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Breathing is probably the most simple and yet complex thing we do. It is a conscious thing if we choose it to be, but the instant we stop thinking about it, it continues on its own. One of the biggest questions we have is when it continues on its own, how do things work? When we do a breathing drill, did we reset it in any way?

single-leg-bridgeThink about the current popularity of muscle activation, say… activating the glutes. Almost everyone with a little knowledge of isolation and hip extension can say they activated the glutes, but when you stand up to leave the session, are your glutes doing something better than they were when you entered?

Simply because we run the circuit and create activity in a temporary, isolated situation, does that activity carry over into the other things we do? Heck, that’s my definition for function! If you do this one thing and it carries over into many other things, it’s functional.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s a longer version of this article,
Episode 38 of Gray Cook Radio,

If you do this one thing and just get better at it, we call that specific training—specific activity training, specific sports training, the specificity of the task.

Just like any other exercise, this is also true with breathing. When we do an exercise, we must ask ourselves if the exercise only improves itself in the single act we’re participating in, or if it has carryover into other activities.

In the discussion of breathing, breathing efficiency and breath training, as a healthcare professional my first responsibility is to start with health, not necessarily performance or fitness.

The first consideration largely overlooked is whether there is a structural problem. Is there an airway obstruction? Is there a deviated septum? Is there a closure or an anatomically small airway?

Think about this for a minute. When a person has horrible posture with an anterior head, rounded shoulders and a sunken chest, what if that happens to be the posture where the anatomical airway is the largest? When you stand totally erect in a perfect military or actor’s posture and your airway is compromised by 30 or even 50%, what is the motivation to stay in that position?

The first thing—before we start giving postural cues—is to recognize if there’s an obstruction. That’s a health problem and the person probably needs to get that checked out.

First we take the anatomical airway problems off the table. If you’re working with a client and this just created a bunch of questions, or if you’re a rehabilitation professional in physical therapy and chiropractic and breathing is not your specialty, a quick history can guide you. Just ask!

Do you have seasonal allergies? Are you congested? Do you cough? Have you had episodes of bronchitis? Do you wheeze when you breathe? Do you find yourself on exertion going right into mouth breathing? Do you have a constantly dry mouth (another sign of mouth-breathing)?

These are things that might beg us to do further investigation before we assign an exercise to improve breathing.

gray-aslrSecondly, many of us try to activate muscles. I can make your glutes fire, but if you lack full hip extension, you will not use your glutes efficiently in gait or other activities.

Let me state that again: It’s no problem to make you bridge and your glutes will fire. Yet when you stand up and get into that end range of extension and your joint capsule becomes tight, you fire your hip flexors a little to stay out of the end range—to not sort of bang the joint against its end.

You will inhibit your glutes in many situations because you don’t have the available range of motion in the hip. It’s not because the glutes can’t be fired, but it would be inefficient to fire a glute near the end range because micro-trauma and damage of the joint could occur.

Lie on the ground and activate your glutes all you want, but did it carry over when you stood up?

The same is true for a breathing exercise. We can lie you on your back and rehearse crocodile breathing, see-saw breathing or a motor control activity to have you fire the circuits that allow your intercostals, diaphragm, abdominals and other breathing contributors to work. But what if there’s a mobility problem?

We should probably have a neck, shoulder girdle and ribcage that freely move, but the pelvic floor and diaphragm also work in sync, so having pelvic and hip mobility is also advantageous. If you’re going to try to train or coach breathing, you have to discover if there are significant mobility restrictions on board.

The first two things we look at in the Functional Movement Screen for their influence on breathing are shoulder mobility and the active straight-leg raise.

Shoulder mobility is more than looking at range of motion of the shoulder. It lets us know if you actively extend the upper spine. It lets us know if there are restrictions in the ribcage.

It’s the same with the active straight-leg raise. The symmetry and ability to lift a leg in an unweighted situation tells us quite a bit about the pelvis, the core and the way the hips work together.

Restrictions from the neck through the pelvis can interrupt and restrict the natural rhythm we authentically use in breathing. If there’s a restriction, you have to pick another path and use an asynchronous breathing or an inefficient breathing pattern.

gray-cook-mobilitybeforeAs I’ve always said, mobility then motor control, or mobility then stability. The first order of business: Mobility must come first.

If mobility is clear—and it doesn’t have to be perfect—we can move on. But huge restrictions in the neck, thoracic spine, pelvis, hip and shoulder mean if you’re doing a breathing exercise to sink the diaphragm or not to use the upper chest as much, you’re missing the whole point of why the breathing is bad in the first place.

Take the big mobility restrictions off the table first. I’ve helped many endurance athletes by improving active straight-leg raise and shoulder mobility, not because I improved oxygen transport at the cellular level, but because we made the mechanics of breathing more efficient.

