Functional Movement Training is an intelligently-designed functional training system based on mastery of the seven fundamental human movements and will re-establish a foundation of good movement, optimize neuromuscular function, and build strength in the basic foundational movements. I use this system with the intention of improving both your movement capacity and your athletic performance. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, integrated movement training is a reconditioning and rehabilitation program that can be used with any client to reach any goal. There's nothing else like it. It's a systematic approach to sports performance enhancement at its highest level. Using more than one muscle group or integrated strength training involves and improves balance, coordination, and function. It emphasizes the body's core muscles - the abdomen and the back - as stabilizers. This is also known as functional training. Integrated movement training aims to mimic the moves that the body is engineered to do in everyday life. Our bodies are designed to lift, walk, climb, bend, twist and turn. Integrated movement training exercises are designed to copy and build on these movements. The time that we spend on integrated movement training has optimum carry over in our everyday lives. This training system is grounded in biomechanics, neurology, functional anatomy, and is built around certain fundamental principles and foundational movement skills. Precise execution of the basic foundational movements is the key to unlocking your athletic potential. Strength, mobility, power, endurance, and overall athleticism are all dependent on having good foundational movement skills. These fundamental human movements (push, pull, squat, lunge, hinge, carry, rotate, gait) should always be the backbone of your training. While it may seem limited at first glance, there are hundreds if not thousands of different exercises you can do that are all derivatives of these fundamental movements. The optimization of your movement will ultimately come down to how well can you perform the fundamentals. Each and every program that I write is custom-tailored to you, your goals, your needs, and of course your logistical limitations. My goal isn't to simply write you a "good" cookie cutter program that works for most people. I want it to work for YOU! The best training program in the world won't help you if you can't adhere to it and make it fit into your busy life
Stiff, achy, or painful joints and muscles can be the nail in the coffin for your fitness and health aspirations. Because the goal is to have a physical body that can support any athletic endeavor you might like to pursue, we need to lay out a solid foundation. That foundation is going to come in the form of Joint Mobility (healthy joints), and core strength. There are three important things to keep in mind when you begin to incorporate “Mobility Training.”
The reason this is so important lies in the fact that your body is an amazing compensating machine. Don’t have enough hip movement? Don’t worry, the low back will help you get the movement you need. Stiff ankles? The knee might just be able to pick up the slack and move a little extra. This is bad because the compensating areas will get a beatdown due to that extra slack they are picking up. However, all that having been said–it’s not always very clear where the dysfunction is originating. So because we don’t know the source of the pain/stiffness/weakness immediately, we have to address each joint individually–because that joint might be the problem-child! The great therapist Ida Rolf has a terrific quote to highlight this; “where you think it is, it ain’t.” Ultimately you are going to go through a routine that mobilizes the following areas: Upper Body (Neck, Shoulders (ball and sockets and shoulder blades), Elbows, Wrists, Hands, Fingers), Lower Body (Hips, Knees, Ankles, Feet, Toes), and Spine. It may seem like a lot, but actually the whole body can be mobilized in just a couple of minutes.
2) Core Strength
Something that I’ve come to realize over the years is that mobility is NOT always the answer. In fact, sometimes adding more mobility can cause more problems. This is especially true when it comes to the torso. The spine often craves both mobility and strength. There’s a great saying, “You need proximal stability in order to have distal mobility.” This means you need the core to provide stability and strength in order for the ball and socket joints (hips/shoulders) to be able to express their full range of motion. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Ball and socket joints are specifically designed to move A LOT, and the spine, while it needs to be mobile, needs to provide the foundation for those to move from. Trying to move your hips and shoulders from a weak core foundation is like trying to shoot a cannon from a canoe.
3) Do it Daily (and do it first thing in the morning if possible)
Just like flossing your teeth, your joints need to be flossed daily. Essentially you are smoothing out the joint surfaces. This friction and movement is the ONLY way that joints are provided with nutrients to remodel (strengthen and regrow) over time. There is no direct blood supply to the joint itself, so this movement is extremely important.
Meaningful change takes time, effort, and attention. Take these small steps, consistently over the long term and anything you want can be yours.
“Repetition is the mother of skill,” Tony Robbins says. The importance of rituals – whether that’s how you start your day or what you practice every day – is that they condition us into certainty. Doing something over and over means you stop thinking about it, making the action second nature.
