My Body Let Me Down . . . Again

I know I’ve thought this . . . maybe I’ve even said it.

“My body let me down.”

Beyond my personal usage, it’s a very frequent statement I hear as a coach and as a physical therapist. It’s often how people refer to a performance that wasn’t up to speed or an injury that was unforeseen.

For a healthy perspective, you could also flip the statement. Maybe you let your body down? Maybe your body has been sending you signals for quite some time that things aren’t right: feeling tired all the time, less than optimal energy, poor flexibility, a problem on one side or pain with simple movements. All of these things are signals; the only way your body really has to communicate with you.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an audio version of this article,
Episode 58 of Gray Cook Radio

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A simple checklist could help you quickly locate the source(s) of your body’s problem with you:

Any boxes unchecked?

In today’s highly-quantified life, with Fitbits and all kinds of gadgets that will analyze your body’s natural rhythms, frequencies and tendencies, the one thing you’re failing to recognize is a need to be self-aware. You may not be a self-regulating organism. Some of the best athletes of all time just know their body so well they don’t need the Fitbit. Well, you can use a Fitbit (or any similar device) to get to get to that level of self-regulation.

Start deciding to write down if you had a good night’s sleep before you check and see if a device told you that you did. See if you actually had an awesome trail run (by both time and feel) before you look at your optimal heart rate and your recovery. Can you estimate your state of readiness before a new app tells you about your heart rate variability and your current state of readiness?

You don’t need a device to see if you’re letting down your body. If you have pain with simple movements or during exercise and don’t do anything about it, you’re letting your body down. It’s the only way your body has to speak to you in that pattern. You are so self-unaware of poor movement patterns that your body finally had to use its loudest volume to communicate with you.

Regardless of what your device says about your quantity/quality of sleep, if you’re tired when you wake up in the morning, get out of bed and do something for three or four minutes, like a sun salutation or a few simple stretches. Roll around on the ground. After about two to three minutes, you’ll find out you weren’t tired at all. You got plenty of rest. You were just transitioning very poorly. You were missing that window to go ahead and jumpstart your body and send it some signals as it was sending you some signals. Learn to live in harmony with your body.

We look at a lot of signals. With Functional Movement Screening and Y-Balance Testing, we can easily see when your body’s function is actually under your expectations for the activities you’re getting ready to go into. Does it mean you’ll have an injury? No. does it mean you’ll have a less than optimal opportunity to become better? Probably.

There is a constantly recurring theme in movement screening and movement testing research: those who compared the most poorly to the majority of most groups also required greater resources to accomplish the same results as the majority.

Ankle mobility is a very, very important factor in the fitness and athletic communities. What’s an indicator you can figure out right now? If you’ve lost your deep squat, the ability to sit deeply, almost butt-on-heels without weight, just in your living room or outside, with or without shoes on, then there could be an ankle mobility problem. So, if you’ve lost your deep squat, that’s the first signal that you are no longer moving as authentically as your forefathers. Or a three-year-old. Secondly, if you have pain with movement that’s not extreme movement (not intense movement, not even loaded movement or extreme movement it’s simply an average movement pattern: touching your toes, lunging on each side, taking a knee and standing back up) that’s your body sending you a signal.

Inability to perform movement patterns and put your body into shapes and postures that are absolutely normal is an indicator that there’s dysfunction. Look at somebody else doing a movement or look at a textbook picture of a movement. Can you reproduce that movement? Can you read and write the language of movement patterns?

If you see a squat, attempt one, and actually perform a hip hinge, then you cannot read and write movement patterns.

If this were English class, I’d question your literacy and your fundamentals. But, if it’s a day at the gym, we suspend logic and just load on some weight, and see how much you can push . . . then post the experience on Facebook.

Listen to the signals your body is sending you. If you’re having a hard time reading those signals, ask for help. The Functional Movement Screen was designed to help start the conversation. Most people think it was designed to finish the conversation. It was not. If your movement screen is normal, it doesn’t mean all things are well. There are lots of other tests we need to do to solidify, say, your performance and your durability. If your movement screen is clear, but you’re having fitness problems, we can then actually screen your fitness and fundamental capacities. If your movement screen is dysfunctional, we can actually put your fitness goals over to the side for a minute, work intensely for about a week on corrective strategy, and see if we actually changed your movement screen. If we did, we could go back and measure that fitness issue that was giving you a problem. If it’s gone, what you thought was a fitness problem was simply a functional problem.

This occurs so often with the participants at our FCS courses that it seems staged. I assure you that it isn’t, but it does demonstrate that we decide on the problem before we measure or baseline all of the potential sources or complicating factors.