You can fatigue the breathing muscles, especially if you’re using the wrong ones. The biggest limiting factor in your next run may not be the endurance in the quads or calves. It may be the endurance in the breathing muscles used inappropriately and inefficiently around poor upper body and trunk mobility patterns.

Now, let’s say mobility is not the problem. You’re going to take Brett Jones’ and my advice in the video Secrets of the Shoulder and do crocodile breathing, or you’re going to use see-saw breathing from Feldenkrais.

In medical observations, see-saw breathing is probably a problem when we see the diaphragm going up, the chest going down and then reversing. This probably means an infant maybe has an airway obstruction or another problem. What we like to see is everything moving together. Obviously, we want belly breathing, but we want a gentle contribution of the chest as well. If we see one significantly more than the other, it could denote a problem.

But in our sedentary society with the stress levels and emotional issues that accompany a fast-paced, sedentary society, we may have to reset breathing. Yes, you can be fast-paced, stressed-out and completely sedentary. Think about darting in and out of traffic…not really doing anything, but the emotional engagement is way up there.

We have to remind the brain of its options. If mobility problems are not the reason breathing is out of sync, maybe breathing is out of sync because breathing has not been used authentically in quite some time.

Practice is like meditation, like the use of the breath in yoga and martial arts. If you think about it, some of the oldest forms of exercise start with the breath and some of the newest fads in exercise don’t even consider it. Today’s coaches often just think if they get you winded, all good things will happen. I don’t know if that’s the best way to approach this.

Think about that. The wisdom of the ages tells us to start every exercise or movement with attention and efficiency in the breath, because that fuels everything we do in every other movement we make. Do we do this? Nope. We want to grow those pecs, shred those abs and activate those glutes.

Oh, and just breathe however you want.

As we look at opportunities to re-coordinate or reconnect breathing, what we’ll find is that see-saw breathing is a way to de-emphasize chest breathing and improve abdominal breathing.

Crocodile breathing is another way to do that, and gives a different sense of feedback where the belly expands both side-to-side and pushes into the floor, lifting the low back, or the sway we normally have in the low back when we lie on our bellies. We see the back going up and down, which looks much like a crocodile lying on its belly and breathing.

We have some amazing techniques to reset or reconnect authentic breathing to remind the brain of the options other than upper chest breathing. Think about the restricted areas first—the low back, the chest, the ribcage, the abdominals, a lot of tightness in the pelvic floor region and definitely in the neck.

FMS8_22_09_068Look how many people are swinging kettlebells who still think the neck is the core. They’re totally engaged across the anterior neck muscles, not breathing right and the other things go from there. If the breath is out, we have problems.

Take it one step further. If you’re dealing with somebody with a history of breathing problems, there could be an anatomical obstruction. There could be a compromised airway. There are many, many things that can be done for this, but I wouldn’t start with exercise.

We have to be responsible when we talk about breath. We have to make sure there’s no anatomical obstruction. We have to make sure there’s mobility in the breathing regions of the body. Remember how much of the chest the lungs cover. The lungs cover the area from almost under the traps all the way down to below the ribcage, so any restriction in that area can interrupt natural breathing.

If the restrictions are taken off the table and there are no obstructions, some of these breathing coordination exercises are absolutely awesome at resetting breathing. Once you reset, take the new breathing into your activities because these are, in fact, corrective exercises.

Corrective exercises should be a temporary measure so you can pull the new thing you gained into activities. You’ll breathe better the next time you run. You’ll breathe better the next time you hike. You’ll breathe better the next time you lift. You’ll breathe better the next time you cycle.

We follow the same rules with breathing as we do with every other body movement.

When I’m healthy, I get hurt

When I’m healthy, I get hurt.

That’s just how it is, and it probably goes all the way back to my childhood. Having a young one at home who is as accident prone as I was (am) helps me to remember those childhood injuries all too clearly.

I’ve long used the phrase, “When I hurt, I’m not healthy . . . and when I’m healthy, I get hurt.” It’s a little bit of a joke, but each part helps explain the other. When you are in pain, you make many decisions that simply serve to remove you from that pain. You aren’t using your soundest judgement because you’ve got a constant alarm going off: the way you feel is not the way you want to feel. 

Modern society offers quick cover ups. Because of this, pain can no longer teach. Let’s try and remember our Aristotle: “We cannot learn without pain.”

When you do feel good, you are usually active enough (i.e. work/play/train/compete hard enough) to over-exert or hurt yourself.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an audio version of this article,
Episode 59 of Gray Cook Radio


We live in that constant flux between recovering from the last mistake or mistreatment of ourselves and looking for another opportunity to feel good enough to cause the same problems all over again.

