Search Results for: barefoot

Walk the Line

Since the Exploring Functional Movement: (DVD), (Digital) project I did with Erwan Le Corre of MovNat, balance has been a major topic at my Perform Better Summit appearances, where I have about an hour to help people learn to balance better. In the hands-on workshop, people walk a balance beam, then get to a hurdle-like obstacle and have to step over it. We see a lot of faltering early in the session.

EFMdvdBalance and stability are an integral part of almost every sport or activity. A concept I use to describe stability is ‘motor control,’ which might better define the subtle adjustments we make with the stabilizer muscle groups while the larger muscle groups propel us forward, turn us, or slow us down. That stability can easily be analyzed or even trained in a balance situation.

One of the mistakes we make in training is to go right into training single-leg stance. Single-leg stance is a great test for balance; you see it in the Functional Movement Screen with a hurdle step, and you see it in the SFMA with a single-leg stance test.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s a longer audio version of this article,
Episode 39 of Gray Cook Radio,

We have many variations, and we always compare the left and the right sides. We look at single-leg stance with eyes open and eyes closed. There are different ways to break down single-leg stance, but when it comes time to train, it’s sometimes better to give the brain a little more meaning.

In the Exploring Functional Movement video, we found all kinds of opportunities to get on a beam or a pole or to balance on a line. That’s where the title Walk the Line comes from.

Instead of putting clients in a doorway to challenge single-leg stance, a beam provides purpose—single-leg stance, one side, the other side, and then walk the beam. When we do things to juice balance, people can walk up and down a beam, and can practice that.

In our physical therapy clinic, we work with different levels of balance. We have a piece of Trex board, which is synthetic decking we ripped down to a four-inch ‘beam,’ although some people feel more comfortable starting with a six-inch width.

photo98Beam walking is something we superset in fitness, say after a hard set that makes you tired. You’re going to need a rest break before the next set of walking lunges, front squats or kettlebell swings. Why not walk a beam while you’re recovering? It’s sensory motor engagement. It’s not high demand, but it does require a stabilizer reset, and doing that may actually make the next set of lunges, squats or swings tighten up a little.

Walking that beam barefoot or in minimalist footwear, whether the ‘beam’ is elevated off the ground or flat on the ground, is a self-limiting activity because it provides quick feedback. But I don’t like to see intense concentration. I don’t like to see you looking at your feet; I don’t want to see you flailing your hands.

At the recent CK-FMS, I coached people through a little gauntlet of balance beams. We use it in the rehab setting at the clinic, all the way to a fitness setting like CK-FMS, and it doesn’t have to be an exercise of itself. It can be a superset to complement another exercise. Here, have a look.

When trying to improve balance, the first pre-requisite is to check for mobility. If you can’t pass the hurdle step test, we may want to grab some mobility before we challenge balance. If you have restricted ankle dorsiflexion, your hips are extremely stiff, you can’t touch your toes, or you can’t even break parallel on a deep squat, you may be running up against a mobility problem that’s hurting the sensory feedback of the balancing activity. You’re going to balance better if we get you a little more mobile before the next balance challenge.

If your FMS score has a bunch of ‘2s,’ and you don’t have a lot of flexibility problems, you could probably get after some pretty good balance challenges to feed the system. You have enough sensory information coming in to probably get better motor control, and then you can refine it.

Listen carefully to what I said. If you have ‘1s’ on the movement screen, attack the mobility the screen asks you to attack. You will save time. You will get greater stability by opening up that mobility, because that will change the balancing experience.


More proprioception provides more and probably more correct information. When walking a beam with a locked-up ankle, you’re not receiving the benefit that ankle and foot are prepared to provide. Your body unconsciously and reflexively knows how to level the pelvis and use the glutes as an advantage, not a disadvantage.

If you see people struggling, looking at their feet, flailing their arms and using unnecessary trunk movement, is this a motor control problem or a mobility problem?

My way to answer that question is if there are ‘1s’ on the FMS, get the mobility fixed first, and then attack stability. If there are ‘2s’ on the FMS, do some of these balance drills.

