hey, look at the Functional Movement Screen and how badly we move—we need to correct this stuff” to “check out old-school programming.” Some have not been able to follow my jump. Let me explain.

The central premise in functional movement systems is that the movement patterns drive the most productive programming choices. The movement profile produced by the Functional Movement Screen provides the basic framework of the training rules for each client, patient or athlete. You can potentially get three directives for every individual.

  1. Don’t train this pattern—because you will compound a movement mistake.
  2. Train this pattern—because you will reinforce adequate movement competency.
  3. Fix or correct this pattern—because it is the weakest link in the chain and it can increase injury risk and reduce the training effect if not managed.

The directives are broken into movement patterns, not body parts or muscle groups because that’s not the way the central nervous works. It works on patterns. For more information on this see Movement: Functional Movement Systems and go to

Old-school training methods focused on movement patterns, not body parts. Body-part training is a recent invention for body sculpting, but is not the best way to train comprehensive physical capability, whole body fitness and sustainable adaptability. Body-part training produces great and fast superficial results, but it is incomplete as a physical development tool.

When we started researching kettlebells and Indian clubs, we noted how movement patterns and technical correctness were more important than body parts and sets and reps. We were amazed when we realized that many old-school methods of training would produce a very impressive functional movement screen without ever creating an individualized workout. The key is this is a systematic teaching model.

These three new video projects involve Brett Jones and me. In the Club Swinging Essentials video, we also included Dr. Ed Thomas. The manuals that contributed to this body of work were written by Brett and me, along with Dr. Ed Thomas in Club Swinging, and for Kettlebells from the Ground Up, we called on the expertise of Dr. Mark Cheng. For the Dynami: Kettlebells from the Center, we asked for contributions from Jeff O’Connor. Our collaborative effort demonstrated some pretty ‘old school’ exercises, and we shot these DVDs in the old gym at Averett University specifically to have that old school look and feel.

Dr. Thomas came to Averett University and shared his historical overview and perspective of physical culture. He showed us that a gym with Olympic rings, a free weight bar, kettlebells, Indian clubs, big medicine balls and jump ropes is not something new. Instead, this is something very old. The difference in the approach Dr. Thomas discusses when talking about all of these functional forms of exercise follows a three-step program that involves precision, progression and variety. However, his guidance does not stop there.

Imported European functional physical training systems dominated American physical culture throughout the late-1800s until around 1920. “Working out” was not the goal in those earlier systems. Gymnasia were instead schools where instructors taught theory and practical application of progressively more difficult motor skills. Often divided into restorative, martial and educational (school-based) content, these highly evolved systems emphasized rational progression, variety and precision. Noble goals including service to nation fueled the enormous focus, energy and time required to develop optimal physical structure, function and motion. We can trace much of what is now emerging as functional physical training to these early roots, and much more can be mined from the past if or when we begin to fully appreciate the importance of history in reshaping the present to meet future cultural demands. ~Ed Thomas, Ed.D.

It is a sign of our times that many exercise professionals provide a workout opportunity with little or no training, teaching or true learning opportunity. It disappoints me to see the exercise time reduced to caloric expenditure and the equivalent mind and body experience of a rat on a wheel. The modern trainer sometimes functions more like a servant than a master. Consider the respect shown to a dance instructor, martial arts expert, or head football coach. These professionals also serve, but they do it with expertise and authority. They don’t take tips and they don’t change the training based on a whim, fad or trend. They don’t change programming because they saw something cool on YouTube, and are not swayed by gimmicks. However, they are also not scared to innovate and do not need the permission of a researcher to think outside the box, but they are always responsible and accountable for their work. Ultimately, the greatest teachers, instructors and coaches strive to produce intelligent independence in their students, clients and athletes.

Independence in exercise is a double-edge sword. It is ethical and responsible for the exercise professional to create a level of exercise competence, yet the lack of exercise competence creates an employment opportunity. Just remember some of the best teacher and student relationships are seen in dance and the martial arts. The teacher constantly pushes for independence and competency, and focuses on the learning and technical competence. A good amount of physical exertion is usually the result of the learning, but this is not the goal—it’s simply a physical benefit. Calories and body parts don’t drive the session. The learning is the goal and the workout is a benefit. True masters in coaching, martial arts and dance rarely obsess on entertainment during training. They focus on teaching, competency, higher levels of independence, and also generate great physical specimens as a positive side affect.

Dr. Thomas reminds us that we are all teachers whether we accept the role or not. The good news is that we do get to decide what we teach and how we teach. Historical teaching in physical culture followed three fundamental categories.

Let’s start with the basics: precision, progression and variety.

Precision is first because understanding an exercise and being precise with the technical aspects of that exercise is important. Activities and exercises require two fundamental pillars or supports: movement competency and physical capacity.

