Why We Move Poorly… and What to Do About It

Recently while reading the book Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, I could not help but draw a parallel with my work with movement dysfunction. Why We Get Fat is well researched by the author, Gary Taubes, who presents the basic case that we can become leaner by avoiding certain foods— and not just consuming the latest advertised “low-fat over-processed prepackaged, take-our-word-for-it solution.” This simple logic is almost too basic for today’s health-obsessed consumer. We want fast, sexy and cheap, but we can’t give up anything. That’s just crazy!

First and foremost, lean does not necessarily mean healthy, and it is only one marker of health. But consider that our biggest mistake while trying to lean up is not one of inclusion, but of omission. Here is the “why we get fat logic” in a nutshell.

  • If you are not as lean as you want or need to be, what you are currently doing does not work.
  • Therefore you should change something.
  • Your first changes should be deletions, not additions.
  • Once all responsible and logical deletions are managed, add some stuff if needed.

In the case of why we get fat, the absolute deletions should be all refined sugars, most all starches and liquid calories. You might say, “OUCH! Not going happen!”

Actually it’s not that bad, and if you think it is, I’m going to punch you again. I’m going to compare you to a seven-year-old who still needs a pacifier. Think of the humorous comparison for a minute: A pacifier is not necessary for life and really only offers habitual comfort. When it’s taken away, you think serious damage has occurred based on the reaction that follows, but soon even the most stubborn brats will eventually give up the habit if the pacifier is not available.

Just like the brat, our society has grown up with habitual comfort on daily soft drinks and desserts, two things that were once reserved for special occasions and before that nonexistent. Some say giving up the sweet stuff seems almost un-American. Personally, I think childhood obesity and constantly lowering military physical intake standards are un-American. However that’s just me and I’m not running for office, so I’ll just leave it at that. My point is that the solution to fat is simple in most cases, and it’s been overcomplicated to the point of absurdity. Delete foods that can potentially cause insulin fluctuations before you try to add any new diet foods or modify your exercises.

Certainly you can see where I’m headed with this nutritional diversion, which is to make a point about the way we move using the same simple logic. I have often made a habit of creating logical parallels between the way we look at our nutritional ideas and our exercise ideas. Innovation and better thinking occur in nutrition ahead of exercise and rehabilitation—the exercise paradigm of challenging conventional wisdom lags the nutritional paradigm by about 10 years.

Why We Get Fat shows how nutritional research is poorly constructed with embedded special interest agendas. Movement science for exercise and rehabilitation research is worse. Researchers attack small movement questions that don’t really make a difference, even though they use nice statistics and laser precision. We once just looked at food and applied the calories in/calories out math to explain fat. We were stupid! Now we look at movement and assume that exercises under a functional marketing label automatically produce function.

In both cases reductionism is the obvious flaw and the big error is simple: Researchers were studying inputs (food) and outputs (movement capability) without really looking at the complex systems of hormonal regulation (food) and movement perception and behavior (movement capability). Thermodynamics does not explain why we get fat, and kinesiology and biomechanics does not come close to explaining why we move poorly. It’s a movement perception and behavior problem—see the book Movement for more on this and check out movementbook.com.

So let me apply the same logic used by Gary Taubes to the issue of why we move poorly and see what can we discover.

  • If you do not move as well as you want or need to, what you’re doing does not work.
  • Therefore you should change something.
  • Your first changes should be deletions not additions.
  • Once all responsible and logical deletions are managed add some stuff if needed.

Pretty simple, huh?

Unfortunately, the knee jerk reaction of the fitness and rehabilitation industry to movement problems is to give us exercise corrections to fix movement problems. Hell, that’s what I did, but sometimes it seemed like I was just treating the symptoms of dysfunction, not the underlying cause.

I needed to think outside the box. If you need a nutritional example to draw a movement and exercise parallel, here you go—

Let’s let our clients, athletes and patients eat like crap and sell them supplements the rest of their lives. Wait a minute—Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and most of us agree, at least in principle even if we don’t practice maxim. If corrective exercise is the pound, what is the once?