Last, but not least, if you have pain during a movement screen, the movement screen has done its job. It’s not going to tell you too much more about that pain, other than the site where it occurred and the movement pattern that provoked that symptom. From that standpoint, we’ve got a nice safety net. A professional, like a chiropractor, certified athletic trainer, physical therapist or a physician trained in the SFMA can take that same movement pattern language that we use in the movement screen to help engineer your fitness and actually construct a rehabilitation plan that’s based on your movement pattern behaviors, not just look at you like a bag of body parts.

If you want to know how to listen to your body, just start listening to your body. Start listening to the signals I’ve been discussing. Follow some of the guidelines I’ve given you. If you’re having a hard time just getting reintroduced to your body, that’s when sometimes a single session of a movement screen is worth 10 workouts from the exact same professional. A single step in the wrong direction can be easily fixed, but 2,000 steps in that wrong direction will require serious time and energy to correct.

Map makers and geographers will tell you, “The map is not the territory. It’s simply a representation. The territory is much different, much more diverse, and ever-changing. The map is a fixed set of images that simply relates to the territory.” Looking at an anatomy book and pointing out your painful body part, that’s playing with a map. Going through a movement screen, going through corrective strategy, confronting your own inappropriate movement behaviors . . . that’s getting into the territory. That requires you to get your feet a little muddy and your hands a little bit calloused. In the end, you and your body will be talking together. You and your body will be engaging the familiar and the unfamiliar with integrity.

Whether you start listening to the signals of your body and using some quantifying assistance to gauge your perception to its measured reality or whether you want to seek out a movement screen professional to just help you find out where your movement literacy is probably good enough to pursue a training goal and where it’s inadequate, you’re probably never going to see that goal unless you learn how to read and write movement patterns first. It doesn’t replace any of the fitness strategies or performance strategies you’ll put on top of that. However, most coaches at the elite levels are far too wise to put unnecessary fitness loads on inappropriate movement patterns. The movement screen was our simple way to tap into this acquired wisdom long before we are as accomplished and wise.

If you believe that perception drives behavior, then embrace the corollary: Self-awareness is the first step towards self-regulation.

If you’ve got 10 minutes, shake hands with your body, because you’re getting ready to start communicating in a completely different way. Start by understanding, start by listening. Maybe you’ve failed your body, and maybe your body didn’t fail you.

Here’s an interesting experiment . . . Watch Kelly McGonigal’s great TedTalk, How To Make Stress Your Friend. Only, replace stress with movement . . .

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

Gray Cook lectures

Activity and Exercise

Recently, I was asked to lecture at an event organized by Equinox. I was both honored and humbled to be in the presence of many wonderful speakers.

At the end of the day, we all looked forward to the panel discussion, in which the audience, who had been waiting patiently letting us speak all day, got to ask us questions and hear the different ways we would entertain their answers.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an audio version of this article,
Episode 57 of Gray Cook Radio

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One of the questions came to the panel phrased like this:

“All of you travel abroad and speak at international conferences. What is the biggest difference between the United States and the rest of the world in regards to how we look at exercise, fitness and active lifestyles?”

I looked around the room and nobody reached for the mic, so I grabbed it and said:

“One of the things that I became immediately aware of in my international travels for education and teaching was the fact that, in the United States, we speak of someone’s exercise program. When I’m dealing with a person who was raised outside of the US (or when I’m working outside of the US), more often than not, people don’t ask about exercise.

They ask “What is your activity? What activities do you enjoy?”

I think that mindset is more representative of an active lifestyle than any exercise. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with exercise and many of us define ourselves by the exercises that we enjoy the most. But, that is only a simple part of our active lifestyle.

It’s almost like asking someone, “What are your favorite supplements?” as opposed to asking them, “What foods do you like to eat? What meals and food combinations do you enjoy?”

Internationally, I think there might be a slightly more authentic appreciation of an active lifestyle, whereas, in the US, where we spend much more time working and entertaining ourselves than actually focusing on mindful movement, we often want to package that in sets and reps and quick little trips to the gym.

So, the active lifestyle and the activities that you want to do should take precedence and the exercises should the be vehicles or things that make the activities go smoother for you.

In the book The Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler tells us that the flow state is one of the most important factors in action/adventure sports and that’s why we’re seeing records fall at an astounding rate. He also used flow as a way to describe why surfers and skateboarders don’t have to be begged to practice—they don’t even have to schedule it—practice spontaneously occurs through the love of the flow state that is generated by participating in that activity. They don’t need fitness monitors to remind them that the need to skateboard or surf today.

