First move well, then move often. This is the mantra of Gray Cook , the highly touted strength coach and physical therapist, and the basis of his Functional Movement Systems (FMS) training. I wish I had been introduced to his FMS methodology a long time ago, it would have saved me much pain and rehab time. I think most of us take for granted the ability to be able to move relatively pain free, until we can’t. As we get older we accept a bit of creaking and muscle stiffness as part of the process of aging (after all the alternative to aging is…death, and that’s no fun). The problem is that as we age, our movement faults that we easily compensated for in our youth can become a real pain in the ass, literally in my case.
I work out pretty frequently, and at a fairly high intensity. It’s been a long journey to get to my current level of fitness and it has taken countless hours of work. The problem is that I progressed to moving often, with loads, and explosively, before I learned how to move well. I didn’t create proper joint mobility before I created joint stability. This caused some seriously flawed movement patterns for which my body instinctively learned to compensate. In time, as the intensity and loads increased, these faulty movement patterns and compensations could no longer handle the stress and broke down, creating joint impingements in the hips and shoulder, and scapular dyskinesis.
We all have movement pattern faults. When moving, our body’s tend to take the path of least resistance. Fortunately, these movement patterns are not permanent, and when assessed properly, there are mobility and exercise interventions that can help our joints regain their proper mobility, and strengthen our weaker areas so that we move well without compensating. Growing up playing sports, I learned that pain is temporary (and chick’s dig scars!), and that you always push through the pain and discomfort to complete the task. Never give up, that’s my personal mantra. Not a bad mantra, but sometimes your body is talking to you with the pain, and you need to listen. I thought I was taking action by going to Google University to learn about joint mobility and myofascial release, and I helped myself enough to lengthen the time in which it took to seek professional help. But eventually, the joint impingements forced me to seek professional help, and it has been a long and educational road to recovery. I’m not 100% yet, but I’m getting there. I have climbed to the top of the mountain and seen the light, and now, with the help of Stephen from Direct Performance PT I am learning how to move well. I am also working on my FMS certification.
When I was younger I took things like walking for granted. I mean, how much is there to it, you put one foot in front of the other. What’s there to learn? It’s amazing how much youth can make up for ignorance. Now that I am of a certain age I have learned to appreciate the simple things, like getting out of a chair or taking a walk pain free. I have a hip impingement because I never learned proper movement patterns, hell, I didn’t even know there were improper movement patterns until about a year ago when my pain started. In early 2015 when I had been spending the winter in my quest to deadlift as much weight as I could. I was doing a lot of heavy deadlifts and squats, paying attention to what I thought was proper form. I started to do lots of weighted crunches and leg lifts in order to not create a muscular imbalance from the work I was doing on the back. During that time I also kept up my 2-4 high intensity workouts per week, usually pushing, pulling or jumping while loaded with weight. I maxed out my deadlift at 425, but this heavy back lifting with the high volume ab work set up a perfect storm for hip problems. When the pain in my hip started I tapered off the heavier stuff, lowered the volume of my ab work, and did what any red blooded American male would do, I ignored the pain and pushed on. It was getting to spring so I shifted from the weight room to outside workouts, doing more high intensity, high volume anaerobic, high impact structural, and metabolic work, which of course was the wrong answer since the impingements had been cause by my improper movement patterns. Loading my improper movement patterns this way just exacerbated the problem. I adjusted the workouts to try to stay away from movements that caused “excessive” pain, but everything caused some pain. I just accepted the pain as the cost of doing business. After several months of accepting the pain and getting used to walking with a limp, I finally went to see a chiropractor. He helped increase my range of motion, and the pain subsided a bit, but it wasn’t until October that I went to see an orthopod to get an x-ray. The x-ray confirmed I had calcification in the hip joint and some arthritis, but I did not need a new hip. It was unclear what was causing the pain. I received a cortisone shot in the hip, and the pain immediately went away, for a short period of time. It was strange walking without a limp, I had to learn to walk upright again. Unfortunately at the same time I was working through a shoulder impingement with physical therapist, so I figured I should concentrate on one screwed up joint at a time. I have been seeing a physical therapist for my hip since March, and I am experiencing major improvement in my ability to move pain free. More importantly, I am learning how to move properly so as to not create compensations.
So what’s the point of this sad tale. The point is that I had always thought I moved rather well, and I always paid close attention to form when working out. I thought I had proper movement patterns, what I didn’t know at the time was that I had no idea what proper movement patterns actually meant. I am starting to get a clue. PTs who are also strength and conditioning coaches, such as Gray Cook and Kelly Starrett, have opened my eyes to the wonders of learning proper movement patterns and what functional movement actually is. I now spend a lot of time getting educated about and practicing movement patterns, and I am am a fanatic for teaching clients to move well before all else.
When starting an exercise program most folks don’t want to spend time learning how to move well, and most trainers either don’t know, or don’t want to take the time to assess and teach proper movement patterns. I don’t blame the trainers, because generally, clients are so excited to “get in shape” that they just want to dive in and get exercising, and trainers don’t want to curb that enthusiasm by pulling them back and teaching them how to move well. Unfortunately, its the wrong approach, especially for older clients, or clients who have been relatively sedentary for a long time. If the clients don’t have solid movement patterns they will eventually get hurt. Usually it’s not serious, a muscle pull, and ankle twist, a sore shoulder or back, or for clients of a certain age, tendinitis or lingering soft tissue soreness at a joint. Generally none of these injuries will cause permanent damage, but they usually take weeks if not months to fully heal, and they will derail the best of “getting back in shape” intentions. It’s always hard to get started again after a program has been interrupted. No one likes to have to start over, again, and again, and again. This leads to feelings that “I can never get in shape”, or “exercise just doesn’t work for me” and can create a strong psychological barrier to adopting an active lifestyle. When it comes to exercise these people bounce back and forth between injury and recovery and can never seem to get off that ride. It’s the roller coaster of the fitness industry, and I am not a big fan of roller coasters. There is a better and more sustainable way. Obviously injuries aren’t the only things that derail a clients fitness program, but they are an extremely common one.
I start the movement/exercise part of my program with movement assessments. I learn what the clients movement patterns are, and if they have any movement faults that need to be corrected or strengthened before we start the real work of getting in shape. Learning to move well is not what most people want to do when starting to work with a fitness professional, but it is what they need to do before they can progress to moving often, and eventually moving loaded and moving explosively. This progression applies to everyone, age or gender doesn’t matter. In order to incorporate activity into your life over the long term, whether you are an aspiring athlete, a weekend warrior, or just an average Joe trying to stay in shape, you must have the ability to move well. Once you can move well, the sky is the limit.