Archives for June 2011

Why We Move Poorly… and What to Do About It

Recently while reading the book Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, I could not help but draw a parallel with my work with movement dysfunction. Why We Get Fat is well researched by the author, Gary Taubes, who presents the basic case that we can become leaner by avoiding certain foods— and not just consuming the latest advertised “low-fat over-processed prepackaged, take-our-word-for-it solution.” This simple logic is almost too basic for today’s health-obsessed consumer. We want fast, sexy and cheap, but we can’t give up anything. That’s just crazy!

First and foremost, lean does not necessarily mean healthy, and it is only one marker of health. But consider that our biggest mistake while trying to lean up is not one of inclusion, but of omission. Here is the “why we get fat logic” in a nutshell.

  • If you are not as lean as you want or need to be, what you are currently doing does not work.
  • Therefore you should change something.
  • Your first changes should be deletions, not additions.
  • Once all responsible and logical deletions are managed, add some stuff if needed.

In the case of why we get fat, the absolute deletions should be all refined sugars, most all starches and liquid calories. You might say, “OUCH! Not going happen!”

Actually it’s not that bad, and if you think it is, I’m going to punch you again. I’m going to compare you to a seven-year-old who still needs a pacifier. Think of the humorous comparison for a minute: A pacifier is not necessary for life and really only offers habitual comfort. When it’s taken away, you think serious damage has occurred based on the reaction that follows, but soon even the most stubborn brats will eventually give up the habit if the pacifier is not available.

Just like the brat, our society has grown up with habitual comfort on daily soft drinks and desserts, two things that were once reserved for special occasions and before that nonexistent. Some say giving up the sweet stuff seems almost un-American. Personally, I think childhood obesity and constantly lowering military physical intake standards are un-American. However that’s just me and I’m not running for office, so I’ll just leave it at that. My point is that the solution to fat is simple in most cases, and it’s been overcomplicated to the point of absurdity. Delete foods that can potentially cause insulin fluctuations before you try to add any new diet foods or modify your exercises.

Certainly you can see where I’m headed with this nutritional diversion, which is to make a point about the way we move using the same simple logic. I have often made a habit of creating logical parallels between the way we look at our nutritional ideas and our exercise ideas. Innovation and better thinking occur in nutrition ahead of exercise and rehabilitation—the exercise paradigm of challenging conventional wisdom lags the nutritional paradigm by about 10 years.

Why We Get Fat shows how nutritional research is poorly constructed with embedded special interest agendas. Movement science for exercise and rehabilitation research is worse. Researchers attack small movement questions that don’t really make a difference, even though they use nice statistics and laser precision. We once just looked at food and applied the calories in/calories out math to explain fat. We were stupid! Now we look at movement and assume that exercises under a functional marketing label automatically produce function.

In both cases reductionism is the obvious flaw and the big error is simple: Researchers were studying inputs (food) and outputs (movement capability) without really looking at the complex systems of hormonal regulation (food) and movement perception and behavior (movement capability). Thermodynamics does not explain why we get fat, and kinesiology and biomechanics does not come close to explaining why we move poorly. It’s a movement perception and behavior problem—see the book Movement for more on this and check out

So let me apply the same logic used by Gary Taubes to the issue of why we move poorly and see what can we discover.

  • If you do not move as well as you want or need to, what you’re doing does not work.
  • Therefore you should change something.
  • Your first changes should be deletions not additions.
  • Once all responsible and logical deletions are managed add some stuff if needed.

Pretty simple, huh?

Unfortunately, the knee jerk reaction of the fitness and rehabilitation industry to movement problems is to give us exercise corrections to fix movement problems. Hell, that’s what I did, but sometimes it seemed like I was just treating the symptoms of dysfunction, not the underlying cause.

I needed to think outside the box. If you need a nutritional example to draw a movement and exercise parallel, here you go—

Let’s let our clients, athletes and patients eat like crap and sell them supplements the rest of their lives. Wait a minute—Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and most of us agree, at least in principle even if we don’t practice maxim. If corrective exercise is the pound, what is the once?

I’ll give you that in a moment, but follow this questioning first.

Why do smart, educated professionals who actually know better ask for the pound of corrective exercises when a well-placed ounce of X will do? Corrective exercise is cool, vogue, technical and we can charge for it… and before you think I’m bashing it, just remember I’m one the biggest proponents of the corrective exercise movement. However, I did not design Functional Movement Systems to be an exercise supplement company. Sure we teach the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) and the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) to exercise and rehabilitation professionals around the world. These systems are designed to identify movement dysfunction in physically active populations at all levels (FMS) and those who wish to return to physical activity following illness and injury (SFMA).

So it might be easy to assume—

  • …we designed our screening and assessment systems for the sole purpose of dispensing the remedies
  • …and the only remedy to movement dysfunction is corrective exercise.

Neither assumption is true. We are passionate about a systematic movement philosophy that often involves corrective exercises. We are in the education business and we do teach, publish and produce materials that feature new innovations in corrective exercises. However, the central premise with the FMS and the SFMA are the systematic identification and management of dysfunction.

It’s easy to assume our screening and assessments capture the sedentary and unfit among us, but our systems don’t seem to be that impressed with our current definition of fitness and athleticism. Otherwise, we would not catch so many individuals who would seem fit by all other standards. Our systems find movement dysfunction in the fit and unfit. This makes many of us wonder if we should broaden the modern definition of a physically prepared and fit individual. Pro athletes, marathoners, high school superstars, personal trainers, fitness instructors, gym rats and bodybuilders can all do poorly on the movement screens and assessments. This is mainly because we have not historically agreed on the basics of movement and physical readiness. We do not have minimal acceptable movement standards – and it all spins out of control from there. Obviously, we will have different aspirations in our sports, hobbies and favorite activities, but we should also have a common foundation in movement competency—a necessary movement aptitude all of our different activities build upon, like a non-negotiable foundation.