One question I get along these lines is about my recommendation of bear crawling to regain reciprocal balancing with better stabilization. As a matter of fact, we do bear crawling on a beam. You can determine how wide of a beam, or you can just do bear crawling on the ground.

What if you can’t do bear crawls?

Let’s all be honest here. We have clients, or recovering patients, or perhaps older golfers who because of fitness levels can’t comfortably do enough bear crawling to get the balance benefit.

photo96Did you ever think about walking with sticks or dowels in hand? We get the reciprocal gait we get from bear crawling, without the unnecessary stress on the upper body. We get less of the unfavorable blood pressure changes people sometimes get when they get in a quadruped position.

Imagine watching a guy on a low balance beam who has sufficient mobility, yet has a very hard time balancing. You decide to regress, but don’t hand him one stick. Hand him two dowels and get him to do a right-left reciprocal action. Have the dowel handgrip adjusted at a nice walking height. When the left foot advances, he advances the right dowel.

Have him grab the ground with the dowel, not too far in front of the stepping foot. Make sure the dowel has a nice push so it’s complementing extension. Think about it—he’s engaging the right lat and the left glute at the same time. That’s not a bad concept, is it? That’s what we do in bear crawling, but we can do that upright without bear crawling, and the brain still benefits from the reciprocal activity.

Using sticks is a quick way to juice stability when mobility is adequate. First of all, make sure your clients use reciprocal gait with the sticks; make sure they get the rhythm down.

Put them on the beam with the sticks. Then as soon as they get confident, have them drop one or both sticks and continue on the beam. What you’ll usually see is until they start thinking about things, they’re great. The instant they start turning, walking on a balance beam and thinking about the exercise, they’ll probably falter.photo97

It’s important to realize human balance is almost a reflexive activity. We should train it between exercises as a reset—as a stability reset. Introduce a balance beam instead of just single-leg stance exercises. It’s more functional, and it will have more carryover into other activities.

In sports where we have to shift weight with crisp precision, walking a balance beam can change the workout. Put it between sets. Use little things like mobility drills or the stick drill for certain people to juice stability. If you have a group of younger people, do a few bear crawls between each balancing activity. You’ll see crawling juice that stability as well.

Look at we did with Erwan Le Corre in Exploring Functional Movement. Watch the video, practice some drills and enjoy getting your balance!

To order Exploring Functional Movement: (DVD), (Digital)

No Moving Parts

I love the concept of ‘no moving parts.’ No moving parts to me is yet another way to say we’re not a bunch of body parts moving around.. We’re movement patterns, and the parts are key components.

When there’s a problem, obviously we talk about problematic the body part. But I’ve always tried to say and I tried to articulate this in the Movement book: You’re always greater than the sum of your parts.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s a longer version of this article,
Episode 37 of Gray Cook Radio,

No Moving PartsA movement pattern is the first and best way to look at movement, and then we work backward breaking it into parts. I just love the title No Moving Parts. You may even see me use it again somewhere.

We’re moving patterns. Parts are within that.

We don’t talk about a car as nuts and bolts, but those are very important in holding that car together as it goes down the road. There’s no point going down the road when we have to stop and talk about a particular nut or bolt.

We would do that when the car is stopped and we’re investigating a flaw, a problem somewhere. When we’re going through mountain turns, we just appreciate the way the car handles.

But no moving parts means something else. I’ve spent the last five years of my life investing myself in three activities that don’t involve any moving parts. I’ve been into paddle sports, in particular stand-up paddle boarding. I’ve been trail running and I’ve been into kettlebells.

The kettlebell is an old piece of resistance equipment. It has no moving parts, and the majority of the lifts either keep you on your feet or get you to your feet. Think about that. A windmill, a swing, a snatch, a clean, a squat and even the getup all have you working on your feet.

There are no moving parts on the kettlebell. You have to have the skill to flip that kettlebell into place in a clean or a snatch. You have to balance that kettlebell. You and your patterns account for this rigid ball of metal and you make it flow beautifully through the air.