But, those aren’t the only activities that create a flow state. For some people, it is a conveniently put together exercise package. We have to ask ourselves: ‘Is it sustainable and will it fulfill our active needs throughout our entire lifespan?’

This brings me to a video that I’d like to share. My good friend and accomplished strength coach, Jon Torine, and I have conversations, nearly on a weekly basis, talking about everything from high-end performance training and the next teams we’re going to consult with, to ways to fix physical education.

Jon has recently been involved in climbing, because both of his sons are engaged by that activity. He’s challenged himself to start climbing as well—and it has revealed many things (in some of the most astounding ways) that his performance and conditioning background hadn’t seen.

This video will only take six minutes. Even though the statistics say that the video-digesting public rarely watches a complete video, I would encourage you not to play this video until you have dedicated the six minutes required to watch it.

FOREVER – It ain’t over ’til it’s over. from cafekraft on Vimeo.

Allow this video to inspire you to think more about activity than exercise. If you focus on an activity, you will quickly identify the exercises that will help you with that activity, but if you focus your life only on exercise, you’ll have to constantly be reminded to “take your vitamins and your supplements.”

Sometimes, I feel guilty because I haven’t been in the gym enough. But I never feel guilty that I haven’t hiked or paddleboarded enough, because every time life gives me an opportunity, to do either of those activities, I will do them.

I would hope that no matter how involved you are in the exercise profession or the exercise life, you don’t let the focus on exercise overshadow the flow state or the reason you like moving in the first place.

Movement Food

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates

Those words were very wise advice in a time, much like the present, when I’m sure factions of society were looking for performance enhancement, medical miracles and easier ways to energize the human body.

As much as a specific lesson about food, Hippocrates was stating that in our drive to succeed, we often overlook fundamental principles about how we should behave.

To paraphrase: Cover your fundamentals before you assume you have a problem—most problems break a basic or fundamental principle, then seek a complex solution.

For some reason we think with greater clarity about eating than we do about moving.  Michael Pollan, one of my favorite authors, has become known for deconstructing our assumptions and Michael Pollan's In Defense of Foodunnecessary anxieties about food.  To over-simplify his body of work: Food is a whole and natural thing. Real food is full of many subcomponents that, in isolation, may be beneficial, may be toxic or could throw you out of balance.

But we live in an age of supplements. We don’t want to drink green tea, we just want to identify the few good things in green tea that we can stick into a pill, a candy bar or some bubble gum.

It doesn’t work that way with food.

It doesn’t work that way in movement or exercise either.

Basically, reductionism causes more problems than it solves because it often creates an unsustainable solution. Your body already knows how to extract the good stuff from green tea, so don’t ask a corporation to do it for you.

If we were eating a whole and natural and authentic diet (as intended), the only reason for supplementation is if you have a problem absorbing naturally occurring vitamins and nutrients. To overcome the absorption problem or whole foods that have been compromised, we have to effectively overdose that particular missing element to get you back to normal.

Vitamins and nutrients are much better used to pull you out of a state of dysfunction than to force you into a state of optimization. If you agree with that statement (and you should if you review the history and science), you can see just how skewed many of our assumptions about vitamins, minerals or nutritional supplements are.  If you lack something, and that supplement fulfills the need, then it feels like a competitive advantage. A performance octane boost, if you will.  It’s not. It’s simply filling a hole that otherwise should have been filled, authentically, through your eating, resting and regenerative behaviors.

Let’s bring the analogy back around to movement . . .

Exercise is not movement food. Exercise is a movement supplement.exercise bottle

Exercise is a movement supplement because we do it largely for hopes of a better future in movement. Furthermore, no single exercise demonstrates the whole of human movement capabilities. Now, as babies, toddlers and children, we are biologically driven to play. In those early explorations of our environment through our senses and movement, we develop fundamental patterns and even physical capacities.  As we age, certain parts of our movement landscape draw our attention and we continue to play:
Some of us want to throw balls,
Some of us want to run great distances,
Some of us want to climb walls,
Some of us head straight to the water,
Some of us choose to sample a variety of activities, and
Some of us obsess on specializing—becoming the best in our area, our region, our country or maybe even our world.

To support these activities, we often choose exercises that we think we need, sometimes without a logical analysis of which exercises truly supplement or support our favorite activities.

Regardless of the ways we choose to explore movement, we can break it down to an elemental level and find your movement food. The best starting point is to look at the four different levels of movement:

Movement Health
Movement Function
Movement Fitness
Movement Skill

Try to define each term before you read further, because we have been thinking, debating and refining these terms for 20 years . . . see if you like where we are headed.