  • Movement competency simply means the individual has the physical mobility and stability to demonstrate the correct movement patterns necessary for the task. This is fundamental and it is the driving concept behind movement screening before exercise.
  • Physical capacity simply means the individual is not limited by mobility and stability to perform a particular activity or movement pattern, but may have limitations on volume and intensity.

Separating these two qualities helps the exercise professional discern the difference between a mobility and stability fundamental movement problems and a strength, stamina or technique problems. Once competence and capacity have been established, progression allows individuals to set goals and then follow a systematic approach to gain skill. Lastly, variety allows a person to move into different forms of exercise once proficiency is developed, creating a platform of knowledge and physical competency. Variety is simply progression in a different direction. The introduction of variety is not used to provide entertainment or reduce boredom in training. It is the opportunity provided when competency is achieved in a skill, activity or exercise that supports the next activity.

Unfortunately, the recent attempt to put old-school training in exercise programs puts variety first, but does not consider precision.

If you are going to use the tool, follow the system that goes with it.

Many modern gyms have embraced the old style equipment without old-school mastery, responsibility, or the use of a systematic approach. Precision and progression do not seem to have a place when variety is nearly viral.

The unfortunate but typical scenario—Step up to the old-school exercise buffet and press this and swing that. Every day is a gut check, and we don’t have time for quality because then we will not get in the quantity and we do not know any other way to gauge our worth on _________ insert your favorite website here.

It’s ironic that we use the pieces of equipment that were in the gymnasium in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but equipment is where the similarity ends. We use these with a lesser degree of integrity and technical expertise than our ancestors.

The reason my partners and I are so passionate about this video series and the manuals that accompany them is that we teach these exercises in a very sound format, explaining the authentic genius embedded into the fabric of each one of these movements. We try to honor our ancestors with precision, progression and then variety—not the other way around. We also hope our audience will become great at a few very important physical moves and not simply adequate at everything.

We have provided programming that if performed as directed will yield a holistic training effect and produce sustainable adaptability. Sustainable adaptability means we will walk around with a solid base that will allow us to support our specialized activities. We will have the physical competency to train. This may sound crazy, but recent studies show us that exercise is actually a risk factor. That means getting more active may hurt you. Movement screening has helped set a baseline so exercise can be dosed accordingly, because some people approach exercise lacking acceptable movement competency. They will compensate and move incorrectly. Without a systematic approach, we are just guessing.

This poses the question: If we taught movement and exercise in a systematic way, would we really need a movement screen? Probably not! However, we are far removed the days where exercise systems were the norm. The result of the lack of a systematic approach created a surprising fitness landscape. Over 20% of individuals who are movement screened have pain with at least one of the simple movement patterns, and over 50% seem to have at least one significant movement pattern dysfunction related to injury risk.

It should also be noted that most individuals screened believe they are ready for exercise and are unaware of the problems that movement screening exposes. Screening and corrective exercise seem to be the most efficient way to reset the movement system and restore movement competency, but systematic programming following fundamental principles is probably the best way to maintain a state of movement competency.

Our ancestors have given us a great wellspring of passion and knowledge, but if we do not practice the exercises with the integrity, intent and precision they did, we really have not improved anything. Modern movement science has added to our practice by providing us with screening and corrective systems that can effectively manage our tendency toward under- and over-doing exercises, since both yield potential risks if not identified. A lack of activity alongside a tendency to overspecialization seems to be working at both ends of the movement dysfunction bell curve to erode movement competency of the modern fitness seeker.

Our opportunities are great. The time we can dedicate to leisure and exercise is probably more than any of our ancestors could have enjoyed. They had to squeeze in training just like we do, but most of them did not have our level of comfort or sedentary opportunities. In their compressed time schedule on top of a day that often involved physical labor or much more technically frustrating work than ours, they found time for precision, progression and variety.

To elaborate on this historical journey and to understand my passion for old-school training, please watch the videos I linked to below, and listen firsthand to Dr. Ed Thomas show us where we were, where we went and where we need to be. I am passionate about old school, but we need to make sure that we do it right.

Dr. Ed Thomas videos on

Look at the pictures below. Note the focus on movement patterns and not muscle groups or body parts. Note how the gyms had nowhere to sit and that all the equipment produced a total body effort. I realize some critics will look at the old-school gym and see liability and potentially dangerous equipment, but that is because they lack the example of a systematic learning approach where competency earned the right to exercise at higher levels of technical performance, and lack of competency meant go back to train and learn, not simply work out!

So what’s next, you may wonder. Check out My Preference for Old Stuff Part 2, here.

Italian wall chart, circa 1900-1920

Niels Bukh, Danish father of Gymnastics, author of Primary Gymnastics

Classic German Turner Training Hall, Milwaukee Wisconsin, circa 1900

West Point plyometric drills, circa 1885-1900. The cadets in the second row jumped into a squat position.