By: Todd Hargrove
I've written quite a bit on this blog about the benefits of moving slowly for improving coordination. One of my favorite movement practices, relies to a great extent on slow mindful movement as a primary means to develop coordination. Many people will look at very slow and gentle movements and think - how can these possibly do anything? Isn't harder and faster better than slower and softer? This post is an answer to that question.
There are several excellent reasons to use slow and gentle movement as a means to develop coordination. Probably the most interesting reason (I'll start with that one) is based on an obscure principle called the Weber Fechner rule. The Weber Fechner rule describes the relationship between the magnitude of a particular stimulus and the brain's ability to sense differences in the amount of the stimulus. The basic rule is that as you increase the stimulus, the ability to tell a difference in the amount of the stimulus decreases. This is a very common sense idea. Imagine you are in a dark room with only one candle lit. It will be very easy to sense the difference when one additional candle is lit. But if you are in a room with two hundred candles, you will have no idea when an extra candle comes on.
This rule works for all varieties of sensory perception, including sensations of muscular effort. So, imagine you are holding a one pound potato in your hand while blindfolded. If a fly landed on the weight you would not know the difference, but if a little bird landed you would know. Now imagine holding a fifty pound potato. You wouldn't be able to feel the little bird landing. It would have to be an eagle. The point is that when you increase the weight from one pound to fifty pounds, you become about fifty times less sensitive to changes in the amount of muscular force you are using to lift the weight.
Why do we care? Because if you want to make your movement more efficient, you have to be aware of when you are working too hard. If you slow down and thereby increase your ability to sense differences in muscular effort level, you increase the brain’s ability to sense and correct any potential excess and unnecessary effort. Imagine that every time you try to extend the hip, you are at the same time slightly contracting the hip flexors instead of relaxing them. This means that your muscles are cross-motivated - the flexors are fighting the extensors a little in their effort to extend the leg, making them work harder. You will be much better able to sense and inhibit this inefficient co-contraction by moving very slowly and easily. By contrast, if you move fast and hard, you will never be able to sense and correct the problem.
Here's another way to look at it. In an earlier post I discussed how accurate movement depends on a good proprioceptive map. When I say map I mean the physical areas of the brain responsible for controlling and sensing the movement at each body part. These brain areas or “maps” develop their neuronal linkages in response to physical practice and the sensory feedback that occurs as a result. So, for example, if you practice the piano for years, the part of your brain that senses and controls your finger movement will start to become more intricately and efficiently wired, and will even grow larger.
Applying the Weber Fechner rule, we know that gentle movement leads to a more accurate and discriminating perception of the mechanics of the movement. In other words, there is more detailed and refined information available to the brain to build the movement map. The map becomes clearer with greater resolution. It’s like clicking the zoom button on google maps. There’s more detail, more side streets are revealed, more information about how to move around that joint.
So, slow gentle movement will make your movement map clearer. It can also help make it broader, covering more territory, because slow movement is the best way to explore new movement territory. Your Central Nervous System (“CNS”) is inherently threatened by new movements, or moves you haven’t performed in years. It’s not going to let you go there unless you go slow and easy. In the Middle Ages, maps of the world included most of Europe, and then on the corners of the maps were serpents with the phrase – Here Be Dragons. Your brain’s map of movement starts to look similar as you age. The safe and familiar areas become smaller and smaller, while the unknown territories become bigger and bigger. Watch a kid playing at a playground for ten minutes and you will likely see many movements that are now off your movement grid. If you want to revisit these areas, you better start slow and easy.
This rule applies not only to difficult and potentially dangerous moves like a cartwheel or back flip. It also applies to everyday movements like simply turning your head to look behind you or sitting into a full squat. There is a huge variety of ways to do these simple movements, hundreds of different angles for the joints to assume and literally millions of different muscle activation patterns to execute them. As you age, you will likely use less and less of these movement possibilities until you are stuck in a narrow range of options. For example, there’s a good chance you have one or two thoracic vertebrae that almost never turn to the right. Or maybe there is a certain hip angle that you always unconsciously avoid – let’s say 30 degrees of flexion plus 10 degrees external rotation plus 15 degree of abduction. Maybe this angle became a problem after a knee surgery ten years ago. Your CNS learned to avoid it, and this became a habit. Now, because of sensory motor amnesia, it has effectively become a dead zone or Bermuda Triangle on your movement map. If you want to even find this spot, you will need to move slowly and mindfully, because any fast movement will simply activate the habitual way of moving and skip right over it. And when you do find the dead zone, you will want to be going slowly, because the soft tissues related to that area might be a little stiff and crusty after years of non use.