Levels of Movement Development
Does your movement serve to provide movement health? Well, if we look at many of the movements in yoga and martial arts, fascia release positions or developmental neurological progressions we often see great ways to put the body through patterns in varying postures and physical loads.  But does that movement not also serve our circulatory system? Our tissue system? Our organ system? Our proprioceptive vestibular visual and auditory system? Every time we move, it’s a multi-sensory experience that’s either constructive, destructive or simply a wash . . . I can’t tell whether or not your investment of time and energy in the activity helped you.

How much of your investment in exercise or activity is barely distinguishable under an objective physical exam?  That means I can’t even tell you’ve been doing X, and you’ve been doing X for months. X is designed to add mass, burn fat, create speed, better agility, create symmetry (the list is endless). Yet, when I measure these things, I cannot even see the tangible benefit of your effort. Believe it or not, that’s been occurring for some time. Your effort is going largely unnoticed by the biomarkers that we use to determine whether you need the effort in the first place.

If we truly have honest tests, then we will find multiple methodologies that will address particular problems, like ankle mobility, core stability, shoulder stability, overall cardio vascular function, work capacity, slow strength and/or explosive power. As long as we can find which one of these is your weakest link, we can easily decide if it is an isolated problem at your level of physical development. Possibly, the problem has its root all the way back into movement function—the way you organize your mobility and stability? The problem could be found in your movement health—those things that serve to create a system that grows, repairs, rests and regenerates at normal, optimal or above average rate.

(Want a peek at our new screen for performance, The Fundamental Capacity Screen? Check out this FCS interview with Cody Dimak – free download at

Many people ask for a fitness solution to a health problem,
Many ask for a fitness solution to a functional problem, and
Many ask for a fitness solution to a skill problem.

That’s a quick overview of the four ways we can look at movement.

If you’re unhealthy, we need to diagnose you.
If you’re dysfunctional, we want to clearly identify the questionable movement pattern and attempt to correct it.
If you simply can’t play golf, I don’t know how many more side planks you need . . . Maybe you just need a golf lesson. Do you have a physical barrier to golf? Or a skill barrier?

Simple testing can quickly and easily answer that question. Just ask my friends at TPI.

Movement health: Do you have the basic constituents to both move in a healthful way and have that movement benefit you in a healthful way? What is the minimal effective dose of movement for your entire system? Not just your kinesiology; that tactile interaction with your world. That ‘squishiness’ where your body bumps up against the environment, where you get off your feet, you roll around, you have different textures and experiences. You have a wash of proprioceptive experience as well as visual experience, auditory experience, vestibular experience.

Movement function: Can you take all of the attributes of movement health and organize them to become a movement-competent learning machine? Movement function doesn’t mean you know or are good at anything. You simply have the movement patterns to create feedback loops. Therefore, if you don’t have any significant mobility problems, and I expose you to a balance beam, you have no excuse for poor balance except for movement control and postural control—you’ve demonstrated the flexibility to perform the move and cannot do it. When I offer you an experience that allows you to work on those faculties with a feedback loop, you become the self-movement-learning miracle that made your ancestors so adaptable.

“Here’s a 6-inch balance beam, and it’s 1 inch off the floor. Walk on this balance beam forward as many times as you can until you have to step off. Walk down the beam, pivot, turn and walk back down the beam. When you can do five passes without a fall, try to do five passes without a fall and no wasted energy, with minimal to no movement above your waist, meaning the flailing of the arm and the awkward head position and slight lean to the left. Yeah, let that go away and still show me you’re good.”


Once that’s done, instead of closing your eyes, I’m going to have you walk forward on the beam and backward on the beam. And for those of you who say, I’ve got an individual who can’t even balance on a beam . . . First: I’m sure you overlooked a mobility problem. Second, if you want to get them on the beam, use sticks, a hand-hold or some other type of an assist. Put the beam near a wall and slowly remove the dependence on that wall. There are so many ways to scale this. That said, there is no need to scale it if you address the minimum effective mobility required for the person to use the feedback of poor balance to create good balance. I don’t need you to tell them to contract any one part of your body. They simply need to acknowledge the fact that they can’t balance. They simply need to employ their own proprioceptive visual and vestibular system to figure out how to overcome that.

Let them try to solve the problem. They have all the parts of the equation: perception, time and the ability to act. Let nature do its thing and provide feedback.

