Movement Principle # 7

This is part seven 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, Part Five, and Part Six,. 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 7: We should not put fitness on movement dysfunction.

It is possible for fit people to move poorly and unfit people to move well. We measure basic fitness quantity and basic movement quality with different tools. We forget this and assume that fitness is the fundamental baseline, but it is ­not.

Fitness and physical performance or capacity is the second step in a ­three-­step process. As you discuss the information in this book with peers, other professionals, clients or patients, keep it simple at first. Make sure you establish agreement on the fundamentals. If there is a problem understanding the basic logic of functional movement systems, you will have little chance creating weight and appreciation for the corrective parts of the model. People must understand the basics of the pyramid ­approach.

I’ve used this statement; I’ve heard a lot of people repeat it and they attribute the statement to me. I think I made it up one day, but I got the sentiment from many people in addition to my own ideas.

The only practice that’s worth anything is practice that doesn’t rehearse continual, unmanageable mistakes. If you have a bad lunging pattern on the left and I load that up, moving way past the challenge and into just difficulty, your brain shifts to, ‘I have to survive this.’

Your brain forgets to move with integrity and balance and just goes into survival mode. You survive the load, but you don’t benefit from it. You don’t learn to engage or pressurize from the load. You don’t get any motor benefit.

We see a bad lunge and think we have to get that lunge better. We load it, and all of a sudden, the extra load triggers engagement. We think we’re benefiting in some way, but what we’re really what we’re doing is rehearsing compensation under load.

The load we’re talking about is weight, core impact, velocity or excessive range of motion. If you don’t have a minimum level of competency or some degree of integrity, when we stress or load unnecessarily, we reinforce whatever you have. Stress reinforces things in biological organisms. What doesn’t kill you may make you stronger, but it can make you stronger in the wrong direction.

If you’re squatting wrong and it’s not killing you, it can make your hip flexor spasm stronger. It can make your swayback worse. It can make your rounded shoulders harder to bring back.

When you go into your workout with underlying dysfunction, remember this: Exercise is trial by fire. We want to optimize the situation and then temper the steel. We don’t do it the other way around.

That’s sort of what’s behind the statement. It’s not a contradiction. When I’m talking corrective exercise, there’s not a lot of stress or load, because we should be learning to manage bodyweight. Managing balance without a load is natural. Everybody does that as they’re learning to walk.

What’s unnatural is to load a squat that doesn’t have any integrity to it. There’s no situation where a baby would think, ‘I can’t really squat that good right now. Maybe put a mini backpack on me and see if that helps my balance?’

This is another form of what we’re doing at the gym when we throw on quantity to clean up quality. If you want to clean up quality, clean up quality. If you want to reinforce quality, then throw on quantity.

This brings me to another thing.

When Brett Jones and I dissected the Turkish getup in Kettlebells from the Ground Up, our intention was not to make everybody do light getups. The idea is if you have less-than-optimal integrity in your getup, go light until you recapture integrity. Then get heavy again, because that’s the best way to see if you can hold integrity and manage quality.

Once quality has an acceptable base, start exploring greater levels of quantity—strength, speed, stamina, endurance—and see if you can maintain a minimum level of quality.

We’ll present Principle 8 next Tuesday.  To continue your study in the meantime, please consider the book, Movement and the live workshop DVD, Applying the FMS Model.


  1. Great series! I always quote Eric Franklin to my clients: “If you increase strength in a misaligned body, you’re just strengthening the misalignment.” I no longer remember which book of his this is from…probably Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery.

  2. Andrew Greer says:

    Great principles. The questions I struggle with regarding this principle are, “How do you maintain a basic level of fitness, health and function, while you are correcting posture and alignment? You can’t expect perfect movement immediately, so do you avoid all dysfunctional movements until they are corrected? At what point does a movement become functional, surely it’s not going to be absolutely perfect when you start doing it? How do you know when it becomes beneficial, vs reinforcing dysfunction?”

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