Movement Principle # 8

Written by Gray Cook FMS

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 the competency, capacity and specialization part.   

Try to keep it simple even when using the pyramid model. First direct the conversation away from perfection and exemplary performance and redirect the focus to minimums using blood pressure as an example. When we screen a group for blood pressure ranges, we’re not looking for a perfect blood pressure number—we’re looking for red flags. Without much thought, we will probably separate the group into high risk, borderline and low risk.

Why can’t we just start our movement conversations the same way? Throw out three terms when discussing the topics of rehabilitation, exercise or training: Are we talking about competency, capacity or specialization? This usually gets a confused look, but it’s a great way to start. It forces perspective. It forces a consideration of principles.

Each of these levels of movement must be cleared for minimum competency, and in a progressive order.





This we test with movement screening. If screening reveals pain or dysfunction in the form of limitation or asymmetry, there is a movement-competency problem. Alternatively, there is a basic movement-aptitude problem—pick your term, but make the point. Adequate competency suggests acceptable fundamental-movement quality.


Capacity is measured using standardized tests for physical capacity against normative data specific to a particular population or category of activity. Football players are compared with football players and golfers are compared with golfers. If movement competency is present and if testing reveals limitations in basic strength, power or endurance, there is a fundamental physical capacity problem. Adequate capacity simply suggests acceptable fundamental movement quantities.


Coaches and experts grade skill with the use of observation, special tests, skill drills and by previous statistics when available. If capacity is present and if testing and statistics reveal limitations in the performance of specific skills, there is a specialization problem. Adequate specialization simply suggests acceptable specialized movement abilities.

This is a way to discuss the performance pyramid without a diagram. It’s also a great way to see if someone has an appreciation of the natural developmental continuum that produces human movement.

A few words of caution: We cannot become movement pattern snobs demanding total perfection on screens. Practice balance and look for deficiencies at each level of movement. Our ultimate goal should be to identify the weakest link, because sometimes the problem is not movement quality. It is a deficiency within physical capacity or a shortage of skill or specialization that is causing problems.

I first introduced the pyramid concept in Athletic Body in Balance. I simply used it as a visual vehicle to discuss the logic behind getting fundamental movements down first, doing a lot of these movements and developing some degree of physical capacity and endurance. Then, we would target these specifically…running, jumping, climbing, throwing and kicking.

The hierarchy just demonstrates how one fundamental activity supports the next, and how the next activity of strength, functional patterns, explosiveness and endurance supports the acquisition of skill. The acquisition of skill in throwing, kicking, dancing, spinning, tumbling, gymnastics and fighting moves all require practice.

If you only have enough stability, integrity and strength to hit a small bucket of golf balls every day, you’re never going to be a good golfer. You need a lot more time. If you only have enough wind to practice two fighting moves a day, you’re never going to win.

Developing efficiency first in your movement where you’re not fighting yourself—fundamental mobility and stability—and then developing some degree of physical integrity where you can lift, turn, twist, jump, manage your bodyweight and maybe even manipulate things is the next tier.

Now you’ve developed a big enough gas tank so you can enter the skills arena and explore gymnastics or mixed martial arts, dance, golf, tennis or catch 50 passes in a row and learn to develop your skill.

It’s not that these motor programs just set up safety, durability, alignment and integrity. They also literally provide the physical reserve to do multiple repetitions with integrity before posture starts to falter, shoulders start to droop and ankles start to roll. Any practice you do beyond that means you’re learning to move that way.

When I talk about these tiers, it doesn’t mean if your true interest is golf, you can’t start hitting golf balls right away. However, don’t invest three hours in hitting golf balls when you only have the physical capacity to hit 30 of them correctly. Let’s also invest time in developing that support system of physical integrity so you can train.

For example, say I were to analyze you using some performance tests, some skill tests and the Functional Movement Screen, and found your movement screen information was horrendous. You really can’t move that well.

But your strength is pretty good. You can jump pretty high. You’re definitely explosive. You have some moderate endurance. You’re shooting the eyes out of your three points. You’re a pretty good basketball player. You can do a lay-up, and some people could argue why we even worry about the movement screen.

The Functional Movement Screen first tells us, from most of the research we have, that without having the integrity of these fundamental movements, you’re giving up something. You’re giving up the durability that comes with having fluid movement. There’s a durability rating, meaning injury risk increases when you have a poor movement screen.

Secondly, there’s physical adaptability. We see great athletes who don’t have great movement screens. However, we see one of two things: It’s hard for them to change their game and adapt to new things, or they have elevated injury risks. Both of these point back to cleaning up the foundation, and what we’ll find is greater efficiency.

You’ll go longer into your sport or practice without fatigue. The increased resistance to fatigue will allow you to practice with more integrity. Practicing with more integrity reduces micro-trauma, the chance of injury and the chance of an accident.

These tiers constantly play with each other. If you review the Movement book and Athletic Body in Balance, you’ll discover the different profiles of the overpowered and the underpowered individual.

These create metaphors a lot of our clients, athletes and patients often fit into. It gives us a good logical construct and template that tells us exactly what to do here. We have to go back and get them a better foundation.

On the other hand, it could be that the foundation is great, but we’re not practicing skill enough so that becomes the problem.

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