Make them find the answer. Don’t give it to them. If a toddler can find the answer, surely an adult can. There is no fast track to balance—the authentic path works best. Crawl before you walk.  Walk before you run. It’s as simple as that.

Movement fitness: This is your capacity to express energy for basic locomotion or manipulation. Basically, moving you or moving stuff (or moving you and stuff). Movement fitness is non-specific with capacity and basic physical resources.

Movement skill: Is your complexity or ability to do your thing. Some of us specialize in one thing; others pick a few things. Skill is when you point your physical capacity at a specific task, activity, goal or game and demonstrate technical and tactical ability in an efficient and effective way. If you are better than most, you can get paid for it.

So, knowing these four levels, what is your best movement food?

Many times we must continually scale, adjust and even ‘over-coach’ our exercises because they’re inappropriately matched to the people who need to regain a lost movement ability. If we were to deconstruct movement, we could phrase it as, “Are you moving enough to be healthy?” Or, “If you start moving more, can you potentially create a health problem?”

We see that all the time. “I’m a little overweight. I’ve started walking and jogging and now I’ve got shin splints and low back pain.” Right?  They seemed to be movement healthy, but as soon as they attempted to move a little bit more, they become unhealthy. Yes, unhealthy, because shin splits and low back pain are best addressed in health care as opposed to fitness (barring the fact that we’re as screwed up in health care as we are in fitness.) So many times we treat the symptoms not the cause. Many times we treat the muscles closest to the area of poor movement or pain, instead of looking at movement as a whole and asking, “what is your movement diet?”

If we removed all stretches, correctives, foam rolling and appointments with the chiropractor and physical therapist, is there actually a way you can improve with slow, steady and sustainable progress and address the specific minimum effective dose of movement that keeps you healthy? What about the minimum effective dose of movement that keeps you functional and adaptive to those activities that you think are going to be appropriate for you? If 400 pound dead lifts are not part of your future, then we don’t need movements that will support that lift, but we still need movements that will allow you to squat, twist, turn, crawl, climb and maybe even jog.  If you have something very heavy to lift one day, you’ll either get help or break the job down or use a mechanical advantage. It’s as simple as that.

Move well enough to be healthy . . . Move often enough to maintain it.
Move well enough to be functional . . . Move often enough to learn.
Move well enough to be fit . . . Move often enough to adapt.
Move well enough to be skillful in what you do . . . Move often enough to perform consistently.

Move well enough, but in that prescribed order. Your nature demands it!

If you move well, often enough, adaptation will occur and none of that adaptation will be in a direction of disadvantage. That’s very important;  A disadvantaged direction promotes a more ambitious level of movement development over a fundamental one. How many times have we ever seen a pitcher throw their arm into a state of poor movement health—a torn rotator cuff, a muscle strain or a joint sprain is the result. He was doing a skill that, if dosed correctly, can actually benefit his fitness and his overall personal development.  But he exhausted that resource and created a health problem. Back to zero.

A lack of systematic feedback on well or often will get you just that.

As you move up through movement, from health to skill, or as we evaluate you down through movement, we deconstruct the minimum effective necessary dose of health, function, fitness and skill to find out where should you be working. What’s the minimum effective dose? We often learn that what we assumed was wrong with us isn’t even close to being our weakest link. That weakest link in movement is often the reason you’re not progressing or performing, the reason that you may not be losing weight or even sleeping the way you want to. Your body is extremely sensitive to the movements that you choose to do, and the ones that you choose not to do.

Sounds like diet, right?

I’m unbelievably inspired by the clarity in nutrition when compared to exercise. I don’t have an academic credential in nutrition, but I think that I can clearly recognize good logic and poor logic in nutrition.  Nutrition can easily get as poor as the pharmaceutical industry, where you’re simply directed to eat based on your symptoms alone. But it can be as all-encompassing as to create a complete, sustainable lifestyle change by giving you a few principles of good eating, bad eating, healthful eating, functional eating, fitness eating and then long-term eating.

If we looked at exercise like we look at supplements, and we considered physical activities and exposures to new environments like we consider food, we would be far more advanced in our movement technology.

It wouldn’t be obvious that you’re from a sedentary culture simply by the way you walk . . .

Americans are becoming recognizable around the world. And it’s not just because we’re a little overweight and dress slightly different than the rest of the world.

It’s because we don’t move well.

We don’t move well, yet we choose to move more often. That creates a problem. It creates obvious compensation. And even as something as simple as a walk can identify the fact that you and your body are enjoying movement supplements far more often than real movement food.