I don’t know if I’ve really gotten better at this or not. I think one of the reasons I don’t get hurt as much is because I have a lot of residual pain from some of my previous misbehaviors. Some days, I wake up in pain and spend a little time trying to do the maintenance or corrective work to get me out of it. That’s reality.

When I do feel good, I’ll find a way to hurt myself. I’ll work out harder than I should. I’ll travel farther than I should. I stay up a little bit later and do a little more research than I should.

When I feel good, I’m going to do something that I shouldn’t do . . . and that something is probably going to hurt me.

How do you become a competent self-regulator? How do you get good at it?

If you don’t self-regulate, many other things will regulate you.

So, how do you self-regulate?
Listen to your body,
Understand movement, and

Know the resources that are physically available to you and the different ways you can be resourceful with them.

Simply put, that’s the dance that gets you through it.

We don’t really have a good gauge for balance in our lives, and yet all the ancient wisdom tells us that balance is the key to life. Balance is when life is at its best.

Anything that can take you out of balance, even though it might be different from where you are now, ultimately, it is not as sustainable . . . and it won’t create as much independence as balance does.

Since I graduated from PT school and became a strength coach in 1990, I’ve had many discussions about fitness and rehabilitation and have realized that, when it comes to personal fitness and rehabilitation, most of us will want independence and sustainability as much as any other goal. When we are injured or when we’re unfit—when we need rehabilitation or fitness education—we don’t want to be unnecessarily dependent. This doesn’t mean that we won’t be open to education, but at some point, the educator can fade away while the education remains.

It’s funny how we expect it to work that way in everything else we learn . . . but in fitness, we have dependence. In health, we have dependence. We can’t seem to learn enough to regulate our lives, our lifestyles and our activity loads in a way that keeps us in harmony with our environments and our social connections.

We sleep too much. Or we sleep too little.
We eat too much. Or we eat too little.
We have poor quality in each of the above. Or, we have great quality.

Somehow, we always find a way to screw up one of these dynamics:

The way we move.
Our social interactions in our environment.
Our food.
Our sleep.

Always check quality first . . .

Robb Wolf’s book Wired to Eat goes deeper into these four aspects of life. Highly recommended.

One of those things, we’ll do to excess and one we’ll do to a level that isn’t sustainable and doesn’t create independence.

My wife and I have had a recent opportunity to volunteer by teaching Physical Education classes (K-7) at a local elementary school. I want to see how the next generation is moving now, and see if there’s anything I can do to help them improve. But I’m not just constructing functional games and offering up new pieces of challenging equipment—The entire dynamic intrigues me.

I’ve been fascinated by the various statistics showing that America’s educational systems is lagging behind much of the world. It’s true, even though our classrooms are climate controlled, our school facilities are more modern and our teacher-to-student ratio is closer to optimal. There are places with far fewer resources that are educating kids better than us using resourceful means. One of the things they do is to introduce a problem at the beginning of class and let the class discover the solution, as opposed to the teacher simply reading the answer to a question that the kids haven’t pondered.

However, when we teach physical education, it is, first and foremost, good to understand who you are working with and what their movement abilities are. That’s why I’m an advocate of screening and that’s why I think screening should be part of physical education. So that’s what we’re doing in out K-7 classes.

That said, I don’t want screening to eclipse the work that can happen when we unleash the the human movement pattern learning system. You see, it’s not until we encounter a movement learning obstacle that we start getting resourceful with the resources that we currently have. That’s where learning starts. Learning to problem solve is a skill that we prize mentally but shy away from in the physical world. When you handle free weight or an obstacle, you must problem solve. When you sit on a machine, you just need to push, pull and pretend that it’s real work (note: intense expressions help.)

So with these kids, my wife and I have been creating physical problems to solve. When you are facing a wall, a box or a balance beam, you cannot instantly get stronger.

In those situations, you are forced to use what you have. That frustration creates a question . . . and that question will embrace an answer. Some kids will do well on an obstacle. Other kids won’t. The first thing we’ll do is stop the class 10 minutes early and we’ll talk. We’ll discuss why and how to handle this challenge if we have it again tomorrow. What would you do differently? If you had a few weeks to prepare, what would you do differently?

Kids will quickly learn that some things will create an instantaneous response—better technique, better breathing, better focus, slower approach, more rapid balance decisions—all these things we can do to anticipate the activity. What are some things we can do that rely on physical adaptation, realizing that I can’t change my strength today . . . but in about 2.5 weeks, I can probably demonstrate a much stronger version of myself. This isn’t because my muscles are larger. It’s that my brain is better organized.

We watch them process this message, realizing that it may change their physical path in life. Physically smarter beats physically harder in the long game of life.

