The Patterns of Global Movement

Gray Cook

This is an excerpt from The Business of Movement

Despite my belief in the importance of how the body moves, my early career was so focused on investigating and fixing faulty parts, I wasn’t stepping back to appreciate the global picture of movement. Instead of challenging my perspective and asking myself better questions about how seemingly healthy or strong patients could break down or move in dysfunctional ways, I was feeding everyone the same exercise nutrients and expecting the same end result of better movement. Rather than questioning if I missed a component of the big picture, I just applied different tools and techniques when I didn’t get predictable responses to my interventions. I made the assumption that my diagnosis was competent and my treatment was incomplete.

Then I flipped the question and my professional trajectory changed forever.

I was always thoughtful in my approach, but I was fixing body parts and assuming movement would change, instead of looking at movement first and then working through body parts to confirm my observations. I was dedicating my time and attention to spreading the seeds to regrow functional movement without first checking the soil to see if it was fertile enough to support and allow that movement to grow.

Those early iterations of the Functional Movement Screen and the Selective Functional Movement Assessment weren’t created for anyone outside the four walls of our clinic. My colleagues and I created them because we wanted better tools to screen a baseline level of function and assess painful or dysfunctional movement to allow us to make better, more informed decisions. Our goal was to maximize our own effectiveness by removing our beliefs or feelings from the equation.

Even with all the data available to us today, it’s easy to operate professionally off of our biases. Whether or not we’re aware of it, our affinity toward a preferred dimension of movement skews our perspectives, and we focus on finding tools to help us support those preferences. We need to appreciate how often our individual agendas lead us to circumvent the natural layers of movement and lose perspective on what each individual needs.

If you’re a manual therapist, you probably look for reasons to do mobilizations or soft tissue work as a solution. A corrective exercise specialist will hunt for imbalances and asymmetries to justify a corrective program. A strength coach or trainer will find new ways of identifying where someone needs to be bigger, stronger, or faster. Our biased perception of a problem may be sending us in the wrong direction from the start. Our fixation on finding the best option of what to do and how to do it keeps us from consistently digging into why we encounter some of these problems in the first place.

Why?” is the most important question you can ask yourself because the answer dictates your emotional connection to the professional actions you take. The best education always tells us why, before how or what—even though the hows and whats are the questions we and our clients often pursue. How do I run a faster marathon? What should I do to get my back to stop hurting? What exercise is the best for strengthening ______?

We’ve been asking random questions for specific problems instead of stepping back and starting with why.

  • Why do some people move poorly, even when they have no measurable pain or dysfunctional parts?
  • Why are some people more durable than others or respond more rapidly when given the same level of stimulus?
  • Why don’t certain patients respond as expected to treatments?
  • Why do some exercises or manual techniques work well for some clients and not for others?
  • Why doesn’t everyone move well with good form when the faulty parts are “fixed?”

In a field without shared why statements, we’ve been incorrectly looking at the basics of movement, and to a larger scale, health, fitness, and skill. The challenge in dispelling the assumptions we make about movement (and the reason they persist in the first place) is that we’ve lacked a qualitative standard for what constitutes “normal” or “good” movement across a lifetime. Without a standard measurement of the integrity of movement, we can’t engage in productive conversations about how or when to train, develop, or specialize. We haggle over which methods or tactics are superior in achieving an objective when there’s no unifying strategy on the best way to get there.