If we compare that to modern fitness and weight-training equipment, we see those always position you. We have cams and levers assisting you with what you do. The skill level needed to work out on a piece of equipment is nowhere near as great as when you work out with a kettlebell.

The kettlebell begs you to be more skillful. A lot of time and practice goes into safely performing and functioning with a kettlebell to get a workout. You have to think more, and you have to practice more.

What I mean by practice isn’t training or working out. It’s making the moves look good—making them look good.

The side effect of a day of making stuff look good is a heck of a workout, but think about all the motor memory you gained by doing a kettlebell workout as if Brett Jones is standing there watching you. I can attest to the value of that; I’ve done that.

Let’s flip things for a minute. Think about trail running. If you’re running barefoot or in minimalist footwear, other than whatever you have on your feet, you don’t need a machine to run trails.

I love mountain biking, but I found myself on a bike trail thinking, I’m on this expensive piece of equipment, and except for the downhills I could probably make better progress on my feet. The bike is unnecessary.

This doesn’t mean I’m against biking, but at my age with everything I have going on, I like a simple life. Not needing to take a bike along, or deal with the moving parts and tune-ups all of these machines inevitably need is not even on the table anymore.

GrayrainforestAs long as I have a pair of shoes, I can run anywhere. I prefer to run in a natural environment with changing terrain. That change keeps me engaged and helps me focus on what I’m doing. As the terrain and scenery changes, all I focus on is keeping my cadence.

Once again, I’m not relying on a machine with moving parts. I’m using my movement patterns.

And there’s stand-up paddleboarding. This isn’t a machine. It’s basically two pieces of sculpture. The paddleboard is designed to slice through the water, yet be supportive enough to balance you. Then if it’s designed correctly, the paddle makes it easy to feel like you’re planting your paddle into quicksand. When you pull on the paddle, you’re not moving water. You’re moving the paddleboard. There’s a lot of skill involved.

There’s a lot of skill involved in all three of these activities. Getting that kettlebell to look good takes a lot of skill. Bringing respect to a trail run takes a lot of skill.

Every spring and summer, Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run makes me think about the amazing stories and analogies of getting into a natural environment and getting that short, choppy, very efficient cadence in running. Running is a skill. Learning how to run almost silently demonstrates a good management of energy expenditure.

Erwan-paddleboardThe essence of stand-up paddling is the forward stroke and that initial catch where you plant your paddle in the water and don’t make a lot of noise. If you do it right, the architecture of the paddle creates a bunch of resistance, almost like planting that paddle in mud. Learning how to pull on that, not with your biceps but with your lats and in a hip hinge—it’s awesome.

There’s a rhythmical, skillful way to train with kettlebells. There’s a rhythmical, skillful way to perform a trail run. There’s a rhythmical, skillful way to get on a stand-up paddleboard and just detach.

In a lot of these activities, I am totally engaged. I’m managing my entire body the whole time. And in every one of these activities, I’m on my feet.

Yeah, I fall off the paddleboard. I’m not saying I haven’t slipped and fallen during a trail run. For the most part, I’m in a functional position and I’m moving. It’s just amazing to interact with these three activities and realize that my gear is minimal. The gear I do have has no moving parts. If I’m going to make these activities look good, it’s because my patterns are better.

I hope you like my spin on this. I don’t mean to bore you with my three favorite fitness tools. As I age, I like to simplify, but I also like to tap into self-limiting activities because in many cases, I’m coaching myself.

Schooling vs Education

I’m pretty sure it was Mark Twain who said, as an older gentleman to a younger one, “Young man, don’t let your schooling interfere with your education.”


For us what he meant by this was that we have an academic growth in our formal learning process to become a trainer, a coach or a clinician. We have to know anatomy. We have to know kinesiology, exercise physiology or nutritional systems.

Whatever it is you plan to do, please know the science behind it. But then don’t close your ears to the wisdom gained through practical application. That’s the education. That’s the mentorship. That’s getting in the trenches.

This is a long one. Would you like to listen to Gray give this lecture? You can hear it free on, and can download the transcript pdf.

