My Body Let Me Down . . . Again

I know I’ve thought this . . . maybe I’ve even said it.

“My body let me down.”

Beyond my personal usage, it’s a very frequent statement I hear as a coach and as a physical therapist. It’s often how people refer to a performance that wasn’t up to speed or an injury that was unforeseen.

For a healthy perspective, you could also flip the statement. Maybe you let your body down? Maybe your body has been sending you signals for quite some time that things aren’t right: feeling tired all the time, less than optimal energy, poor flexibility, a problem on one side or pain with simple movements. All of these things are signals; the only way your body really has to communicate with you.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an audio version of this article,
Episode 58 of Gray Cook Radio

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A simple checklist could help you quickly locate the source(s) of your body’s problem with you:

Any boxes unchecked?

In today’s highly-quantified life, with Fitbits and all kinds of gadgets that will analyze your body’s natural rhythms, frequencies and tendencies, the one thing you’re failing to recognize is a need to be self-aware. You may not be a self-regulating organism. Some of the best athletes of all time just know their body so well they don’t need the Fitbit. Well, you can use a Fitbit (or any similar device) to get to get to that level of self-regulation.

Start deciding to write down if you had a good night’s sleep before you check and see if a device told you that you did. See if you actually had an awesome trail run (by both time and feel) before you look at your optimal heart rate and your recovery. Can you estimate your state of readiness before a new app tells you about your heart rate variability and your current state of readiness?

You don’t need a device to see if you’re letting down your body. If you have pain with simple movements or during exercise and don’t do anything about it, you’re letting your body down. It’s the only way your body has to speak to you in that pattern. You are so self-unaware of poor movement patterns that your body finally had to use its loudest volume to communicate with you.

Regardless of what your device says about your quantity/quality of sleep, if you’re tired when you wake up in the morning, get out of bed and do something for three or four minutes, like a sun salutation or a few simple stretches. Roll around on the ground. After about two to three minutes, you’ll find out you weren’t tired at all. You got plenty of rest. You were just transitioning very poorly. You were missing that window to go ahead and jumpstart your body and send it some signals as it was sending you some signals. Learn to live in harmony with your body.

We look at a lot of signals. With Functional Movement Screening and Y-Balance Testing, we can easily see when your body’s function is actually under your expectations for the activities you’re getting ready to go into. Does it mean you’ll have an injury? No. does it mean you’ll have a less than optimal opportunity to become better? Probably.

There is a constantly recurring theme in movement screening and movement testing research: those who compared the most poorly to the majority of most groups also required greater resources to accomplish the same results as the majority.

Ankle mobility is a very, very important factor in the fitness and athletic communities. What’s an indicator you can figure out right now? If you’ve lost your deep squat, the ability to sit deeply, almost butt-on-heels without weight, just in your living room or outside, with or without shoes on, then there could be an ankle mobility problem. So, if you’ve lost your deep squat, that’s the first signal that you are no longer moving as authentically as your forefathers. Or a three-year-old. Secondly, if you have pain with movement that’s not extreme movement (not intense movement, not even loaded movement or extreme movement it’s simply an average movement pattern: touching your toes, lunging on each side, taking a knee and standing back up) that’s your body sending you a signal.

Inability to perform movement patterns and put your body into shapes and postures that are absolutely normal is an indicator that there’s dysfunction. Look at somebody else doing a movement or look at a textbook picture of a movement. Can you reproduce that movement? Can you read and write the language of movement patterns?

If you see a squat, attempt one, and actually perform a hip hinge, then you cannot read and write movement patterns.

If this were English class, I’d question your literacy and your fundamentals. But, if it’s a day at the gym, we suspend logic and just load on some weight, and see how much you can push . . . then post the experience on Facebook.

Listen to the signals your body is sending you. If you’re having a hard time reading those signals, ask for help. The Functional Movement Screen was designed to help start the conversation. Most people think it was designed to finish the conversation. It was not. If your movement screen is normal, it doesn’t mean all things are well. There are lots of other tests we need to do to solidify, say, your performance and your durability. If your movement screen is clear, but you’re having fitness problems, we can then actually screen your fitness and fundamental capacities. If your movement screen is dysfunctional, we can actually put your fitness goals over to the side for a minute, work intensely for about a week on corrective strategy, and see if we actually changed your movement screen. If we did, we could go back and measure that fitness issue that was giving you a problem. If it’s gone, what you thought was a fitness problem was simply a functional problem.

This occurs so often with the participants at our FCS courses that it seems staged. I assure you that it isn’t, but it does demonstrate that we decide on the problem before we measure or baseline all of the potential sources or complicating factors.

Last, but not least, if you have pain during a movement screen, the movement screen has done its job. It’s not going to tell you too much more about that pain, other than the site where it occurred and the movement pattern that provoked that symptom. From that standpoint, we’ve got a nice safety net. A professional, like a chiropractor, certified athletic trainer, physical therapist or a physician trained in the SFMA can take that same movement pattern language that we use in the movement screen to help engineer your fitness and actually construct a rehabilitation plan that’s based on your movement pattern behaviors, not just look at you like a bag of body parts.

If you want to know how to listen to your body, just start listening to your body. Start listening to the signals I’ve been discussing. Follow some of the guidelines I’ve given you. If you’re having a hard time just getting reintroduced to your body, that’s when sometimes a single session of a movement screen is worth 10 workouts from the exact same professional. A single step in the wrong direction can be easily fixed, but 2,000 steps in that wrong direction will require serious time and energy to correct.