Another reason to move slowly and gently is to allow yourself time to approach movement in an exploratory and curious manner, and to put a great deal of attention on the subtle details of the movement. Becoming more coordinated is essentially a matter of rewiring the neural circuits that control movement, which is an example of a very fashionable process called “neuroplasticity.” Neuroplasticity simply means the brain’s ability to change. According to Michael Merzenich and other prominent neuroscientists, attention and awareness are major preconditions for neuroplasticity to occur. In other words, your brain is much more likely to get better at a certain activity if you are paying close attention while doing it. Slow movement can help your ability to pay attention to exactly what you are doing when you are doing it.
It’s worth noting that the greatest leap forward in anyone’s movement education takes place in the first two years of life, a time when all movement is very slow and gentle curious and exploratory. In fact, Moshe Feldenkrais based much of his Method on his study of infant movement and motor development.
It is also significant that a great many elite athletes, musicians, and martial artists have used slow motion practice as a means to develop their skills. Ben Hogan, Monica Seles, and I’m sure many others who I don’t feel like looking up right now use slow motion movement as an important part of their practice routine. Probably Tiger Woods used slow motion practice too, and maybe even for his golf game. Even Olympic lifters, the most powerful athletes in the world, will spend substantial time improving their technique using only a broomstick.
Of course, at some point you will have to speed things up to use your skills in a more real world application, but it should be clear that slow movement presents some huge advantages that are not present in any other form of practice.
Infants develop movement by progressively learning a series of fundamental movement patterns, which form the building blocks for more complex movements. For example, while lying on the ground and sitting in various positions, an infant learns to stabilize her head so she can see the world. Her head stabilization skills are a building block for the postural control required in standing and walking. While reaching to grab interesting objects, she learns the arm/trunk coordination patterns that are also used to crawl and walk, and eventually throw and climb.
As she rolls from back to front, she stabilizes over one leg while the other moves through space, a skill that forms the basis for locomotion. In crawling, she uses a cross lateral pattern of limb movement that carries over to walking. And in squatting she learns patterns of triple extension and flexion that are fundamental to almost any powerful movement in standing. (By the way, some of these patterns are more fundamental than others. Although some children learn to walk without ever having crawled, none of them will learn either without the ability to stabilize the head.)
The fundamental movement patterns learned in infancy are referred to by various names: motor primitives, synergies, primal patterns, and developmental patterns. They can be thought of as neural control programs that can be combined in various ways to generate a large repertoire of movements.
In this sense, movement is like a language. The basic motor patterns are like letters or simple words that can be combined to form more complex sentences. In spoken language, we can communicate an infinite variety of thoughts from relatively few words. Similarly, the complex and varied movements we see in sport and dance can all be broken down into far fewer basic movement patterns - gait, squats, reaches, rotations, etc. An arabesque in dance looks pretty similar to the backswing of a free kick in soccer because they are built from the same basic motor primitives.
This combinatorial system makes the formation of complex structures simpler in terms of neural control. If we had to remember a different word for each thought we could think, our brain would be overwhelmed with the difficulty of storing and retrieving the right word for the right thought. It is far easier to remember a limited amount of words and then combine them.
And so it is with movement. It is simpler for the nervous system to rely on a small number of general movement patterns that can be assembled together to form more complex movements. The muscle synergies involved in creating these patterns constrain degrees of freedom and movement options in a way that makes movement easier to organize.
One implication of this system is that when a foundational building block is missing or compromised, the entire structure built on top will suffer. If you are missing some very basic words or letters in your language vocabulary, there are many sentences that you will struggle to make. Similarly, if your movement vocabulary is missing one or more important motor primitives, like a squat, there are very wide range of everyday movements that will be compromised. Conversely, if you improve your squat, you will improve many other aspects of your physical life.