You can read books about fighting or shooting a gun, but until you’ve been in a fight or until you’ve missed a target, you really don’t know what you’re talking about in either of those disciplines.

There’s a practical application that cannot be delivered via a lecture or demonstration. At some point, your sleeves go up. You have to get your hands dirty. You have to risk the embarrassment of making a mistake when you’re the only one to blame.

I want to start this discussion by saying it’s very important to make sure your information is credible, that you’ve done your research and you’re not just working from a dogmatic approach.

Make sure what you’re doing, what you’re talking about, what you’re demonstrating and teaching have merit. Your work needs to have scientific merit and academic merit.

Once you feel very comfortable with the merit, you need to figure out your style, your attributes, weaknesses and limitations in delivering that information in teaching, coaching, training and rehabilitation. You need to turn that information into valuable action your consumers, customers and patients will appreciate.

I’m always learning new things. In my late 30s, I first discovered a kettlebell. Within a couple of years of that strength coaching discover, as a physical therapist I also discovered dry needling. Both of these tools are somewhat unorthodox.

I came up through conventional strength and conditioning as an Olympic weightlifting coach using more of the straight-bar lifts, but I’ve always appreciated what a dumbbell can do. A dumbbell offloads one side of the body and gives a unilateral appraisal. When you do snatches and cleans with a dumbbell, I can really see if your body is balanced or not.

You must realize the potential I saw when first introduced to kettlebells. I wasn’t just thinking about curls and triceps presses. I was thinking, ‘Man, this thing is made to fly through the air faster than a dumbbell.’ It has some of the same weight, but the grip is probably more structurally sound to protect the wrists.

I don’t train weightlifters, although I’ve worked with a lot of them. I train and rehabilitate people who are in everyday life. I also train and rehabilitate people who are famous…professional athletes or whomever.

The whole point of lifting weights is not to lift the weight. It’s to force stress into a movement pattern to foster and start a certain degree of adaptability that will prove beneficial in the primary goal,. That goal is not just to get stronger. It’s to move better and move longer, more proficiently and more accurately.

The kettlebell was first looked at as unconventional. Then, we found the history of the kettlebell goes back further than either the straight bar or the dumbbell. Boom! My schooling up to that point had taught me that the conventional straight bar or dumbbell free weight approach was all that there was.

But I didn’t just read about kettlebells.

I put myself through a gauntlet. I stood in front of some coaches who tore me apart, put me back together and helped me appreciate an entirely different approach to strength and conditioning.

Then, dry needling saved my hands and really accelerated some of my effectiveness with soft tissue.

These are just two things that at one point in my career, my schooling suggested were unconventional, unproven and highly unorthodox. Yet, both of these things are valuable assets to the work I now do every day.

Sometimes I can accomplish more in less time with the kettlebell. In treatment dealing with soft tissue, I can accomplish more things in less time with dry needling. This means using some acupuncture equipment to deal with trigger points in different myofascial systems to make a compelling change in movement. I talked with Edo Zylstra about this in depth in our dry needling lecture on

My schooling taught me one thing and my education taught me another. But to get that education, I had to step out of my comfort zone. I had to admit I knew nothing about these two disciplines, even though I had a background in both rehabilitation and in strength and conditioning.

The new tools commanded my attention and my respect. I didn’t get into lengthy discussions about the effectiveness of dry needling in physical therapy or the effectiveness of kettlebells in strength and conditioning until I first held certifications in both of these disciplines.

Someone certified in dry needling discussing the limitations or attributes of it, probably makes a little bit more objective sense than somebody who has something to gain by seeing this model taken down a notch. I’m sure there’s something else to sell you around the corner.

I wasn’t introduced to kettlebells or dry needling in my formal education, and when it came time to learn them, I couldn’t find a lot written about either one. I had to go full immersion, learn safety, learn technique, practice safety and practice technique. This brings me full circle to the whole reason I started this conversation saying, “Don’t let your schooling interfere with your education.”

We’ve been uncovering a lot of new information since first introducing movement screening and movement assessment. As a matter of fact, some of the most compelling things we’ve seen in sports medicine, orthopedics, fitness and strength and conditioning is that on the standard operating procedure landscape, we’re somewhat ineffective, inconsistent and not highly evolved.

