Archives for October 2014


This past summer, I had an opportunity to work with Dan John. You should know, by now, that I’m a big fan of Dan’s work and unique perspective.

Dan is one of those coaches who tries things more than he talks about them. After he’s tried them and found value, he almost can’t stop talking about them. When Dan gets a question, he talks to a few people and gains perspective. Then he goes into the gym. He enters a training situation and a coaching mentality and recruits feedback from multiple people.

DanJohn - Farmer Carry

Only then can he determine how and what he thinks about an exercise.

Dan has always implemented certain principles in the way he develops someone and that is why I wanted Dan standing next to me when we approached The Essentials of Coaching and Training Functional Exercise Continuums. Last spring, I sat down with the FMS staff and we looked at ways to map out systematic thinking in the development of exercise continuums. People may think that we snap exercises together like puzzle pieces, but it doesn’t really go that way.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an unabridged audio version of this article,
Episode 46 of Gray Cook Radio


First, let’s make sure that we all have the same definition of a continuum: A continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not particularly different from each other although the extremes are quite different.

When we introduce somebody to a series of exercises, hopefully we have a goal or a pinnacle exercise that demonstrates everything in fine working order. Once we know that end destination, it is our job to connect the exercise movements—from a very low level of complexity and competency all the way to the place that we want to go. But we need to snap those together in a sequence to ensure that the person performing the exercise will not have an unnecessary detour, all too often seen in current fitness development and athletic development.

My first order of business in avoiding that little hiccup or glitch is to develop a better forecast. When we just can’t get deadlifts going right, or can’t seem to get the sequence on a pull-up, or can’t do a kettlebell swing, we likely didn’t know our map well enough. Something occurred that we neither intended nor expected. We should have known the person a little bit better because a continuum is an environment that we create.

We step in—in place of nature, in place of the natural development that this person was going through—and we say, “We’re going to do this instead.” Returning to my recent articles on Physical Education, I’ll reiterate: I don’t think we can develop you better than nature. I think that some of the strongest, fastest and most skillful movers on the planet may have already lived out their lives, many of them without ever being coached.

I’m not going to assume for a minute that my small brain is wiser than the entire natural system that has developed us but I do feel comfortable in saying this: Even though I don’t believe I can develop you better than nature, I do think that I can do it quicker and I also feel like I can do it safer. Having said that, I feel comfortable piecing together an exercise continuum that will get you from Point A to Point B. I will base it on what I know about the activities and what I know about you.

While we understand the continuum—we get how one exercise seamlessly gives rise to the next more complex pattern—we don’t always understand the person we’re putting through it. That’s the biggest problem I see in continuums. If the person has fundamental mobility and stability issues, don’t be surprised later—get those off the table now.

In our pre-conference workshop for Perform Better this year when Dan and I explored continuums, I discussed some movement behaviors that must be managed. I talked about breathing, bending, balancing and bouncing—The Four Bs.

Even though it sounds like I’m getting ready to tell a story with Winnie the Pooh in it, that’s not what I’m talking about at all. I need you to have a quick way to remember that each one of these abilities builds upon the other. If your breathing is not right, any martial artist or yoga practitioner from the last 4,000 years of history will tell you that you missed the starting point. If your breathing is not correct at rest or with escalated activity, everything else will be broken. It is the one rhythm that you cannot do without.

Breathing is the one attribute that functions both consciously and at an unconscious or subconscious level. At any time you can manage your state by controlling your breath. Are you angry or over-exerted? There are ways you can breathe to make that situation better. If you don’t know that or don’t understand that and are a fitness or rehabilitation professional, quickly explore breathing, observe its responses to the loads you place clients or patients and don’t immediately try to coach it.

Bending follows breathing and is your ability to yield to your environment and create sensory information. I am passionate about mobility—not for the biomechanical necessity, but for the sensory input. Why do I obsess on changing mobility before I approach stability? I consider most of your stabilization to be just like your breathing—performed at a subconscious or unconscious level. Your stabilization runs most of the time at a reflexive level. You’re not thinking about ityou balance effortlessly while focusing on another task.