I hope you’re inspired by this. If you are, be inspired enough to look deep and break down the level of movements. Take your assumptions, throw them out the window and look at a clean measuring stick for the four different categories of movement. Are you consuming food or supplements at each of these levels? At the top level, enjoy that what you want to do the most, whether it be cycling, rock climbing, hiking, or playing a competitive sport. If you do it right, your skill load will give you an appreciative level of fitness. That fitness will bestow you with a certain level of function, and that maintained function will help you maintain your health. It works backwards.

And at the very top rung of movement, I encourage you to find those things that make you smile, those things that put you in a flow state. Does it mean that you won’t have homework and supplementary work to do? Sorry, you will. But those supplements are temporary obstacles to get you into balance and harmony for the long haul in this event called life.

If you’re using a supplement for years instead of weeks or months, I question the effectiveness of who put you there and why they did it. Many people have embraced functional movement technology and continued to do supplements, not realizing that my team and I would have pulled you off of that corrective a long time ago and readjusted your entire scope of health, function, fitness or skill/competition. I wouldn’t just be adding a particular supplement because you have a bad movement pattern. Once I show that the movement pattern could improve with correctives, the first thing I’d do is turn you around and say, “okay, how can you do without this corrective?” Well, by doing more of X and doing significantly less of Y, and never doing Z again, because it’s simply not a food that you need or that agrees with you.

Please don’t trust me . . . Test me. Start with a simple look at organism and environment, because where you need work may not be where you are working.

We use our tests that way. Not to promote one methodology over another, but to help you find medicine in your movement, and movement in your medicine.

I’m excited to have all of my favorite lectures together in one package:
Gray Cook lectures

Is performance in your DNA? We can test it.
NEW: The Fundamental Capacity Screen



Movement Principles

There are common truths and principles that should be the building blocks of any philosophy, program or system that considers physical development or rehabilitation.

See if you agree with me on these statements . . . I believe strongly in them:

We cannot develop ourselves, or others, better than nature.


We can develop ourselves and others safer and faster than nature.


Proper progression is mastery of one level of development before proceeding to the next.


These aren’t the principles. These are the basic concepts of living within an environment; not taking more than is needed. I’ll borrow language from the environmentalist, Aldo Leopold, who said it succinctly and profoundly:

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve integrity,
stability and beauty.
It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

As we developed Functional Movement Systems, these truths were expressed through ten movement principles; detailed, multifaceted action points to guide movement observation, screening, assessment and treatment.

Oh yeah, and they were difficult for me to cleanly express and even harder for you to remember. As much as I believe all ten still apply (and keep reading . . . they do), I also knew that I could do better if I took it to the very root of Functional Movement Systems’ philosophy.

I realized that I had assembled a collection of movement maxims that point to a consistent theme. That theme needed to be clearly identified and ridiculously simple. As Einstein said, “Everything must be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

That philosophy can be distilled into three movement principles. They are simple, yet contain every aspect of physical development to better our understanding and guide our efforts:

Principle 1 states that we should first move well, then move often
Seek a qualitative minimum before we worry about quantities. If moving well is the standard, moving often is the foreseeable outcome.

Principle 2 directs us to protect, correct, and develop the movement of those in our care
Guided by the Hippocratic Oath, first do no harm and then progress in direction of independence and sustainability

Principle 3 tells us to create systems that enforce our philosophy
Implement of standard operating procedures, practice intelligent selection, always matching the risk:challenge ratio to the growth and development desired.

If you believe in Principle 1, you honor it with Principle 2.
To take action on Principle 2, implement Principle 3.

These are simple statements, but they should force us to contemplate how we currently look at development.

I love Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, and finding a common why statement is the starting point for our discussions on movement. We can have diverse backgrounds and occupations; our commonality is found in our shared principles.

What we do and how we do it are always fairly easy to determine, but why is often lacking or even forgotten. “Why?” is the most important question, because its answer is our emotional connection to the professional actions that we take.

We’ve been working without a shared professional why for far too long, and that, in itself, is part of the current problem with movement health. Without a why statement, we’ve been looking incorrectly at the very basics of movement.

The why statement behind all we do is in these three principles. Learn them, contemplate them, vet them and implement them. That done, we are well on the way to finding and developing solutions. 

Movement Principle 1: First move well, then move often

Principle 1 tells us to move well, then move often. I firmly believe this is the life lesson that nature teaches us; I see it in animals and those people who are the physically and spiritually healthiest.

Principle 1 is our natural principle.

I hope that protecting this beautiful interplay between competency—moving well—and capacity—moving often, is why you go to work each day. It’s definitely what keeps me going.