We want to use these physical obstacles/opportunities not just to run kids through blind drills to burn their calories and get rid of their wiggles. We want to do it to challenge their brains and their bodies at the same time. Physical problem solving is no different than mathematical problem solving or communication and language problem solving. We simply need to use better symbols, better communication, better accountability and better baselines for our postures and patterns. I think we can.

Until that day comes, we should probably take some lessons that we hope the kids of the future will be provided with. What are they?

Everything that we do, every day, is physical problem solving. Rest and regeneration . . . Rehabilitation when you are injured may help you get back quicker. Engaging your confidence against reality (whether you are in competition in work or fitness) will help make you a better self-regulator. The longer I have worked in movement, the clearer this observation has become:

It’s not just how you move . . . It’s how you think you move.

Screening movement is one basic way to look at movement confidence and movement reality. There are a few different scenarios that can play out here:

1) You believe your movement screen is average or better than average, and it isn’t. In this case, your confidence is greater than your reality and you are likely to take on challenges that could prove unhealthy. (As Aristotle said, “We can’t learn without pain.)
2) Your reality is greater than your movement confidence. In this second situation, you will probably unnecessarily avoid healthy challenges. Bottom line – you may not get injured, but you also won’t be fully developed.
3)Your movement reality and movement confidence are matched. Go for it. Start self-regulating and have fun.

I opened my first book, Athletic Body in Balance, with the inscription from the Greek temple at Delphi: “Know Thyself.” If you know yourself, you can regulate yourself and you are well on the way toward sustainable physical independence.

There’s no reason that we have to hurt as much as we do. And when we’re healthy, we don’t need to go and get hurt because we are simply out of touch with our ability to recognize and write movement patterns.

You can choose to learn from physical screens and tests and proactively start to customize your physical challenges and experiences . . . or you can wait for pain to help you wake up. Your call.

Need to play catch up on all things MOVEMENT?
Here are some of my favorite lectures, conveniently in one collection:

Gray Cook lectures

Redefining Health and Fitness

Do you define health as the absence of disease?

I think that’s an under-shoot and an under-sell.

Along a similar vein, a lot of people define fitness as being lean or well-muscled.

I think we all know that you could lose weight and gain muscle in very unhealthy ways—ways that may compromise your movement, involve performance enhancing drugs and/or some tablets-623706_1920unorthodox dietary practices with undesirable side effects.

There are many ways to get lean and well muscled that aren’t good for you, so I think if we’re going to explore the definitions of health and fitness, maybe we should look at the following words:


Now, let’s define health, bounded by the parameters of these three words.

Health is the independent, sustainable and developmental way to continually heal. You use your rest, your regeneration and your activity to maintain a positive, constructive and contributing state of being.

You manage your stress levels, and rest and regenerate accordingly. After an injury, you understand your own abilities and go slowly enough for the body to heal, but fast enough to stimulate adequate stress for positive growth and continued adaptation.

Fitness can be defined in the same way—the independent, sustainable and developmental way to continually adapt. Adaptation is what we do when we become fit, and the adaptation definition must involve a much greater scrutiny of the environment.

To meet the minimums of health, you basically have to be a living, breathing, eating, drinking and sleeping being who can move. If you can move through a fundamental set of patterns, you can start to learn from your environment.

You are the most complex and accomplished movement learning system we have ever known. The entire system is jump started with fundamental movement patterns that establish movement literacy. Movement literacy, in turn, is the foundation of skill acquisition.

That’s why we have developmental patterns that are reflex driven pre-installed on the human being hard drive. That’s right, you have certain movements as an infant that you just go through that are as involuntary as your patellar tendon reflex. (You know, when the physician taps your knee with a hammer?)

reflex hammer2

They’re reflexes that we go through as infants that run those circuits at about 100%. Simply using those circuits sets up the fundamental movement patterns that allow you to gain head control, prone-on elbows, quadruped, kneeling, half kneeling, squatting, standing, stepping, running, jumping, climbing, lifting and carrying.

In a carpeted room lacking objects or obstacles, a baby will go through every one of the movements I just mentioned. Each of those movements can then be exploited, specialized and taken to a more complex level if the environment demands it.

If I take that baby and put it in a room with ladders and ropes and swings, then that baby will basically take its climbing resources and become really good and engaged at doing vertical things or off-the-ground training.

If we introduce the baby to a bunch of mud and water, that baby will actually become very good at slick and unpredictable surfaces and know how to move and transition between land and watermud2 very well.

If I introduce a ball, that baby will learn to use its movement patterns to develop hand-eye coordination to follow and chase and throw and kick that ball. If I introduce wide-open spaces, the baby may be engaged to run. If I introduce obstacles, the baby may be engaged to jump.

These are your local environments. You bring the fundamental movement patterns to it.

