Movement Principle # 3

This is part three of our 10-week series in which Gray further develops the 10 movement principles he presented in Chapter 15 of his book, Movement. If you missed the earlier parts, start where you left off: Part One, Part Two. We’ll post a new segment each week on Tuesdays. This material was also covered in depth in his live workshop DVD, Applying the FMS Model.

Biomechanical and physiological evaluation does not provide a complete risk screening or diagnostic assessment tool for a comprehensive understanding of movement pattern behaviors.

This text presents the case that we have investigated physical capacities and movement specializations in greater detail than we have the fundamental movement patterns that support and make them possible. Our application of knowledge regarding exercise physiology and biomechanics surpasses our application of what we know about the sensory and motor development of fundamental human movement patterns.

As professionals, we have tried to solve physical capacity problems with solutions exclusively targeting physical capacity. We have tried to enhance movement-specific skills by detailed maps of skill that are often practiced at the very edges of physical capability. These practices are valuable if they identify the weakest link in the movement chain. However, if they simply identify physical capacity and skill problems caused by some fundamental movement problem, focus on these areas actually overshadows a crack in the entire foundation. The roof isn’t leaking, the basement is.

This is really my way of saying that the fact that I’m a proponent of movement screening doesn’t mean I discount or devalue second- and third-level testing. To me, second-level testing is performance-based testing—metabolic testing, physical capacity testing. Third-level testing would be the specific skill or endeavor.

If your VO2 max is the best in the world, but you still can’t win a marathon, maybe it’s your running mechanics. Maybe it’s your race strategy. There are different tiers where we have to deconstruct and reconstruct the people we train and advise.

Many times I’ll see somebody with a performance issue, from getting stronger on the bench press or gaining more endurance in a chosen sport. There is a fundamental error there. We often seek power when really we have poor efficiency. If you’re not efficient in the way you move, becoming stronger really doesn’t get you more horsepower because your wheels are spinning.

The people we coach and train often show an amazing gain or big improvement in just a couple of weeks. We shouldn’t be so naïve to think strength or capacity improved that much in that short time we had the opportunity to coach them. Instead, we need to realize made them more efficient. We helped their muscles coordinate with the brain’s motor program so they don’t have unnecessary tightness or restriction and they’re not fighting themselves going into movement.

Many times when we don’t have a fundamental movement-based test and we see deficiencies in physical capacity or skill, we immediately offer more physical capacity programming or more skill training. I’ve seen it happen a lot on the golf course, four more instructions for the swing, but the person can’t even balance on the left foot. I would venture to say that learning to balance on your left foot would probably have a greater effect on your swing than any verbal cues given on that faulty base. It doesn’t devalue skill training; it just points out the hierarchy.

Movement competency comes first. Physical capacity comes second. Using these two things to then develop movement-based skills in a particular direction or specialization is third.

We can work on these at the same time. We just can’t load a movement pattern that has a poor foundation. That’s what this movement principle is all about.

Move on to Part 4 here. To continue your study, please consider the book, Movement and the live workshop DVD, Applying the FMS Model.


  1. Francisco Medeiros says:

    At the moment that´s my great principle. I´m trying to pass to a group of open mind coaches that principle of 3 movement levels but is not easy, physical capacities still at the top followed by a recent attention to skill…

  2. I have seen examples of the disregard/ignorance to the movement foundation in strength & conditioning training. A movement based test is essential for the progress of the participant. I don’t know how many times I have seen very strong and otherwise athletic individuals with balance issues and other movement patterns that could be easily fixed, but instead receive more strength and skill training. Thanks for the insight Gray.

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