You’ve heard me talk about the evolution of what happens in the cockpit of a plane before takeoff—the mind-numbing standard operating procedure we ask our pilots to go through every time. The mistakes that cost lives, equipment and time are usually the simple, little things, and not the big things that require a lot of intelligent processing.

We always want somebody to default to their training and expertise for the big decisions, but we also realize many decisions in professional conduct are of a breach of standard operating procedure, which was designed to protect us but not to limit us.

We’ve often referred to the Functional Movement Screen as something we’d like to see become standard operating procedure…until something better comes along to replace it.

What it does is keep us from putting fitness on dysfunction, and it keeps us from trying to bring a fitness solution to a medical problem. Yes, a screen that can be conducted by a non-medical professional can actually indicate whether or not a medical professional needs to be involved.

Likewise, medical professionals need to conduct screening at the end of rehabilitation to make sure the rehabilitation is fully complete. If there is a limitation that can be handled in a normal fitness or strength and conditioning environment, this is the methodology and recipe to do that.

When we first introduced this screen, we weren’t trying to champion standard operating procedure. We were simply trying to raise the bar of effectiveness. If you don’t think we need to raise the bar of effectiveness, realize that over the last 30 years, we’ve become more obese even though our country probably spends more resources on dietary information and exercise than any other country.

We’ve barely put a dent in unnecessary injuries high school students, college students, professional athletes and weekend warriors sustain largely because in orthopedics, we don’t look for predictive value. We don’t look for preventive screening. We wait until you have a problem, work backward and try to determine what caused it.

That’s really not appropriate.

The advances we’ve made in early detection with breast cancer, prostate cancer and diabetes aren’t because our new treatment methodologies are so good. It’s because early detection is so efficient. We need early detection at the fitness level because many clients have been injured and have learned to compensate. Or perhaps they’ve been the victims of unsuccessful and incomplete rehabilitation.

Many people think the knee is supposed to hurt when they do things, and think ibuprofen is a breakfast food. They just cover up the pain, not knowing they’re ruining their internal organs with medications to get out of knee pain that could easily be avoided by improving ankle mobility and hip stability.

Here’s the thing I want to say about standard operating procedure and what I want you to take away from this. Your schooling and your education brought you to a path—you arrive in that path saying, ‘You know what? I like kettlebells,’ ‘I like dry needling,’ ‘I really like Pilates mat work,’ ‘I really like deadlifting,’ or, ‘I really like barefoot running.’ Before you form an opinion about something that’s going to become standard operating procedure with the way you teach it, the way you train it and the way you rehabilitate it, remember that standard operating procedure is not taught.

It is drilled. That’s right. It’s drilled.

We map out the route of a fire drill, but when it’s time, we don’t debate the route and we don’t question it. We execute the route in a timely and efficient fashion, always trying to do it cleaner and better.

One of the things people in my position have to tell the people who follow our work and who lean on us for education and insight is that by the time we make it to our age, we’ve made a lot of mistakes we wish we could take back. The mistakes make have gotten us here, but that doesn’t mean you have to make those mistakes.

What I would love you to take away from this is that you’re not drilling enough. You’re doing a great job with the debate. I look at some of the disgruntled people talking and questioning; I see the products purchased and the learning going on. The scholastic part is there for you. Just make sure that it’s well-referenced and valid.

Then, spend more time in the trenches. Spend more time getting practical. Make mistakes, but don’t make really big mistakes.

Do things that are safe. Try them on yourself first. Try them with a training partner, a peer or a colleague first, and then think about bringing it into your professional practice. Drill things. Drilling means there’s a standard operating procedure of doing a certain thing where you put yourself up to criticism, scrutiny and learn from it.

How do we drill corrective exercise? Well, we have a little thing called the Functional Movement Screen. Do you think you know the movement screen? All right, you just did a movement screen and you found an asymmetry on the active straight leg raise. If you’re pretty sure you know the corrective exercise that will change the asymmetry in this situation considering the other tests in the movement screen, execute your corrective strategy. Make sure you do it correctly. Teach it in an effective amount of time over one session or multiple sessions, but always test so you have feedback.