That’s movement health and I can’t talk to you about your fitness unless you tell me what environment you are in.

Is that environment challenging or are you simply maintaining?

Do you independently have the resources to sustain development?

Now, development for some is “let’s just not get any stiffer as I get older.” It’s active development whether you’re trying to maintain what you have or you’re trying to gain something new so let’s go back and look at those definitions of health and fitness again.

Health isn’t just the absence of disease and fitness isn’t just the presentation of a lean, well-muscled body.

Knowing your limitations, knowing how to maximize rest and regeneration, how to gauge activity are vital factors for states of health and fitness.

Sometimes you can sleep and eat less in anticipation of less activity and sometimes you must sleep and eat more in anticipation of more activity or more stress. You must learn how to adapt in environments. You must understand your own limitations and your skill-challenge ratio.

If you overshoot, you’re probably going to get hurt or fail in a way that may not be pleasurable. If you undershoot, you’re never going to adapt, you’re never going to change and you’re never going to send that stimulus—that ping—through the system that takes you from healthy to fitness.

You have to be healthy to receive the signal of stress and then create the adaptation called fitness.

Maybe if our current definitions for health and fitness were better, we would be better at achieving them.

There is one more test you can perform—now—to look at your body knowledge regarding health and fitness.

How are you feeling?
Are you meeting your goals?
Whatever your answers are, there is a follow-up question:
How many supplements do you need to pull this off?

Our ancestors did not have foam rolls, core exercises, isolation exercises, posture programs, multivitamins, energy drinks or fit bands. They knew how, what and when to eat and how to move well enough to move often enough to survive.

For more on sustainable development, check out my article, The Hardest Checklist You Will Ever Do

I delve into the interplay between organism and environment in my newest video, Three Principles You Can Apply to Any Movement


Gray Cook & Greg Rose Three Principles Video

Or check out the Principles Digital Bundle

Movement Club


The first rule of Fight Club: You do not talk about Fight Club.

It would be easy for me to apply the same rule to the passionate group of people who look at movement in a systematic way.

The first rule of Movement Club: You do not talk about Movement Club.


Let me go back and qualify the reference here. Fight Club is a movie about a counter-cultural movement to release, in a very primal way, the pent-up tension of an over-civilized society encumbered by political correctness, technology and a devaluation of all things manly. (There’s a lot more to the movie than that and you’ve probably got to read the book or watch the movie to understand what I’m talking about.)

The character Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) states the first rule, but I’ll paraphrase. If you do get invited to Fight Club, show up and witness something unbelievably amazing. Don’t go talk about it. If you do have a few fights, understand the benefit of the primal release and actually feel somewhat empowered, then stick around and get better. Benefit from the experience but please, still, don’t talk about it.

That’s the reason for the repetition in rule #2: You do not talk about Fight Club. If it actually becomes a ritual, something that you rely on to sustain a superior level of integrity and resourcefulness, don’t talk about it.

It’s something you simply must experience and that’s the point. Let me borrow the same sentiment for people doing the Functional Movement Screen.

Yes, I’m sitting here writing about the movement screen. I often talk about the FMS but in a way to encourage you to at least sample or experience screening—an invitation. Can it add something to what you currently do?

Now, think about this. Steve Jobs realized that the personal computer could change the world because it put technology in the hands of the single user, for creativity, but also for entertainment. That is why Apple is where they are today.

From the Apple I to the iPod/iPad/iPhone and iTunes, Steve Jobs realized that empowering the technical consumer for both processing power and entertainment largely in the same device would probably change the world. He was right.


Thinking in that vein, the Functional Movement Screen adds processing power to the current trends in fitness. For the last 30 years, fitness and the fitness industry have been more about entertainment than about strengthening our nation.

You want proof? In the last 30 years, we’ve gotten fatter and less fit. There are currently more obese Americans than there are overweight Americans. The generation of kids currently born won’t outlive the generation that’s raising them. Therefore, the current consumption of fitness media and fitness information is largely done for entertainment value and not so much for scientific, tangible, objective outcomes. The outcomes are horrendous.


Another example? Do you know how many personal trainers peruse the Internet on a weekly basis looking for something new because their clients are bored? There you go: fitness is about entertainment.

Sure, some of us get results. But are they sustainable? That’s the big question. We just saw that the big picture is not looking good.

With the metrics in the Functional Movement System, we say “Let fitness entertain you. Let sports entertain you. Let these things engage you and allow you to play and experience new ways to move your body.”

But, if you expect some physical development benefit in any way, whether it’s skill acquisition or weight loss, you must set a baseline. You must check the baseline and make sure you’ve got a reliable tool and you’re at the right level of development with the right test that tells you to move to the next level. The journey to fitness needs tangible metrics—a GPS that tells us where we are and maps the best route to success.

