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Cooking Up A New Challenge In Functional Movement And Kettlebells!

May 9, 2008 12:52 PM

Hard Style: Gray, in the world of physical therapy and corrective/rehabilitative exercise, you've been there, done that, and got the T-shirt. How does Pavel's system of movement mesh with your Functional Movement Screen (FMS) technologies?

Gray Cook: With training the human body, it's analogous to how a computer runs. There's a difference between programming and systems. What we learn in the Russian Kettlebell Challenge is some of the best programming I've ever experienced for teaching lifting, for using your body, and for turning strength into a skill. The problem is that if you don't have an operational system in the back of your head that governs everything, then you'll do the wrong program on the wrong person at the wrong time. Pavel, because of his training and research and because of some of his own personal injuries, has learned by default not to do what to whom.

What I've done with the FMS is show people how to use a numeric scale that guides you through that, like a movement GPS. When you see a guy like Pavel or a guy like Brett Jones doing what they do, you think they're just giving you a program, but they're actually showing mastery of a system. If you put three different people in front of them, they'll train those people three different ways, depending on what pre-existing conditions those folks come to them with. What people tend to forget is that highlevel instructors like Brett and Pavel will tailor the information based on exactly what sort of movement issues they perceived. If you're not as intuitive as those two and let's say that you miss the gait or postural imbalances that present even when the client walks towards you to shake your hand, then you'll blindly go into programming and you'll teach a Turkish get-up, a swing, and a press. On the other hand, what Brett and Pavel might do is say, "Let me see you touch your toes" or "Let's see you do the same thing on this side". I'll never forget when I went through the RKC and Pavel said "It's not about the kettlebell. We use the kettlebell as a tool to see how you move." I thought that was absolutely brilliant. A lot of people didn't get what he was trying to say, but I knew right away that we were speaking the same language. His medium, his tool is a kettlebell.

The Functional Movement Screen just takes that a step further by giving users a more systematized way of evaluating movement patterns and potential problems, hopefully before they become debilitating ones. HS: So you see a clear-cut crossover or a connection between kettlebells and the FMS? GC: Sure! People like the military and martial artists understood the worth of what Pavel's been presenting all along, I think. But the average trainer might not get what to do with this alien looking weight. My personal mission last year was to get 5 or 6 NFL teams creatively using kettlebells to correct shoulder problems, and, sure enough, they got our Secrets of the Shoulder DVD. The trainers started investigating and applying some of what we revealed in that DVD and realized that they had been training their players to develop strength in situations where they really needed more stability!

I think that's one of the great themes in the Hard Style approach to kettlebells. When you do the kettlebell lifts, you're training stability first. This is part of the reason why I think Stuart McGill migrated to some of the work he sees Pavel doing. He sees that inherent stability that's built right in to Hard Style. You don't just blindly get this bodybuilder strength without a lot of the functional control that's inherent in a lot of the kettlebell lifts.

HS: So what happened with the NFL? I heard that you took one of the most injured teams and turned them around to one of the healthiest teams with the fewest players on the DL.

GC: It was actually the Raiders. Jeff Fish, the strength coach for the Raiders, had attended our FMS workshop, purchased our FMS videos, and already started applying the FMS screening procedures to his athletes. He was amazed to see that the guys who were missing the most time in practice were the guys who had blatant issues on their movement screens. With the information we gave him, he took the Raiders from one of the poorer numbers in the League in terms of down time and injuries to one of the better numbers.

Not only were some of these athletes compensating in their movement patterns, but some of them were altogether unable to do some of the tests. For example, some of them might've had a perfectly rock-solid single leg stance on the right side, but as soon as they switched over to the left leg, they started looking like a drunkard taking a field sobriety test.

Jeff took our baseline and applied it to his players. He saw that the guys who have these movement deficiencies seem to be injured more, miss more practices and games, and when they do get injured from a contact injury, they take longer to recover. Contact injuries don't discriminate. Guys who score highly on the FMS and guys who don't are all prone to contact injuries in sports like football, but the players who scored higher on the screens were back in action more quickly than those who had low scores.

HS: Can you explain how that's possible?

