Written by Gray Cook FMS

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Coaching mastery is an art. It is just as much about knowing what not to do as it is about knowing what to do.

Coaching and using corrective exercise is a completely new endeavor. I say completely new because we probably have more recognized movement dysfunction in front of us than at any other time in history. Many have warned us about the landscape of physical decline that current society puts upon us. We’re more sedentary than we’ve ever been before and movement dysfunction is a problem.


Historical coaching methods don’t work sometimes, but not because they’re bad coaching methods. These coaching methods were aimed at people who were not riddled with dysfunction. Or it’s likely that their dysfunctions were so minimal that a good coaching strategy (and maybe not introducing the next progression) was all it took to keep the system from being overloaded.

There’s one more important detail that we must discuss. Western society is not patient. Historical physical conditioning has always been a traditional path where self-reliance, resourcefulness, determination and, above all, patience have been squeezed out of every individual.

We often no longer have those things, patience being the largest deficit. Compound that with greater dysfunction and you could tell yourself, ‘I’m never going to get around to the workout. I’ve got so much stuff that needs to be corrected.’

This was the revelation that we experienced when we introduced the Functional Movement Screen. The last thing we ever wanted to do was slow down your enthusiastic pursuit of physical culture, athleticism or simply the need to just reshape your body and physical lifestyle.

Each of the founders of the Functional Movement Screen has a robust background of dedication to physical culture. We want workouts to move forward. We want athletes to progress. We want people to recapture a youthful body when they are actually wise enough to enjoy it . . . but that ideal wasn’t necessarily what we experienced at first. When we offered our looking glass, our perspective, our measurement of function to the world, the world was almost aghast.

There’s no way that people move this poorly.

Imagine that you were the first person to introduce an eye chart to a society. You would have a quick revelation of how many people were suffering through life with less visual perception than anyone realized. With that knowledge, you may better understand that individual’s miscommunications, their poor decisions. Anything dependent on vision is going to suffer because, for them, that filter is clogged.


How is movement any different?

When we first offer a movement screen to a society, we’re going to have backlash. Why? It’s because so many people have been in decline and their movement skills have been eroding for quite some time. It’s a harsh revelation, but any time you introduce a tighter filter for dysfunction, this is going to happen.

To the rescue comes corrective exercise: exercise and self-help targeted, not at conditioning, but at regaining the minimum required movement quality within a given pattern. Anything less will disadvantage you on your journey to learn and reshape your body, and anything more may or may not offer you a competitive advantage. It all depends on where you’re going.

When we get to movement quality, we have minimum requirements and then the environments that you choose may require some amount of superior performance. The Functional Movement Screen holds the line for the minimum acceptable movement quality in each pattern, allowing natural biological resources and environmental resources to shape, without the disadvantage of a poor filter altering their interpretation and feedback of the movement experience.

If you perform miserably on an eye chart and we hand you a pair of glasses and you proceed to replicate the same performance, my first assumption is not that your problem is more complex or that you’re not trying. Maybe I didn’t give you the right prescription. I will use the eye chart and my knowledge of visual correction to get you in a pair of glasses that dramatically and objectively exposes your visual performance as being better than it was before.

That’s why the baseline is so important.

The feedback loop for corrective exercise is very much the same. When we offer you a corrective exercise, it is strategically designed for you. If you follow the rules and apply the scores correctly, it will drastically improve movement in a very short period of time.


A short period of time, unfortunately, is relative. If you’ve only recently experienced some movement decline, your corrective strategy may take less time. If you’ve had problems with movement for a third of your lifetime, then I think I can ask you to wait maybe a month or two to see corrective exercises start to reshape and remold your movement landscape. Don’t be impatient.

When we introduced the movement screen, many exercise professionals became hypervigilant, almost policing the perfection of movement and not advocating loads or stresses unless movement were perfect. That was never our message.

We argued for minimum levels of competency and a strategic focus on bottlenecks in movement. Instead, many used the movement screen to systematically reduce hard workouts, resistance, impact and tri-planar motion. They were handling human bodies with kid gloves, using precise, corrective exercises to fix things that probably didn’t need to be fixed.