Otherwise, keep looking for new routines and be satisfied with the entertainment value. You’re not going to look any better two years from now but you will have burned a lot of calories. Yes, it’s better than watching TV and it’s better than sitting—but physical development was not the result. Physical entertainment was.

I reference the first rule of Fight Club for people experiencing the Functional Movement Screen for the first time because so much of the Internet discussion about the efficacy or value of movement screening is done by people who aren’t even in the Movement Club.


The people who ‘get it’ have enough of a feedback loop and enough expertise that if they do movement screening and do it correctly, they either find value in it or they don’t. Either way, the minute they find value, they might not necessarily be interested in sharing that value with their competition down the street. They have created a mentorship literally with a systematic mentor instead of a human mentor. They have a tighter feedback loop. They get results from smaller amounts of information than their competition does.

If you’re making comments about movement screening or movement assessment you need to have some background in the system. You don’t have to like the system, you’ve just got to be good enough at it to know that your dissatisfaction in the system isn’t because of your inability to technically replicate the system.

“I did the system good enough to be reliable and it’s not benefiting me in any way.” I can handle that critique all day. I can’t handle scrutinizing a system without at least sampling it. For those of you who have already performed movement screens (whether you value movement screens or not), I would prefer you honing your skills and tightening your feedback loop instead of saying positive or negative things in a public forum.

I want the technology that we created to empower the individual user—to press them to be creative, to press them to utilize that processing power—so that they can create a more entertaining product for fitness or athletic development that keeps people engaged but also delivers significantly better results than the past 30 years of fitness.

I take shots at physical education and fitness because we have all watched the physical landscape of a nation erode before our eyes. I want to leave you with a rule of thumb that might help you in your own journey in understanding and developing movement and movement screening and assessment tools.

First, don’t talk so much. Just do. Participating in Fight Club is fine. Talking about Fight Club is not fine. It distracts you from what the experience will give you—a break from the sedentary and soft dogma that is our modern society.

Secondly, if you’re in the Movement Club, don’t talk about the Movement Club. Do movement. Do movement screening. Do movement corrections. Do physical development. Do skill development. Don’t talk about it.

The more ‘movement’ you do, the more you will be able to say in less words. You will simply refine your ability to think and discuss movement screening, and when you’ve reduced it to something that you could effectively communicate in a matter of well-placed sentences, then talk about it a little.

Here’s a simple rule that will help you in your own physical development but will also help you in the development of your teaching, coaching, training and rehabilitation skills and it will also help you educate another person:

When you are provided with an opportunity to embrace a new experience, whether a new exercise, a new adventure race or a new skill set, start with observation. Look at it from every angle you can. Read and study. Consume information and see how much you can learn without participation. Stay in the bleachers. Develop an appreciation of what you’re seeing.

First, look directly at the activity or the skill set. Then, look at the subtle intangibles that may go unnoticed by others focusing directly on the activity. For example: watch a juggler. Everybody’s looking at the juggling. Nobody is watching the breathing, the foot position or the posture. They’re all important.


Observe, then sample. Attempt bits and pieces of the activity without the obligation of starting or finishing anything.

Once you’ve adequately sampled, consider participation. Participation means that you actually consumed the thing from start to finish. You actually did the entire task. You didn’t work on the beginning or end or the middle of a deadlift. You simply did a deadlift. Only integrity and completion matter . . .  and they are non-negotiable.

After participation, there’s competition.

Competition means that not only did I participate, not only did I go through the entire activity but I actually accomplished something. Now if it’s a race, finish in the top half. If you’re finishing in the bottom half, that’s probably more participation. Participate as long as you want but when you get your window, try to compete.

Last comes winning: beat everybody else in the group. You learned faster than everyone else. Your speed or pound-for-pound strength might be better than everybody else in the group—whatever it is, you’re winning.

How many people go straight to competition and winning with a new activity? Might that not be the current problem in fitness today?

I’ll leave you with this thought. Dr. Ed Thomas said, “We used to go to the gym to acquire a new physical skill and the workout and physical development were the secondary benefit.”


Now, we’re so busy sampling every little thing in fitness for the entertainment value and variety that we never, ever truly compete. If you don’t compete, you can’t win. We’re simply sampling everything and accomplishing nothing.

Sometimes, we quit sampling and participate but never with the quality or skill level that will get us anywhere in physical development, on the athletic field or in our sport.

The same could be said for movement screening. Learn about it. Sample it. Participate. Compete. What do I mean by compete? Do movement screenings and see if you can change the way people move. Enhance movement quality, then quantity. Install it as a successful cornerstone to your movement practices.

The art of technological development is in creating something that you don’t know you need until you consume it. That’s what Steve Jobs did for us with Apple products.

