Movement Principle # 5

This is part five 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, Part Three, Part Four. 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.

Principle 5: Corrective exercise should not be a rehearsal of outputs. Instead, it should represent challenging opportunities to manage mistakes on a functional level near the edge of ability.

Technological advancements in movement and exercise science that neglect functional ­movement-­pattern baselines ignore the natural laws that govern the sensory motor learning system that produces our perceptions and behaviors. This is the process that initially produces these patterns. Some conventional practices rehearse proper movement outcomes without establishing proper sensory inputs. They attempt to manage behavior without addressing ­perception.

It’s common to see movement scientists identify the best technique for an exercise or an athletic movement. To create an acceptable standard, they map the sequence of movements that consistently produce great performance. Coaches and trainers come along and try to mimic those movements, and these become drills and exercises. The drills and exercises get recycled and modified. They’re applied on top of dysfunction and they become protocols. After a few years, no one questions the ­logic.

This is not to discredit the ­high-­end skill drills. It just points out that drills are applied whenever deficiency is noted without considering other aspects of movement or performance. The ironic part of the story is that the elite individuals who produced the ­near-­perfect movement sequence that become the standard did not actually practice or use the drills.

To state it a different way, the analysis of the superior techniques produced exercises that did not produce the technique in the first place. How could they? The best arrive at excellence without access to drills because the drills are built on observations of their athletic output, but not their ­input.

Fancy drills are often developed by watching the end result of a movement, performance or skill, and not the fundamentals and deep practice that produce the superior outcome in the first place. We must be cautious at each level of movement learning not to practice rehearsals of outcomes. This might produce very fine imitation, but not authentic movement ­behaviors.

The challenge I speak of here basically reduces the need for a lot of verbal and visual feedback or instruction. If you appropriately address someone’s corrective issue with the right exercise at the right time, it should be challenging but not so difficult that the person can’t be successful the majority of the time.

Let’s use a few examples like I have in the book. If there’s a hip stability problem on one side, I may have you half-kneeling. There are quite a few reasons for this.

First, removing your foot, ankle and knee from the mix helps me focus just on the hip and core. Reducing your body height reduces the amount of balance reaction. With one knee down and one foot up, this puts you in a position that isolates the single side.

Basically, I get to turn my microscope onto some stability issues that are very central to your core. I also get to compare that response in a very narrow base half-kneeling to your other side, knowing the human body should be symmetrical in most cases.

Now, we’re not perfectly symmetrical, but there’s a rule of about 10% that works for strength, range of motion and functional patterning. Even though we’re not supposed to see perfect symmetry and perfection, you should be able to demonstrate that if you can half-kneel on one side with no balance loss and actually do some activities, but you can’t even acquire balance on the other side, there’s a big asymmetry.

The very first thing I try to do is demonstrate through my screening and assessment that there are some milestone positions where my clients, patients and athletes will say, ‘Oh my gosh, where did that come from? I can’t do that on one side.’

I then challenge them, ‘Now, let’s see how you can do it.’ Of course, trying harder to do a natural movement sometimes makes things worse. I say, ‘Relax. Breathe. Listen to what’s happening.’ They may feel very wobbly, but as long as they’re not falling over, that’s stimulus.

That fall prevention stimulus is probably causing more positive motor programming. However, managing those little mistakes right at the edge of ability is causing more motor programming than a blind rehearsal trying to create the world’s perfect bridge or the world’s perfect plane.

I said this in the book a few different times. Corrective strategy is not a performance for everybody else in the gym. It’s an intimate exchange between the trainer or coach who sets up the situation and the client, patient or athlete who needs to benefit from it.

In other words, I created a challenge. Overcome that challenge.

I have dosed the challenge so it’s not overly difficult or doesn’t stress you too enough to cause a learning opportunity. Overcome this challenge and we will move on, or take more time to overcome this challenge. The extra time under tension, under load and under stress will teach you.

Often we’re not patient enough. If we rush children when learning to crawl or walk, we make them skip an important step. Later on, it would probably show through in a delay in their complete development.

Nor should we rush the current strategy. If it takes you two months to get half-kneeling appropriately, then it takes two months. I’m sorry I can’t speed up the process. If it takes someone else two minutes, then I plan to progress that and turn it into something else. Corrective strategy often doesn’t look as academic or clean from the outside as it is naturally correct from the inside.

We’ll present Principle 6 next Tuesday. To continue your study in the meantime, please consider the book, Movement and the live workshop DVD, Applying the FMS Model.

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