I’ll give you that in a moment, but follow this questioning first.

Why do smart, educated professionals who actually know better ask for the pound of corrective exercises when a well-placed ounce of X will do? Corrective exercise is cool, vogue, technical and we can charge for it… and before you think I’m bashing it, just remember I’m one the biggest proponents of the corrective exercise movement. However, I did not design Functional Movement Systems to be an exercise supplement company. Sure we teach the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) and the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) to exercise and rehabilitation professionals around the world. These systems are designed to identify movement dysfunction in physically active populations at all levels (FMS) and those who wish to return to physical activity following illness and injury (SFMA).

So it might be easy to assume—

  • …we designed our screening and assessment systems for the sole purpose of dispensing the remedies
  • …and the only remedy to movement dysfunction is corrective exercise.

Neither assumption is true. We are passionate about a systematic movement philosophy that often involves corrective exercises. We are in the education business and we do teach, publish and produce materials that feature new innovations in corrective exercises. However, the central premise with the FMS and the SFMA are the systematic identification and management of dysfunction.

It’s easy to assume our screening and assessments capture the sedentary and unfit among us, but our systems don’t seem to be that impressed with our current definition of fitness and athleticism. Otherwise, we would not catch so many individuals who would seem fit by all other standards. Our systems find movement dysfunction in the fit and unfit. This makes many of us wonder if we should broaden the modern definition of a physically prepared and fit individual. Pro athletes, marathoners, high school superstars, personal trainers, fitness instructors, gym rats and bodybuilders can all do poorly on the movement screens and assessments. This is mainly because we have not historically agreed on the basics of movement and physical readiness. We do not have minimal acceptable movement standards – and it all spins out of control from there. Obviously, we will have different aspirations in our sports, hobbies and favorite activities, but we should also have a common foundation in movement competency—a necessary movement aptitude all of our different activities build upon, like a non-negotiable foundation.

The lack of activity in one’s life can definitely cause erosion in fundamental movement patterns, but other things can be equally damaging. Some examples are—

  • Poor postural habits
  • Poor work ergonomics
  • Poor quality and quantity of sleep
  • Limited recovery between workouts and exercises
  • Unbalanced workout and exercise practices and loads
  • Poor coaching, training and instruction
  • Poor nutritional habits and food quality
  • Workouts and exercises that do not introduce a variety of movement patterns
  • Programming lacking a balance of perspective of quality and quantity
  • Exercise volume that compounds poor form and fosters compensation
  • A misunderstanding of movement competency compared to physical capacity
  • Exercise program design without movement baselines and retesting for effectiveness
  • Injury followed by incomplete rehabilitation and cover-up medicine
  • Continue the list if you like, but you get the point…

Deleting any one of these from your personal list can have positive effects on your movement profile. If we are honest, we could all do a better job of managing these in ourselves. Likewise, we could also educate those who depend on us to see the big picture and support their exercise goals with some sensible lifestyle management. Logically we should seek to remove a negative before we add a positive. It just makes good sense. Find the leak, then get the mop.

It’s easy to misappropriate corrective exercise and assume it will fix all. In some cases it’s like mopping up the water and assuming the problem is solved. However, managing the water on the floor only gets the representation of the problem under control. Fixing the leak is the real solution. Movement dysfunction is actually the same. The identification of dysfunction is the spill—the external indication that something is wrong. Corrective exercise, stretching and foam rolling clean up the spill, but if they are constantly necessary to keep dysfunctional movement patterns at bay, they are just mopping up the water. The first step is admitting you have a leak and systematically devising a way to fix it or at least manage it.

If something is causing dysfunction and your best professional efforts are only providing a temporary solution, this does not mean you abandon those things that are providing a temporary solution. It means you should have no illusions that you have gotten to the root of the problem. You are managing the problem, but you are not making lasting changes. When I teach and hear professional frustrations about corrective exercise it goes like this—

“Gray, the correctives are a great way to prep someone for exercise, but the client seems to go back to movement dysfunction by the time I see them again. Can you give me some more advanced corrective exercises?”