The lack of activity in one’s life can definitely cause erosion in fundamental movement patterns, but other things can be equally damaging. Some examples are—

  • Poor postural habits
  • Poor work ergonomics
  • Poor quality and quantity of sleep
  • Limited recovery between workouts and exercises
  • Unbalanced workout and exercise practices and loads
  • Poor coaching, training and instruction
  • Poor nutritional habits and food quality
  • Workouts and exercises that do not introduce a variety of movement patterns
  • Programming lacking a balance of perspective of quality and quantity
  • Exercise volume that compounds poor form and fosters compensation
  • A misunderstanding of movement competency compared to physical capacity
  • Exercise program design without movement baselines and retesting for effectiveness
  • Injury followed by incomplete rehabilitation and cover-up medicine
  • Continue the list if you like, but you get the point…

Deleting any one of these from your personal list can have positive effects on your movement profile. If we are honest, we could all do a better job of managing these in ourselves. Likewise, we could also educate those who depend on us to see the big picture and support their exercise goals with some sensible lifestyle management. Logically we should seek to remove a negative before we add a positive. It just makes good sense. Find the leak, then get the mop.

It’s easy to misappropriate corrective exercise and assume it will fix all. In some cases it’s like mopping up the water and assuming the problem is solved. However, managing the water on the floor only gets the representation of the problem under control. Fixing the leak is the real solution. Movement dysfunction is actually the same. The identification of dysfunction is the spill—the external indication that something is wrong. Corrective exercise, stretching and foam rolling clean up the spill, but if they are constantly necessary to keep dysfunctional movement patterns at bay, they are just mopping up the water. The first step is admitting you have a leak and systematically devising a way to fix it or at least manage it.

If something is causing dysfunction and your best professional efforts are only providing a temporary solution, this does not mean you abandon those things that are providing a temporary solution. It means you should have no illusions that you have gotten to the root of the problem. You are managing the problem, but you are not making lasting changes. When I teach and hear professional frustrations about corrective exercise it goes like this—

“Gray, the correctives are a great way to prep someone for exercise, but the client seems to go back to movement dysfunction by the time I see them again. Can you give me some more advanced corrective exercises?”

To me that is the equivalent of asking for a stronger dose of the wrong medicine to get the desired affect. If the corrective exercise has temporary benefit on movement pattern dysfunction but no lasting influence, we need to logically dissect the problem.

Lifestyle influences are pushing dysfunction harder than our programming can inject corrections that target acceptable function. Identify the potential things that can reinforce movement dysfunction and reduce or remove them. Things that produce movement dysfunction today can be potentially damaging and destructive tomorrow.

Corrective exercise compliance is not acceptable. Corrective exercise is not a workout, and needs to be performed a lot in the beginning of a workout. Think of the minimal effective dose. It needs to be performed on workout days and non-workout days until it is no longer needed.

But how do you know it’s not needed? Rescreen without prep!

Both scenarios apply and lifestyle management coupled with corrective exercise is the obvious solution. You can default to this because this blended scenario is usually the most compressive answer. However, it’s rarely a 50/50 distribution, so be prepared to attack the behaviors that foster the most efficient and effective change toward more acceptable movement.

The best place to practice this is with yourself. What’s your FMS score? What corrections were you assigned? If we cannot practice this logic on our dysfunctions, how can we hope to have the confidence and professionalism to be the guide for another? Life’s little surprises constantly make me go back to my logic and fundamental principles. It’s human nature to be impatient and look for shortcuts, so entertain the thought that the rules don’t apply to you for about five minutes and then be a professional and figure it out… and realize they do. The best professionals are examples of their own advice. Work on your own FMS, but get someone else to screen you and let them score you—own what they find and work on it! If you are sidelined with a problem, attack your SFMA with a rehabilitation expert.

If you are into self-help options and you have movement dysfunction, try learning and owning the Turkish getup. It has lots of traps to catch you, and in Kettlebells from the Ground Up, Brett Jones and I mapped out some cool corrections to help. Unfortunately, you will need to do your own lifestyle analysis and delete all the stuff that could potentially be hijacking the mobility, stability and symmetry necessary to perform successful getups. If you already own Kettlebells from the Ground Up, you may want to apply it more thoroughly. If you don’t, you might want to check it out. We will soon be releasing the sequel to the original with lots of new material and some surprises, so get acquainted or reacquainted with the original as a way to own your own dysfunction and get ready for the new information in our sequel.

My recommendation is to follow the instructions for one month. Dedicate a minimum of two sessions to the corrective or movements that present you with challenge. Train for symmetry and own each stage before moving to the next. At the same time, look at the movements where you have problems and look at your lifestyle and workouts to see if you can find places where you compound problems, put quantity over quality, or lack a balanced approach. Most exercise and rehabilitation professionals are not free of movement dysfunction and can therefore practice an individualized blend of lifestyle management and corrective exercise themselves. It’s the surest way to really understand the power we have to help others when we apply the correct systematic approach.

We afford some degree of respect to those individuals who have successfully lost weight and maintained a lean physique because they took action. Fix yourself first—it’s the most impressive part of being an expert.

Any fool can know. The point is to understand. ~Albert Einstein

Author’s note —Now I guess I’ll go work on my T-spine mobility and stiff lower back. I’ve been leaning over my poorly positioned laptop for too long and it’s killing my neck.

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