If your mobility is compromised enough to make you compensate, the sensory input that you have to your reflexive behavior is askew—you have an overload of information or an underload of information. Either way, you’re not receiving the information you need.

We all understand the biomechanical reason for compensation. However, if your mobility is compromised, I can test your natural learning loop. If sensory information is not converted to perception and perception is not converted to action, you’re not going to get better without embracing the idea of changing mobility. Even if mobility never becomes normal, don’t let that be an excuse—try to improve it in an appreciable way prior to going into stabilization, which takes me to balance.


Balance is far more than your equilibrium or the ability to stand on one foot for 20 seconds. You use your balance in a deadlift. You use your balance in a Turkish Getup, in a Farmer’s Carry, when you swim. You use your balance in nearly all movement situations—first to keep you aligned and then to gauge the amount of muscle contribution between agonist and antagonist.

Lastly, we arrive at bounce—the way you use your backswing to pre-load your golf swing or cock your arm back before you punch. Bounce describes the stored energy when one foot hits the ground and you create your own reflexive situation along with the elastic component of your muscle and tendon working.

If you watch babies, they don’t really do a lot of lifting. They move right through their patterns. They pick up things and carry them. Before you know it, they’re bouncing all over the place, running and sprinting around and swinging and throwing things. Babies skip the strength phase, which should make us ask ourselves, “Why are we so enamored with the strength phase?”

As Dan and I exposed the two continuums of the kettlebell swing or the push press, we thought:

pushpress2Edited_KBs_from_the_Center_-_Pages_final_version_1What does it take to do a push press?
You should probably have a good squat and a good press.

What does it take to do a kettlebell swing?
You should probably have a good deadlift.

We don’t see a lot of people with good kettlebell swings and we don’t see a lot of people with good push presses. If they do have a good push press, it’s likely a much better push press on their dominant side than their non-dominant side. There’s no reason for that asymmetry in a basic movement like a push press. We wouldn’t expect symmetry in a tennis serve or throwing a fastball, but if you can’t show me symmetry in a push press, something is wrong with your engine.

More information on the value of the push press and kettlebell swing can be found in the audio version of this article.

The moral of the story: Dan and I used both of these continuums to demonstrate that the lacking piece within most continuums is the carry phase. That is the number one reason why I wanted a coach of Dan John’s accomplishments and wisdom standing next to me. Dan has always had some type of carry as part of his personal development program and the development program that he does for others. Dan is the messenger for loaded carries.

I’ve tried to demonstrate how his wisdom actually works. Toddlers don’t do a lot of lifting but the things they do lift, they carry for a long time. When you carry, you must demonstrate alignment with integrity under load and this is reflex stabilization. If your carries are poor, if you dump your posture before you finish your task, we’ve demonstrated that the endurance of your stabilizers will not withstand power work because your prime movers do not really care if your stabilizers smoke out early or not. You will always squeeze out more repetitions. They just won’t be repetitions with integrity.

Therefore, we use carries (whether they’re a conventional Farmer’s Carry or a unilateral overhead to front rack to suitcase carry) to demonstrate your alignment with integrity under load and even your symmetry. If we can use your holds and carries to create integrity and alignment under load, then we’ve demonstrated that your stabilizers have the endurance, the feedback and the control to allow you to march along this power continuum without any unnecessary setbacks.


Most people go from patterning to lifting. They’re missing a step. By definition, the steps of a continuum should be almost unperceivable. They should meld together. Going from a pattern to a loaded pattern is not a continuum. Gain the pattern. Gain the alignment. Gain the integrity. Show me that you can carry things in different positions. When you can carry those things in different positions, I think you can lift with much better integrity, develop your strength authentically and move right into power without a hiccup.

In The Essentials of Coaching and Training Functional Exercise Continuums, we broke down the continuum to show you that the missing link in most continuums is a lack of a carry phase, a lack of a holding phase and the lack of alignment with integrity under load in very simple patterns demonstrating work capacity. I choose the words work capacity over strength because you can consider yourself strong with a 1-RM but I may not want you backing me up climbing a mountain. I want someone with work capacity.