When we originally looked into movement screening, nobody was asking for movement screening. But everybody was asking for better fitness methodology because the results were so poor at the time.

We’ve built a fitness empire without considering movement . . . maybe the better fitness methodology starts with realizing what was overlooked in the first place.

Alwyn Cosgrove, Lee Burton and I discuss using the FMS as part of a fitness standard operating procedure in The Future of Exercise Program Design . . . Here’s a clip of Alwyn talking about using the screen vs. ‘talking’ the screen, just how much the system considers and how easy it can make your choices.




This past summer, I had an opportunity to work with Dan John. You should know, by now, that I’m a big fan of Dan’s work and unique perspective.

Dan is one of those coaches who tries things more than he talks about them. After he’s tried them and found value, he almost can’t stop talking about them. When Dan gets a question, he talks to a few people and gains perspective. Then he goes into the gym. He enters a training situation and a coaching mentality and recruits feedback from multiple people.

DanJohn - Farmer Carry

Only then can he determine how and what he thinks about an exercise.

Dan has always implemented certain principles in the way he develops someone and that is why I wanted Dan standing next to me when we approached The Essentials of Coaching and Training Functional Exercise Continuums. Last spring, I sat down with the FMS staff and we looked at ways to map out systematic thinking in the development of exercise continuums. People may think that we snap exercises together like puzzle pieces, but it doesn’t really go that way.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an unabridged audio version of this article,
Episode 46 of Gray Cook Radio


First, let’s make sure that we all have the same definition of a continuum: A continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not particularly different from each other although the extremes are quite different.

When we introduce somebody to a series of exercises, hopefully we have a goal or a pinnacle exercise that demonstrates everything in fine working order. Once we know that end destination, it is our job to connect the exercise movements—from a very low level of complexity and competency all the way to the place that we want to go. But we need to snap those together in a sequence to ensure that the person performing the exercise will not have an unnecessary detour, all too often seen in current fitness development and athletic development.

My first order of business in avoiding that little hiccup or glitch is to develop a better forecast. When we just can’t get deadlifts going right, or can’t seem to get the sequence on a pull-up, or can’t do a kettlebell swing, we likely didn’t know our map well enough. Something occurred that we neither intended nor expected. We should have known the person a little bit better because a continuum is an environment that we create.

We step in—in place of nature, in place of the natural development that this person was going through—and we say, “We’re going to do this instead.” Returning to my recent articles on Physical Education, I’ll reiterate: I don’t think we can develop you better than nature. I think that some of the strongest, fastest and most skillful movers on the planet may have already lived out their lives, many of them without ever being coached.

I’m not going to assume for a minute that my small brain is wiser than the entire natural system that has developed us but I do feel comfortable in saying this: Even though I don’t believe I can develop you better than nature, I do think that I can do it quicker and I also feel like I can do it safer. Having said that, I feel comfortable piecing together an exercise continuum that will get you from Point A to Point B. I will base it on what I know about the activities and what I know about you.

While we understand the continuum—we get how one exercise seamlessly gives rise to the next more complex pattern—we don’t always understand the person we’re putting through it. That’s the biggest problem I see in continuums. If the person has fundamental mobility and stability issues, don’t be surprised later—get those off the table now.

In our pre-conference workshop for Perform Better this year when Dan and I explored continuums, I discussed some movement behaviors that must be managed. I talked about breathing, bending, balancing and bouncing—The Four Bs.

Even though it sounds like I’m getting ready to tell a story with Winnie the Pooh in it, that’s not what I’m talking about at all. I need you to have a quick way to remember that each one of these abilities builds upon the other. If your breathing is not right, any martial artist or yoga practitioner from the last 4,000 years of history will tell you that you missed the starting point. If your breathing is not correct at rest or with escalated activity, everything else will be broken. It is the one rhythm that you cannot do without.

Breathing is the one attribute that functions both consciously and at an unconscious or subconscious level. At any time you can manage your state by controlling your breath. Are you angry or over-exerted? There are ways you can breathe to make that situation better. If you don’t know that or don’t understand that and are a fitness or rehabilitation professional, quickly explore breathing, observe its responses to the loads you place clients or patients and don’t immediately try to coach it.

Bending follows breathing and is your ability to yield to your environment and create sensory information. I am passionate about mobility—not for the biomechanical necessity, but for the sensory input. Why do I obsess on changing mobility before I approach stability? I consider most of your stabilization to be just like your breathing—performed at a subconscious or unconscious level. Your stabilization runs most of the time at a reflexive level. You’re not thinking about ityou balance effortlessly while focusing on another task.

If your mobility is compromised enough to make you compensate, the sensory input that you have to your reflexive behavior is askew—you have an overload of information or an underload of information. Either way, you’re not receiving the information you need.