We must protect it because, despite what many current fitness philosophies say, the principle does not work in reverse. It is not natural to build capacity on incompetence . . . at least, in nature, it usually doesn’t have a good outcome.


You may have noticed that we have incorporated the first principle into the FMS logo. The lack of punctuation after move often is not an oversight, but an insight. The period following move well means that we need a biomarker before progressing to capacity. The lack of a closing period symbolizes sustainability.

Moving well enables us to adapt. Here’s how: It gives us opportunities to develop. Moving often keeps us in contact with environment.

We should move well enough to respond and often enough to adapt. Moving well allows us to respond appropriately to environmental signals. It sets up the feedback that is vital for progressive movement learning. Moving often adds volume across time which allows our patterns and tissues to adapt.

trainingwheelsWe need to see movement for what it is—the most distinguishable sign of life—a true vital sign. If we look at the developmental model, we are born with mobility and earn stability. We transition from fundamental to functional movements. Even the most highly developed running and climbing skills have roots in our primal patterns.

Understanding this amazing process is understanding that movement is driven through perception and behavior.

If we look at movement today, what do we see? The current outlook is a decline of fundamental movement patterns. We see a population that lacks quality in movements that should be a birthright.

We can look at the Kraus-Weber tests of 1954 in which 57.9% of American children failed a postural fitness test that only 8.7% of European children failed; or the United States’ need to continually reduce standards for military service for the past half-century.


This decline is a sign that our environments are now adapted for comfort and convenience. We have stopped adapting to the environment and have instead decided to change the environment to fit our needs. For the most part, this hasn’t worked well for the environment . . . or for us.

Sure, there are fitness revolutions every few years and we’re trying to make schools healthier. But industry is currently pushing a fitness solution to a health problem, and the populace is usually glad to accept.

Food presents a great analogy to this situation; when we had a diet of whole, natural foods, we didn’t have to preface the word diet with healthy and we didn’t have to rely on supplements for our nutrients. Likewise, we should not have to add the word functional to movement.

Why would you do it if it wasn’t functional?

Whether through vitamins or un-focused exercise, supplementation is rarely the answer and it is surely not a sustainable solution.

Movement Principle 2: Protect, correct, and develop

If we lack fundamental movements, the path to fitness and health does not begin with supplementary exercise. That is the paradigm that puts quantity before quality—it attempts to build fitness on dysfunction—it focuses on parts. The first principle has somehow been reversed—people move often and hope that moving well will just happen. It won’t. And movement problems will only get worse when compounded by frequency.

The solution is simple—we need to quit lowering fitness standards. We can meet the old ones just fine if we raise movement standards. We also need to quit focusing on parts; reductionism, the breakdown of movement into isolated segments, has not reduced our musculoskeletal injuries nor has it made us healthier or more fit.

Patterns and sequences remain the preferred mode of operation in biological organisms, and that is where our focus do you move2

Why does the first principle work? Why do we move? Because movement affords us opportunity. It is on the foundation of movement that development occurs through the SAID principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand.

Moving well before moving often—this order offers us the greatest exposure to opportunities and risk. Moving well before moving often also offers us the greatest adaptation to environment

Let’s pick back up and look at that word risk. It is not as scary as it sounds if we invoke our second principle: protection always precedes correction, which in turn, precedes development. If we go back to our common truths, we believe that nature’s ability to nurture strong and gracefully aging bodies cannot be bested, but we also understand that nature is not concerned about or even aware of your personal or specific development.

Nature is big and it can be harsh. Nature doesn’t stop to wait for your adaptation and development and sometimes the lessons it teaches are not survivable. The second principle requires us to develop a non-failure environment.

don't walk

The SAID Principle should never be used as the sole excuse to lift more weight, run faster, climb farther, swim harder or fight bigger opponents. That thinking puts more before better.

This statement should not sound negative to you in any way. Our pursuits of success create large amounts of risk and failure. Better to focus on non-failure at each level, ensuring a stable base for each new ability.

Unfortunately, we see the success we want and don’t embrace the slow-growth, cultural approach that creates long term successful development. Nothing in motor science supports early specialization—but that is now the norm.

Protect from opportunities that do not promote productive feedback and/or impose risk.

Correct feedback by magnifying misread obstacles within the learning path.

Develop progressions with rich sensory experience and clear, robust feedback to foster independence and productive self-regulation.

You do not move to the next level of development until you are competent and independent at your current level—and can sustain it. Principle 2 is our ethical principle, and we would rather injure your pride than your body.