GC: Sure. The players who were scoring lower were already compensating for other problems prior to the contact injury. If a player who's compensating like that suddenly has to limp around a sprained ankle, then BOOM, his S-I joint may go out within a couple of days. On the other hand if you've got a fairly respectable movement screen and you sprain your ankle, you're just dealing with a sprained ankle and not a complication of a prior condition or collection of prior movement dysfunction issues. Some of these players are such good athletes that when you test them with a 40 yard dash, a bench press, or some of the other performance drills that they do, they don't test out badly. That's one of the insights we brought to our military consulting. Performance and durability aren't measured the same way! We've all seen folks who perform very, very well with short duration tasks of a very few reps, but if you ask them to do say 40 or 50 snatches and their wrists flop back into extension, watch the failure rates jump.

HS: That sounds like an issue of proper form or proper movement leading to improved functionality and durability, right?

GC: This is why I think Pavel is so adamant about Hard Style. One of the brilliant things I heard about in the RKC is the concept of fatigue management. During some of the longer workouts, I think the instructors want to see if the students default back to the proper technique or if they're going to be stubborn and try to muscle through with bad form. I think this is why Pavel circulates around during the RKC and tells certain people to go inside and grab a bigger bell. He doesn't want you to be so strong or athletic that you can muscle through the workshop with bad technique. He wants you to get to the point where you have no choice but to use good technique to successfully move the bell. He wants you to really feel that there are keys to strong movement, such as keeping your body under you, keeping your form at all times, etc. Back to the football, Jeff Fish was noticing that his athletes were still doing well on the standard performance tests, even though some of them had done very poorly on our movement screen. But that's just a testament to how well gifted athletes can compensate.

The Functional Movement Screen comes in under the compensations and looks at the blueprint of movement that you're operating on and can explain why there was a propensity for some of them to break down in spite of the seemingly high performance.

HS: That must've been quite the revelation for some of the trainers and sports docs!

GC: Yes. Some of them accused us of having a "crystal ball".

Our reply was that we weren't looking at their bench press or their speed, but rather looking at their fundamentals of movement to find the proverbial flat tire and misalignment here and there. If you drive a car really hard and fast with a flat tire, then you're going to have other issues. Similarly, if you push the body really hard with a movement issue, you're more prone to suffer other injuries and have a harder time bouncing back.

HS: What were some of the problems or injuries that plagued these players?

GC: Well, one of the things that Jeff asked about were shoulder injuries, and I did a simple demonstration with him before he watched our "Secrets of the Shoulder" DVD. I told him to take a decently sized kettlebell and just hold it correctly and press it as many times as they could. You could see some of these big guys with absolutely no experience using kettlebells pressing a 24 kg bell over twenty times!

Now, their shoulder position was off, their traps were all elevated, but even when you allow these guys to recover, press the bell up again, and perfectly align their position, they still can't walk to the 50 yard line with the bell pressed out overhead. It just ain't gonna happen! Why? Because they can't carry that kettlebell in the overhead position and maintain alignment to the 50 yard line, but they can press the hell out of the same bell.

That demonstrates one of the fundamental flaws we have in athletics today ? your strength exceeds your stability.

Carrying a kettlebell overhead simply demonstrates postural control and scapular stability. Pressing the same bell, on the other hand, tells me very little about the integrity of your shoulder. When we were showing the Raiders a new move, we weren't showing them that their shoulders were weak and needed to be trained more. We were showing them that their shoulders were out of balance and need to be conditioned differently! They had to let their shoulders "react" to the load instead of just trying to use their shoulders or arms to simply muscle through it.

Doing drills as simple as a farmer's walk or an overhead walk with a kettlebell creates what's known as reflex stabilization. The rotator cuff fires more naturally when you carry things versus when you press things. If your rotator cuff doesn't fire first, it doesn't matter what your pecs and deltoids do. That reflex stabilization is needed for things to work impeccably.

That's why you sometimes see guys who are relatively small, like Pavel's size, accomplish these unbelievable feats of strength. On the other hand, you see these bulky guys who look like they're carved out of granite, but they can do nothing because their prime movers are firing before their stabilizers. The stabilizers are what give you the axis point of a joint. The better the axis point, the less work the prime mover has to do. The bottom line comes down to this. If you can't move well, you shouldn't be training hard! You don't want to keep strengthening a bad pattern. You want to reprogram the bad pattern to function like a good pattern and then add strength. Strength training is a means of reinforcing movement patterns. Nobody wants to reinforce bad patterns, but how many people are really taking the time or even know how to check their clients' movement patterns properly? Trainers and sports docs really should make sure that their athletes' movement patterns are on point.