The whole standard operating procedure with the Functional Movement Screen is mostly designed for the user—not the recipient of the movement screen. This is because it dials you in. Not only do you get to drill your corrective strategy effectiveness, you get pretty quick feedback on if you made a difference.

If your attempt in correcting a movement pattern is ineffective, you have to ask yourself two questions. Did I execute the corrective strategy right or did I execute the right corrective strategy?

The first can easily be done by getting next to somebody who’s more proficient than you, and also by listening to all the rules of what’s supposed to go down in the exercise.

The second can be accomplished by making sure you’re proficient with the movement screen.

In our workshops, people are very focused on the corrective part we discuss the second day of a FMS workshop—so much so, they forget everything they learned the first day.

In my parting comments to the newly indoctrinated Functional Movement Screening class, I remind them to go do 20 screens. Don’t ask people to pay for them because you’re not that good yet. As a matter of fact, don’t do them on people who need you. Do them on people who will tolerate you, meaning your family, friends or coworkers. You have 20 screens you need to do with no obligation to fix what you find.

Many times in the first 10 screens, you’re finding things that aren’t there, and you’re overlooking things that are there. Attempting to fix something you find in your first 10 screens may not even be the right thing to fix. By the time you’ve done about 20 screens, you’ve given yourself a chance to make mistakes. You’ve given yourself a chance to say to yourself, ‘I need to go back and look at that.’

Here’s the beautiful thing that happens. You start doing movement screens as a cold technician, no more passionate about doing movement screens than you would be taking blood pressure. Your subconscious mind starts to pick up what you know.

‘That’s a dysfunctional pattern.’ ‘That’s an asymmetry.’ ‘That movement caused pain.’ ‘This isn’t even a fitness problem. It’s not properly diagnosed.’ ‘He didn’t follow through with the recommendations in shoulder rehabilitation. Now he’s expecting me to improve his overhead press. He didn’t even finish rehabilitation and is asking me to give a fitness solution for a medical problem.’

Twenty screens in, you’ve had an opportunity to see patterns repeat themselves. Or you discover shortcomings where your description or test instruction isn’t adequate, and you have to go back and become a better communicator.

All of these things happen on the first 20 screens, which becomes my advice. Drill it. Drill it. Drill it.

Learn the chords. Then play the song.

I want to give you this advice. There’s no obligation for anyone who’s had our certification or education to correct anything until they’re reliable, consistent, effective and confident doing the screen.

You’ve laid down the test-retest scenario. You know you’re effective at marking what’s dysfunction and what’s maybe just a little imperfect. You can now apply your corrective strategy.

Get good at seeing movement first, because after corrective strategy those same eyes that have learned to see movement better will then be able to pick up those small changes you’ve made with corrective strategy in a single session. This either reinforces your knowledge of that corrective strategy or it says, ‘You know what? That doesn’t work so well but this does.’

The credit goes back to Mark Twain: Don’t let your schooling interfere with your education.

Get your schooling. But your education doesn’t stop there. Your education is about practice. It’s about humbling yourself and learning more. Don’t form an opinion until you’ve drilled something to the point where you realize it’s ineffective and inefficient or it’s absolutely what you should start doing.

You don’t learn standard operating procedure. You drill it.

Would you like to listen to Gray give this lecture? You can hear it free on, and can download the transcript pdf.

Self-Limiting Exercise—Naturally Correct Exercise

Excerpt from the book Movement

Click here to download a larger pdf of this self-limiting exercise chart

Self-limiting exercises make us think, and even make us feel more connected to exercise and to movement. They demand greater engagement and produce greater physical awareness. Self-limiting exercises do not offer the easy confidence or quick mastery provided by a fitness machine.

The earliest exercise forms were self-limiting—they required mindfulness and technique. Idiot-proof equipment and the conditioning equivalent of training wheels did not exist. Great lifters learned to lift great; great fighters learned to fight great; great runners learned to run great. Their qualities and quantities were intertwined.