Movement Principle 3: Create systems that enforce your philosophy

When discussing progressive levels of development, we believe that we can develop you faster and safer than nature. This belief guides us to Principle 3, directing us to create systems that enforce our philosophy.

Principle 3 is the practical principle.

Standard operating procedures and intelligent selection protect those who entrust their health and fitness to us.

But where should a system start? It should recognize that we cannot know anything without perspective—that we cannot progress without baselines. Earlier I mentioned movement as a vital sign of life, and along with blood pressure and body temperature and many others, it absolutely is.

Unlike that long list, we currently have no baseline for understanding movement as a vital sign.

If we can have a system that looks at fundamental movement patterns, we can create a baseline.

With that baseline, we can identify and demonstrate the fundamental movements that are missing, deficient or dysfunctional. If movement is below a vital sign or ability—that’s dysfunction; below an environmental standard—that’s deficiency (necessary, but not sufficient). We can communicate these states to colleagues and medical professionals in a common language that, in itself, will enforce responsibility and accountability.

With a common language and knowledge of the movement issues, we can help the individual regain these fundamentals. We can use those metrics to determine our protective, corrective and development strategies. We’ll have our version of the pre-flight checklist.


The FMS can be used on intake at fitness—to establish a baseline upon which to build fitness and identify health problems for proper medical referrals. The Functional Movement Screen can set a baseline upon discharge from rehabilitation: Is this individual heathy enough to move often? To develop?

Do you know the number one risk factor for injury? Yep, previous injury—too many individuals are cleared for activity before they are free from the vital signs that demonstrate lack of competency—resulting from poor adaptation, previous injury or poor environmental choices. Current systems are not working.

Click here to learn more about Three Principles you Can Apply to Any Movement

Gray Cook & Greg Rose Three Principles Video

Or check out the Principles Digital Bundle

From Ten to Three

I want to leave you with another favorite quote. Once, when asked what would solve the world’s problems, the Dalai Lama replied, “Critical thinking, followed by action.” 

The three movement principles you’ve just read are the critical thinking you need to observe, screen, assess, treat and develop movement. The original ten principles still apply as maxims or action points, so use them when appropriate—but let the simple principles drive everything.

Here they are, as presented in Movement, each followed by the underlying principles that inspire and power them (plus a few clarifying thoughts).

Movement Principle 1
Separate painful movement patterns from dysfunctional movement patterns whenever possible to create clarity and perspective.

First move well, then move often (Eliminate pain and dysfunction.)
Protect, correct, and develop (. . .through a strategic plan of action.)

Movement Principle 2
The starting point for movement learning is a reproducible movement baseline.

First move well, then move often (Well enough must be standardized.)
Protect, correct, and develop (Standards must be tied to action.)

Movement Principle 3
Biomechanical and physiological evaluation doesn’t provide a complete risk screening or diagnostic assessment tool for a comprehensive understanding of movement-pattern behaviors.

Protect, correct, and develop (Compartmentalize movement behaviors and manage them appropriately.)

Movement Principle 4
Movement learning and re-learning has hierarchies that are fundamental to the development of perception and behavior.

First move well, then move often (Competency before capacity.)
Protect, correct, and develop (Responsible action when competency is in question.)

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

Protect, correct, and develop (Standard actions to create or restrain opportunities.)
Create systems that enforce your philosophy (Standard operating procedure for engineered opportunities.)

Movement Principle 6
Perception drives movement behavior, and movement behavior modulates perception.

First move well, then move often (Well enough to respond, often enough to adapt.)

Movement Principle 7
We shouldn’t put fitness on movement dysfunction.

First move well, then move often (We must have a competency line.)
Protect, correct, and develop (We must enforce the competency line.)

Movement Principle 8
We must develop performance and skill considering each tier in a natural progression of movement development and specialization. This is the pyramid model of competency, capacity and specialization.

First move well, then move often (The organism’s baseline)
Protect, correct, and develop (Environmental engineering)

Movement Principle 9
Our corrective exercise dosage recipe suggests that we work closely to the baseline, at the edge of ability and with a clear goal. This should produce a rich sensory experience filled with manageable mistakes.

First move well, then move often
Protect, correct, and develop
Create systems that enforce your philosophy
(When competency is in question, create feedback loops that remove all questions.)

Movement Principle 10
The routine practice of self-limiting exercises can maintain the quality of movement perceptions and behaviors, and preserve our unique adaptability that modern conveniences erode.

First move well, then move often
Protect, correct, and develop
Create systems that enforce your philosophy
(When competency must be maintained, create feedback loops that demonstrate non-failure.)