Map makers and geographers will tell you, “The map is not the territory. It’s simply a representation. The territory is much different, much more diverse, and ever-changing. The map is a fixed set of images that simply relates to the territory.” Looking at an anatomy book and pointing out your painful body part, that’s playing with a map. Going through a movement screen, going through corrective strategy, confronting your own inappropriate movement behaviors . . . that’s getting into the territory. That requires you to get your feet a little muddy and your hands a little bit calloused. In the end, you and your body will be talking together. You and your body will be engaging the familiar and the unfamiliar with integrity.

Whether you start listening to the signals of your body and using some quantifying assistance to gauge your perception to its measured reality or whether you want to seek out a movement screen professional to just help you find out where your movement literacy is probably good enough to pursue a training goal and where it’s inadequate, you’re probably never going to see that goal unless you learn how to read and write movement patterns first. It doesn’t replace any of the fitness strategies or performance strategies you’ll put on top of that. However, most coaches at the elite levels are far too wise to put unnecessary fitness loads on inappropriate movement patterns. The movement screen was our simple way to tap into this acquired wisdom long before we are as accomplished and wise.

If you believe that perception drives behavior, then embrace the corollary: Self-awareness is the first step towards self-regulation.

If you’ve got 10 minutes, shake hands with your body, because you’re getting ready to start communicating in a completely different way. Start by understanding, start by listening. Maybe you’ve failed your body, and maybe your body didn’t fail you.


Here’s an interesting experiment . . . Watch Kelly McGonigal’s great TedTalk, How To Make Stress Your Friend. Only, replace stress with movement . . .


Need  to play catch up on all things MOVEMENT?
Here are some of my favorite lectures, conveniently in one collection:

Gray Cook lectures

Activity and Exercise

Recently, I was asked to lecture at an event organized by Equinox. I was both honored and humbled to be in the presence of many wonderful speakers.

At the end of the day, we all looked forward to the panel discussion, in which the audience, who had been waiting patiently letting us speak all day, got to ask us questions and hear the different ways we would entertain their answers.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an audio version of this article,
Episode 57 of Gray Cook Radio

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One of the questions came to the panel phrased like this:

“All of you travel abroad and speak at international conferences. What is the biggest difference between the United States and the rest of the world in regards to how we look at exercise, fitness and active lifestyles?”

I looked around the room and nobody reached for the mic, so I grabbed it and said:

“One of the things that I became immediately aware of in my international travels for education and teaching was the fact that, in the United States, we speak of someone’s exercise program. When I’m dealing with a person who was raised outside of the US (or when I’m working outside of the US), more often than not, people don’t ask about exercise.

They ask “What is your activity? What activities do you enjoy?”

I think that mindset is more representative of an active lifestyle than any exercise. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with exercise and many of us define ourselves by the exercises that we enjoy the most. But, that is only a simple part of our active lifestyle.

It’s almost like asking someone, “What are your favorite supplements?” as opposed to asking them, “What foods do you like to eat? What meals and food combinations do you enjoy?”

Internationally, I think there might be a slightly more authentic appreciation of an active lifestyle, whereas, in the US, where we spend much more time working and entertaining ourselves than actually focusing on mindful movement, we often want to package that in sets and reps and quick little trips to the gym.

So, the active lifestyle and the activities that you want to do should take precedence and the exercises should the be vehicles or things that make the activities go smoother for you.

In the book The Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler tells us that the flow state is one of the most important factors in action/adventure sports and that’s why we’re seeing records fall at an astounding rate. He also used flow as a way to describe why surfers and skateboarders don’t have to be begged to practice—they don’t even have to schedule it—practice spontaneously occurs through the love of the flow state that is generated by participating in that activity. They don’t need fitness monitors to remind them that the need to skateboard or surf today.

But, those aren’t the only activities that create a flow state. For some people, it is a conveniently put together exercise package. We have to ask ourselves: ‘Is it sustainable and will it fulfill our active needs throughout our entire lifespan?’

This brings me to a video that I’d like to share. My good friend and accomplished strength coach, Jon Torine, and I have conversations, nearly on a weekly basis, talking about everything from high-end performance training and the next teams we’re going to consult with, to ways to fix physical education.

Jon has recently been involved in climbing, because both of his sons are engaged by that activity. He’s challenged himself to start climbing as well—and it has revealed many things (in some of the most astounding ways) that his performance and conditioning background hadn’t seen.

This video will only take six minutes. Even though the statistics say that the video-digesting public rarely watches a complete video, I would encourage you not to play this video until you have dedicated the six minutes required to watch it.

FOREVER – It ain’t over ’til it’s over. from cafekraft on Vimeo.

Allow this video to inspire you to think more about activity than exercise. If you focus on an activity, you will quickly identify the exercises that will help you with that activity, but if you focus your life only on exercise, you’ll have to constantly be reminded to “take your vitamins and your supplements.”

Sometimes, I feel guilty because I haven’t been in the gym enough. But I never feel guilty that I haven’t hiked or paddleboarded enough, because every time life gives me an opportunity, to do either of those activities, I will do them.

I would hope that no matter how involved you are in the exercise profession or the exercise life, you don’t let the focus on exercise overshadow the flow state or the reason you like moving in the first place.