Self-limiting exercise demands mindfulness and an awareness of movement, alignment, balance and control. In self-limiting exercise, a person cannot just pop on the headphones and walk or run on the treadmill, fingering the playlist or watching the news on a well-placed monitor. Self-limiting exercise demands engagement.

The clearest example of self-limiting exercise is barefoot running. While running barefoot, the first runners connected with the sensory information in the soles of their feet. This works perfectly—this is the very reason the soles of the feet have such a uniquely dense distribution of sensory nerves. This provides a window to our environment, like the nerves in our hands, eyes and ears. The information provided by sensory nerves in the soles help all who walk on two feet continually adjust their movement, stride, rhythm, posture and breathing to meet changes in the terrain.

The modern running shoe allows us to ignore a sensory perspective of running that is only second to vision, and, as you know, the increase in running-related injuries paralleled running shoe development. When running barefoot, over-striding and heel striking is not an option—it produces jarring, discomfort and pain because it is not authentic. Is it not a bit peculiar that the quick twinges of pain refine the barefoot runner’s stride to help avoid running injuries, while the comfort of the modern running shoe later exchanged those friendly twinges for debilitating pain?

The modern runner uses braces to cover a weakness, often not taking responsibility to rehabilitate a problem, or dissatisfied with the rehabilitation process and its incomplete outcome. Christopher McDougall reveals this concept in an amazing story in his book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, a story that reminds us to temper all technologic advancements against historical facts and time-tested principles. He touches on medical and biomechanical issues, prehistoric man, exercise concepts and a detachment from the joy of movement we exchange for superficial results.

This book is highly recommended for trainers, coaches and rehabilitation professionals to help them see their respective professions through the eyes of the inquisitive, chronically injured runner. Christopher’s investigation and story connects important dots we can all appreciate. In his journey, he discovered rehabilitation and coaching wisdom that is logical and simple. The problem is that he had to dig to find it. Part of his digging was caused by our incomplete practices of movement assessment, exercise and rehabilitation.

Examples of other natural, self-limiting categories are governed by breathing, grip strength, balance, correct posture and coordination. Some exercises combine two or more self-limiting activities, and each has natural selective and developmental benefits. These exercises produce form and function while positioning the entire movement matrix for multiple benefits. As we train movement, anatomical structures model themselves around natural stresses.

Self-limiting activities should become the cornerstone of your training programs, not as preventive maintenance and risk management, but as movement authentication—to keep it real. The limitations these exercises impose keep us honest and allow our weakest links to hold us back, as they should.

Used correctly, self-limiting exercises improve poor movements and maintain functional movement quality. These exercises are challenging and produce a high neural load, which is to say they require engagement and increased levels of motor control at the conscious and reflexive level.

Anytime we don’t acknowledge our weakest links or confront them in training, we demonstrate the same behavior that caused our collective functional movement patterns to erode in the first place. Embedded in each workout, the self-limiting activities continually whisper the message that we cannot become stronger than our weakest links.

A word of caution: These activities are not magic. They don’t automatically install movement quality. They simply provide the opportunity should the individual be up to the challenge. Each of these activities imposes natural obstacles and requires technical attention. There is usually a coordination of attributes not often used together, such as balance and strength or quickness and alignment. These activities usually require instruction to provide safety and maximize benefits. If you do not respect them, they can impose risk.

However, patience, attention to detail and expert instruction will provide a natural balancing of movement abilities. These do not have to make up the entire exercise program. Instead, they offer mental and physical challenges against natural limitations and technical standards. These activities will not only provide variety, but should ultimately produce physical poise, confidence and higher levels of movement competence.

Ready for more?
Download a pdf of sample self-limiting exercises

Listen to Gray’s self-limiting exercise lecture

Order Movement, available in hardcover, paperback and e-book.

Gray Cook Radio, Episode 24

In this 7.5-minute segment, Gray discusses some of the many benefits of barefoot training, and some of the conflicting results. Why train barefoot, and when is it best not to?

You’ll be looking for Episode 24 here on Gray Cook Radio.