To me that is the equivalent of asking for a stronger dose of the wrong medicine to get the desired affect. If the corrective exercise has temporary benefit on movement pattern dysfunction but no lasting influence, we need to logically dissect the problem.

Lifestyle influences are pushing dysfunction harder than our programming can inject corrections that target acceptable function. Identify the potential things that can reinforce movement dysfunction and reduce or remove them. Things that produce movement dysfunction today can be potentially damaging and destructive tomorrow.

Corrective exercise compliance is not acceptable. Corrective exercise is not a workout, and needs to be performed a lot in the beginning of a workout. Think of the minimal effective dose. It needs to be performed on workout days and non-workout days until it is no longer needed.

But how do you know it’s not needed? Rescreen without prep!

Both scenarios apply and lifestyle management coupled with corrective exercise is the obvious solution. You can default to this because this blended scenario is usually the most compressive answer. However, it’s rarely a 50/50 distribution, so be prepared to attack the behaviors that foster the most efficient and effective change toward more acceptable movement.

The best place to practice this is with yourself. What’s your FMS score? What corrections were you assigned? If we cannot practice this logic on our dysfunctions, how can we hope to have the confidence and professionalism to be the guide for another? Life’s little surprises constantly make me go back to my logic and fundamental principles. It’s human nature to be impatient and look for shortcuts, so entertain the thought that the rules don’t apply to you for about five minutes and then be a professional and figure it out… and realize they do. The best professionals are examples of their own advice. Work on your own FMS, but get someone else to screen you and let them score you—own what they find and work on it! If you are sidelined with a problem, attack your SFMA with a rehabilitation expert.

If you are into self-help options and you have movement dysfunction, try learning and owning the Turkish getup. It has lots of traps to catch you, and in Kettlebells from the Ground Up, Brett Jones and I mapped out some cool corrections to help. Unfortunately, you will need to do your own lifestyle analysis and delete all the stuff that could potentially be hijacking the mobility, stability and symmetry necessary to perform successful getups. If you already own Kettlebells from the Ground Up, you may want to apply it more thoroughly. If you don’t, you might want to check it out. We will soon be releasing the sequel to the original with lots of new material and some surprises, so get acquainted or reacquainted with the original as a way to own your own dysfunction and get ready for the new information in our sequel.

My recommendation is to follow the instructions for one month. Dedicate a minimum of two sessions to the corrective or movements that present you with challenge. Train for symmetry and own each stage before moving to the next. At the same time, look at the movements where you have problems and look at your lifestyle and workouts to see if you can find places where you compound problems, put quantity over quality, or lack a balanced approach. Most exercise and rehabilitation professionals are not free of movement dysfunction and can therefore practice an individualized blend of lifestyle management and corrective exercise themselves. It’s the surest way to really understand the power we have to help others when we apply the correct systematic approach.

We afford some degree of respect to those individuals who have successfully lost weight and maintained a lean physique because they took action. Fix yourself first—it’s the most impressive part of being an expert.

Any fool can know. The point is to understand. ~Albert Einstein

Author’s note —Now I guess I’ll go work on my T-spine mobility and stiff lower back. I’ve been leaning over my poorly positioned laptop for too long and it’s killing my neck.


  1. Rachel Webster says:

    Great post!

  2. What an excellent article! I have so long denied my dysfunctions. I am now proud to own them and working towards a better me!! Keep the great blogs coming!!

  3. Gray –

    Have loved your stuff for years . . . and one of the greatest skills you have is taking concepts like these and explaining them in ways that are easy for the layman to understand.

    Awesome post touching on the importance of taking (and teaching!) a holistic approach to health and movement! Thank you.

  4. Christopher Cray says:


    I use the FMS everyday and love it…thank you for keeping it simple.
    I am currently fixing poor movement patterns identified with your screen a few years ago
    and have seen quick results. Many thanks.

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