Becoming a Functionally Moving Body. Baby steps.

It has been over a year, now, since I started studying the relationship between child development and Functional Movement. For years I have been a proponent of FM as defined and developed by Gray Cook. I have read and re-read the books, and searched for a physical therapist or personal trainer certified in FM.

Finally, the last time I required physical therapy for the perpetual problems with my left leg, I was successful in my quest, and now work with someone who is not only certified but also constantly employs the concepts. ‘Functional Movement’ has been a craze for quite some time. One can hardly go to therapy or a gym without hearing the phrase bandied about. However, it is seldom anything approaching the ideas behind the slogan. Even when some health clubs use the Gray Cook assessment models, they rarely understand how to put the results into a beneficial program.

I spent a large part of the past year being a nanny for my youngest grandson. In this role, I had greater freedom to enjoy watching him develop than ever I had as a mother. When my children were infants, I had much too much work to do and far too little energy to expend to be able to devote hours to just observing what my babies were doing. Having the luxury of being responsible only for keeping him safe,  allows me to enjoy simply watching. There had been opportunities with his cousins to observe for a few days at a time, but this was the first time I could see the entirety of the process.

It might not have had as big an impression on me if I had not also been immersed in understanding the principles behind my therapy. Suddenly, I was seeing the primitive movements as they developed.

Functional Movement is concerned with those ways the body goes about the necessary tasks of human motion. We have to stand up and move through space. We have to be able to pick up and put down objects. We have to be aware of our surroundings, and able to see what is ahead, to the sides and behind us. These are basic patterns that allow us to go from place to place,  keep ourselves safe, find food and water, store and build things. These are activities and capabilities we have had as a species since we became one.

We are not born with muscles that are capable of immediately getting us erect. There are amazing videos of young animals getting themselves to their feet in a short period of time after birth. These animals have a great advantage over humans because they only develop to a primitive stage: they become quadrupeds. Humans are quadrupeds only for a limited time. We, unlike almost all other mammals, further develop into bipeds.

We are not born with muscles capable of getting us erect.

We need to be able to roll over, to raise our torsos, to get onto our hands and knees, to balance ourselves on only two supports as we move forward, to sit down, to crouch, to rise onto only two supports, to move forward with only one support at a time. If you do yoga, you might recognize these moves and have names for them. Every baby does downward facing dog, and with our current obsession with sharing everything over the internet, it seems as if every mother has posted that picture. If you have not seen and done so yourself, you doubtless have seen a friend’s post.

Cousin Georgie in downward facing dog
Picture courtesy of Dawn Jennings

Watching my boy, I was struck by the demonstrations of FM’s Primitive Patterns. From the first moment that happened, I realized that I had a tremendous learning aid. My mantra for my own development has become “What did Drew do?” My theoretical understanding and my actual physical therapy benefit by relying on these observations.

Standing up!

Hip hinge

Beginning squat

End of squat

These are my beginning principles of Baby Steps.

Babies do not count. They do not work in sets. Babies and children work until they are tired or bored. Then they stop and either fall asleep (who has not seen their child collapsed in the middle of an activity? My favorite example is of my friend’s 3-year-old son lying sound asleep on a dirt pile, one truck still clasped in his hand.) or move on to another task.

Babies are driven to succeed. They do not force themselves to work out, reluctantly going through a prescribed program, counting their repetitions and sets. They have things that must be accomplished, and they work diligently as long as they have the energy. Tiny babies work every minute that they are awake! They need to work those muscles until they can balance themselves as they move on two feet without outside support. They can be very frustrated at times as they struggle to progress. Much as we might encourage and console, we have no way to intervene. They must ultimately conquer each activity because life depends upon success.

Babies do not compare themselves to anyone else. Their motivation is purely self-directed. They are not trying to please someone else, or put a check mark on a chart. They are not trying to change how their bodies look, but how they operate. They have a goal that is probably outside of their consciousness and that they are unable to articulate. (Babies don’t talk!) They don’t worry about what someone else can or cannot do. They do not even compare their own progress to know whether they have improved. They simply work until they have completed the job.

Babies do what they are supposed to do. They cannot be rushed through the process. They have their own timeline. They are doing things about which most adults have no knowledge. Even though we all went through the same processes, we don’t remember. A baby learning to move is much like our lungs breathing or stomachs processing food. It happens, we don’t think about it…luckily or we might forget to do it because something more interesting grabs our attention.

Babies have a lot to do. In addition to the movement, they need to learn to communicate in acceptable ways.They need to keep themselves safe by pleasing the adults with whom they interact. They need to learn what to eat and what not to eat. They need to learn about the dangers in their environment.

All these things distract them, yet the most important thing babies learn is how to move effectively. Movement is essential for all the other activities in which they engage. We all went through these developmental steps. While some of us might have some physical limitations, at one point in our lives, most of us were very adept at moving functionally. Then life happened. We had injuries, we sat in improperly supporting furniture, we stopped the constant quest for mastery with which we were born.

However, we can all go back to the fundamental movements and attitudes. We can all ‘do what Drew did.’ We can all take baby steps. Also, like Drew, we can all be joyous and congratulate ourselves on our successes.









Genie Jennings

About Genie Jennings

My blog, as my life, is composed of many interests. Because you are reading this, we must share at least one. They are divided into categories, so you can easily find others on our mutual topic. Also, you can avoid things on which we might diverge. Things labeled 'genie' are general life musings. When I took up fly fishing in earnest, I was struck by how much it was like skiing to me. It is an intricate activity that is easy to enter, and the more one knows, the more one realizes how little one knows. My comment was, "I would love to have something I love that does not require so much effort." I immediately knew that was not true. It is the striving that makes things valuable, and it is the striving that is life. I am evolving; I am becoming many things, a skier, a fly fisherman, an irrationally self-reliant human. I am becoming 'genie' whoever that might be.