We lift and we train to have enough work capacity to pursue the skills that we desire to develop. If your work capacity is lacking, most of your skills will be practiced without integrity and alignment under load.

You need to know about continuums.


 To see holds and carries in action,
check out my new project with Dan John and Lee Burton:

Coaching DVD

The Essentials of Coaching and Training Functional Exercise Continuums.

It covers:
Exercise choices for power, work capacity and metabolic load
How to evaluate movement health, competency, capacity and complexity
The difference between an exercise continuum and a training progression
Minimum standards to progress, hold or regress
When to correct and when to coach
The metrics of the 4 Bs—Breathe, Bend, Balance, Bounce
What it means to play, practice or train, and who needs which
Postures and patterns, and drills to develop both

Don’t Give Up and Don’t Get Hurt – Physical Education, Pt. 3

I want to continue on the thread of Physical Education. My most recent articles have focused on the many shortcomings that have emerged in the educational environment. Please understand that my critique is based on the inability to create change and not the intent. I want to force us all to rediscover that intent and work together to accept this development in a systematic way—because life depends on it. What I hope to offer are the beginnings of a humble solution, while striving for clear communication and objective accountability.

Now, I’d like to talk about an environment beyond education. When we go into specialized jobs or activities or even professional sports, there’s an entirely different kind of physical education and development that needs to occur.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an abridged audio version of this article,
Episode 45 of Gray Cook Radio


When we try to introduce a new subject matter, like Functional Movement Screening, in an environment that already has an established physical culture, it’s going to make waves and send ripples. Chief Alan Brunacini from the Phoenix Fire Department embraced the fitness message and wanted his firefighters to benefit from that. But he understood that bringing in fitness experts to tell firefighters how to be fit enough to do their job better would cause problems.

People like to learn from people who respect their roles, knowledge and abilities. Chief Brunacini made a brilliant decision: instead of bringing in trainers, he sent out a few select firefighters to become acquainted with and educated on the most important facets of physical development. They focused on a fitness standpoint for injury reduction and increased physical competence and independence.

Let’s take people who know the intangibles and teach them some of the rules of fitness, some very smart rules of fitness. When trying to implement movement screening into athletics, it’s always great to have the team captain on your side. That’s happened to me in the NFL and in the NHL. When the veterans buy in, the rookies don’t have a choice. If the rookies buy in too quickly, you lose the veterans because they’re exposed to too many new fads every day. They didn’t become veterans by chasing every one of them.

Always think about who you’re pulling in when you’re exposing a group of highly competent, highly specialized and well-trained people to information. They would rather hear fitness information from somebody who knows what they know. Having said that, what if I were going to introduce movement screening as a physical management tool in the military? I would not have the people who do your rehabilitation administer the movement screen. That’s not the context with which we want it.

The people pushing you toward physical excellence, the same people counting your pull-ups and push-ups, should be the ones screening your movement.

The pressure cooker they perpetuate finds weak links and develops them in an accelerated manner. Those who understand what we are trying to do use the FMS to accelerate development for a competitive advantage. Remember—a deficiency on a test is not failure. It simply identified something to be associated with any future failure to develop. A deficiency on a screen or test is an opportunity to avoid failure by responsibly managing your weakness.

We should hold movement in the same proactive light as physical fitness, not in the reactive light of physical rehabilitation. Don’t do movement screens in rehab, in a rehab setting or even with rehab staff. Do movement screens with a staff that pushes physical excellence, and imparts, through both gesture and action, the concept that movement is a vital part of that excellence.

If you want to introduce the movement screen to highly specialized groups, take the extra time to find the leaders—the alpha wolves, the people who are in charge of and held accountable for physical excellence. I think our penetration in the NFL probably came more through strength coaches than through rehabilitation professionals. We’ve had a few rehabilitation professionals that had such a good rapport with the strength conditioning coach that they were able to get it through, but for the most part, the places where the movement screen is more sustainable in pro athletics is when it’s embraced by the strength coach. I think it’s appreciated by the rehabilitation staff—but should not be seen as rehabilitation or a remedial effort. It should be seen as one more thing to help you approach physical development, especially if a vetted test identifies you as below average.