We all understand the biomechanical reason for compensation. However, if your mobility is compromised, I can test your natural learning loop. If sensory information is not converted to perception and perception is not converted to action, you’re not going to get better without embracing the idea of changing mobility. Even if mobility never becomes normal, don’t let that be an excuse—try to improve it in an appreciable way prior to going into stabilization, which takes me to balance.


Balance is far more than your equilibrium or the ability to stand on one foot for 20 seconds. You use your balance in a deadlift. You use your balance in a Turkish Getup, in a Farmer’s Carry, when you swim. You use your balance in nearly all movement situations—first to keep you aligned and then to gauge the amount of muscle contribution between agonist and antagonist.

Lastly, we arrive at bounce—the way you use your backswing to pre-load your golf swing or cock your arm back before you punch. Bounce describes the stored energy when one foot hits the ground and you create your own reflexive situation along with the elastic component of your muscle and tendon working.

If you watch babies, they don’t really do a lot of lifting. They move right through their patterns. They pick up things and carry them. Before you know it, they’re bouncing all over the place, running and sprinting around and swinging and throwing things. Babies skip the strength phase, which should make us ask ourselves, “Why are we so enamored with the strength phase?”

As Dan and I exposed the two continuums of the kettlebell swing or the push press, we thought:

pushpress2Edited_KBs_from_the_Center_-_Pages_final_version_1What does it take to do a push press?
You should probably have a good squat and a good press.

What does it take to do a kettlebell swing?
You should probably have a good deadlift.

We don’t see a lot of people with good kettlebell swings and we don’t see a lot of people with good push presses. If they do have a good push press, it’s likely a much better push press on their dominant side than their non-dominant side. There’s no reason for that asymmetry in a basic movement like a push press. We wouldn’t expect symmetry in a tennis serve or throwing a fastball, but if you can’t show me symmetry in a push press, something is wrong with your engine.

More information on the value of the push press and kettlebell swing can be found in the audio version of this article.

The moral of the story: Dan and I used both of these continuums to demonstrate that the lacking piece within most continuums is the carry phase. That is the number one reason why I wanted a coach of Dan John’s accomplishments and wisdom standing next to me. Dan has always had some type of carry as part of his personal development program and the development program that he does for others. Dan is the messenger for loaded carries.

I’ve tried to demonstrate how his wisdom actually works. Toddlers don’t do a lot of lifting but the things they do lift, they carry for a long time. When you carry, you must demonstrate alignment with integrity under load and this is reflex stabilization. If your carries are poor, if you dump your posture before you finish your task, we’ve demonstrated that the endurance of your stabilizers will not withstand power work because your prime movers do not really care if your stabilizers smoke out early or not. You will always squeeze out more repetitions. They just won’t be repetitions with integrity.

Therefore, we use carries (whether they’re a conventional Farmer’s Carry or a unilateral overhead to front rack to suitcase carry) to demonstrate your alignment with integrity under load and even your symmetry. If we can use your holds and carries to create integrity and alignment under load, then we’ve demonstrated that your stabilizers have the endurance, the feedback and the control to allow you to march along this power continuum without any unnecessary setbacks.


Most people go from patterning to lifting. They’re missing a step. By definition, the steps of a continuum should be almost unperceivable. They should meld together. Going from a pattern to a loaded pattern is not a continuum. Gain the pattern. Gain the alignment. Gain the integrity. Show me that you can carry things in different positions. When you can carry those things in different positions, I think you can lift with much better integrity, develop your strength authentically and move right into power without a hiccup.

In The Essentials of Coaching and Training Functional Exercise Continuums, we broke down the continuum to show you that the missing link in most continuums is a lack of a carry phase, a lack of a holding phase and the lack of alignment with integrity under load in very simple patterns demonstrating work capacity. I choose the words work capacity over strength because you can consider yourself strong with a 1-RM but I may not want you backing me up climbing a mountain. I want someone with work capacity.

We lift and we train to have enough work capacity to pursue the skills that we desire to develop. If your work capacity is lacking, most of your skills will be practiced without integrity and alignment under load.

You need to know about continuums.


 To see holds and carries in action,
check out my new project with Dan John and Lee Burton:

Coaching DVD

The Essentials of Coaching and Training Functional Exercise Continuums.

It covers:
Exercise choices for power, work capacity and metabolic load
How to evaluate movement health, competency, capacity and complexity
The difference between an exercise continuum and a training progression
Minimum standards to progress, hold or regress
When to correct and when to coach
The metrics of the 4 Bs—Breathe, Bend, Balance, Bounce
What it means to play, practice or train, and who needs which
Postures and patterns, and drills to develop both