That brings me to the issue of athletic injury discrimination in professional sports. Trainers and coaches sometimes tend to shy away from letting previously injured players hit the field, but if the formerly injured player has done the proper rehab training and conditioning that he needs to, he may, in fact, be more balanced, more durable, and in better shape to play than someone who hasn't been sidelined from an injury but is compensating like crazy!

HS: How has the response been to your findings and your work from other medical professionals?

GC: Some have been stuck in their ways and refused to acknowledge the validity of this stuff until they see a massive study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which is their choice. They're hung up on asking the question, "What does the research say?" That, to me, is quite ironic because the researcher is really saying, "I have access to volumes of information, but I can't formulate my own opinion." A degree shouldn't be a set of bars that keep you in a neat little box for the rest of your life, but rather a means of freeing your mind and giving you the mental prowess to think outside the box. How do we build on what we know if we never step out of that comfort zone? The folks in rehab and in sports medicine, who are actually working in the trenches, just embrace this information when they hear it. It's a fundamental flaw that we get specific in our focus before we go back and check the movement foundation of some of the people we work on. The problem is that most medicine looks specifically at the site of pain, rather than looking at patterns of impairment. For example, I would say that after ACL reconstruction, you probably need to regain your single leg stance and your deep squat so that I can't even tell which knee is the bad knee before you really get into heavy lifting again or return to field or court sports. But I get asked all the time to prove that. How do you reference original work??? Everyone who was making big progress in intervention was using some sort of screen, whether they were aware of it or not. For example, J.C. Santana uses exercise as his screen. He watches you move and that's how he picks up where the compensations are. He's been doing what he does forever and there's plenty of built-in intuition with what he does because of his extensive experience. For me, the FMS is about developing a screen that football coaches, martial arts instructors, yoga teachers, drill sergeants, and folks like that could do. I did NOT want to make a screen so difficult that only health professionals could do it. That would be small-minded. What if only health professionals knew how to do CPR?

The FMS is simple, if any of these seven movements hurt, then refer out to a medical professional for intervention. If the movements are significantly limited or asymmetrical, then you need to correct the movement before you jump into fitness exercise or conditioning. That's all the FMS is about.

HS: Regardless of the lab geeks, I've heard that your technologies have really turned the NFL on its ear, outside of the Raiders.

GC: Oh, yeah. Last year, both of the Super Bowl finalist teams were our clients, and this year, the champs, the Giants, implemented our screens as well. We were so pleased with the feedback we were getting from the Colts, that we started looking into what the Colts' strength coach, John Torine, had been doing. The first year, he screened his players and saw a high correlation between the lowest FMS scoring players and those who required surgery.

He went to management and told them that he'd found a serious biomarker of the players' durability. Since 2001, John's fielded the smallest NFL team in terms of body size, but had the most wins and the least injuries!

HS: In regards to this extremely high level of professional sports, how do you see Hard Style kettlebell training fit in?

GC: You need explosive hips, stable joints, and quick hands. What better thing for sports? Those exact attributes are what kettlebell training develops par excellence! The autonomic responses that kettlebell training gives you are unparalleled. You're getting movement training with weight instead of weight training with microscopic movement. Kettlebell exercises are movement based, not just lifting based. With Pavel's RKC system, we're not just trying to hypertrophy muscles like a bodybuilder, we're trying to groove movement patterns throughout the body that are both strong and stable.

Here's a little preview of things to come. Since Hard Style and the FMS work so perfectly together, we're coming out with some projects that will show how perfectly our screens and kettlebells mesh together. Keep your eyes peeled!

For more information on Dragon Door and Gray Cook's new Certified Kettlebell- Functional Movement Specialist (CK-FMS) certification workshop visit the CK-FMS workshop page

Dr. Mark Cheng is an RKC Team Leader based in Los Angeles, California. To reach him, please visit