That is unfortunate because we’ve never moved perfectly, not from day one. Nowhere in the future will we ever move perfectly. There will always be little things that can be improved but the question you must ask is: “Is that the bottleneck?” Is a movement dysfunction causing your poor success in progressing to the level where you want to be?

If your movement screen is clean, we’re going to tell you that maybe it’s something else, which brings me to my last point.

If you’re doing everything right—you’ve done a correct movement screen, you and your resource team have made sure that there’s not an underlying medical problem, and a client or an athlete is still not responding to corrective exercise, you’ve only got one play.

If there’s no ongoing medical problem or history of a structural abnormality in the body and yet somebody is not responding to correctly executed movement screen strategies focused at a particular pattern, there’s still some logic that must be applied.


Maybe, it’s the environment?

Greg Rose and I spent the summer touring the different time zones in the United States with Perform Better doing a pre-conference symposium on Three Principles You Can Apply to Any Movement that delved into separating the organism from its environment. All too often, those of us who work on organisms try to make the problem the organism.

We’re physical therapists. We’re chiropractors. We’re athletic trainers and we’re physicians. Those of us who strategically engineer environments to shape and mold the physical landscape of the people before us are coaches, trainers, drill instructors, and tactical and technical masters.

It’s very possible that if all we do is engineer environments, we’ll continue to engineer an environment even in the presence of an organism that’s not responding. Likewise, those of us who are more familiar with organisms than environments will always try to tweak the organism even when the environment is broken.      


Greg and I approached this subject from a very biological scientific perspective. It’s probably not appropriate to call patients, clients and athletes organisms. It’s also over-simplistic to simplify everything that touches you as the environment. But humor me and let’s be scientific.

If your movement health has been established, yet your movement function, your interaction with the environment, your movement competency, if you will, is compromised, then maybe you have positioned yourself (or some other person has positioned you) in an environment where you have started to adapt in the wrong direction.

Bone spurs and calcific tendonitis, functional scoliosis and plantar fasciitis, are all adaptations in the wrong direction. Remember, the number one cause of a stress fracture is the human brain. We don’t find stress fractures very often in nature. Only the human brain is stupid enough to cause a stress fracture in the structural framework that supports it. Why? It’s because we don’t have a gauge for quality before we pursue a quantity. It’s as simple as that.


If you’ve done everything by the book—your movement screens are tight, your scoring is correct and your corrective exercise application would make us proud—then maybe it’s not you. Maybe you’ve done everything you can possibly do for the person in front of you. Perhaps the one thing you haven’t done is to challenge their environment. If they’re only getting one REM cycle a night and two hours of sleep total, their body chemistry, rest and regeneration is completely out of sync.

If their diet is extremely poor or they’re on the completely wrong supplements, if their emotional stress is off the charts, if their goals are out of perspective with their abilities, or if their workouts are aimed 180 degrees away from their weakest link, then they’re probably going to be compounding their problem more than correcting the problem.

The next time that you’re wondering if a corrective exercise should be working a little faster, first make sure you’re doing the right corrective exercise and secondly, make sure that you’re planting the seed in the right soil. A previous article referred to the fact that farmers don’t just obsess on seed quality. They also obsess on soil quality. You can never separate an organism from an environment.

The Western medical model has tried to do that. Physicians rarely confront lifestyle and when they do, it’s in a cliché: “Stop smoking” or “lose weight” that nobody can take direct action on. That’s why it’s easier to just prescribe a drug. Find me a number that correlates with health and I will synthetically create that number, reducing the effectiveness of the number and the biomarker.

Start looking at the organism and the environment as two sides of the same coin, knowing very well that even though you’re only looking at one, the other completely exists and can never be separate. If you want to be a coaching master, follow a coaching master. If you want to be masterful at corrective exercise, make sure that you’re not overlooking anything.

The top three obstacles to corrective exercise that are often overlooked are:

  • An underlying medical problem that’s been inappropriately rehabilitated or incorrectly diagnosed.

  • Rest and regeneration practices that do not create independence and sustainability of levels of function and fitness.

  • Workouts and exercise programs that actually compound the problem by being shortsighted or protocol driven without functional feedback loops.

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