When I visit an organization to do a seminar or work with athletes, there’s always that one person they want me to see. If I can convince that person—if I can generate a better diagnosis, a better plan of attack or create a better movement situation for that person—then their action and sometimes their verbal endorsement is all the program needs. If I can’t convince the team leader that I’ve got a good idea for your team, then I don’t deserve to talk to the team.

I have found that when I go into the arena of physical excellence, whether it be athletic or tactical, they’re not interested in my research projects. They’re not interested in the articles or books I’ve written.

They want to hear a practical, no nonsense explanation of why this system is better than what they’re currently doing. They want to hear about the fail-safes we’ve built in to help them avoid wasted time during physical development.

Also remember that the first part of physical education and development we let occur is natural selection, you simply don’t make the cut. If you can’t make it to pro football or if you can’t get on a college football team or if you can’t make the minimum requirements to get into the military, you probably wouldn’t have been successful there anyway.

Countless conversations have led me to identify a pattern in the development of our Navy SEALs. Sure it’s oversimplified, but it catches bad patterns and they definitely don’t want bad patterns: when someone goes to BUDS training (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training,) there are only two things that he has to do: don’t ring the bell and don’t get injured.

Number one: don’t give up.

Number two: don’t get hurt. Understand your limitations and function as close as you can to them. If you go beyond your limitations make it intentional development. Make it count. You should be getting a gold medal or saving your life or someone else’s.

You may not finish first, but you don’t need to finish last. We see too many injuries occurring in training and exercise. Inevitably, in the future, people who exercise will be more prone to injury than people who don’t. That’s going to make exercise look bad—like an unnecessary risk factor when really it’s the other way around. Just don’t take unnecessary risks in your physical development and exercise until it countsuntil makes a difference.

What’s the best way to not get injured? Know your capabilities, but push yourself. Know your weaknesses, and work on them. The work you do today is the foundation of adaptation.

I saw a great T-shirt at a cross country meet that said, “When you start the race, don’t be an idiot. When you finish, don’t be a wimp.” It’s the same message. Run the race you are meant to run. Run the race you trained to run. Do the things you are capable of and when it comes to those last four seconds or those last four minutes or those last four reps or whatever, don’t be a wimp. You’re already on the right path, work as hard as you can. Remember my premise: I don’t believe we can instruct physical development better than nature. I think we can do it safer and faster.

You will have a hard time proving that we can do it better than nature. Look at the example of how many athletes have emerged from obscurity to earn gold medals. They’re self-trained. They didn’t have the pedigree, the university backing or the sponsorships. They didn’t get to be a pro for four years before they competed in the Olympics. They overcame many unbelievable obstacles to get where they got. They made mistakes and they learned from the mistakes quicker than the rest.

This is why I think books like The Talent Code or Talent is Overrated are important. We need to know that the talent (we see in those people we want to emulate with our physical activity) comes from deliberate practice. Even if they don’t use word deliberate, that’s the way they practice.  Every one of us has that one thing we do pretty darn good. Look closely at the way that you embrace and refine those talents, you’ll see what other people do with physical art.

You quickly see the bottlenecks to physical development when you start with movement. If people don’t move well, they can’t benefit from the environmental stresses because they have no other play. Think SAID Principle—they can’t have any adaptation because they’re already in compensation. They don’t get to push their physical limits, yet because they’re in compensation they fatigue early anyway. They don’t get to spend as much time learning the skill and soon fall by the wayside and have less than optimal performance.

All because their movement was inefficient.

The inefficiency pointed them in a direction more toward an injury or more toward a general lack of physical development and not many of us will stay in an environment that doesn’t give us a lot of success or gives us continuous failure. Not all of us are built like Rudy, enduring for four years and hoping to get a start. Most of us will move on.

What is our job? Our job is not to create a situation that will end in major failure four years from now. We need to offer sustainable, little lessons. Small failures, if you will, that you can learn from and that will quickly keep you on track. Your pride, your agenda and your calendar—those may get injured, but your body won’t. Nature will let you get injured if you’re dumb enough to get injured.

Let nature provide the variety. You provide the “don’t quit and don’t get hurt” and I think you’ll do fine.