Another Gary Gray angle

Certainly I have been vocal, as are many, many others, against this notion that you need a neurological program for ill movement so that when they do happen in real life, you have some level of preparation for them.
I insist this is nonsense.  I know full well the fastest way to dive on the floor for a loose ball or crouching to get a tupperware out of the cupboard does not allow for perfect joint by joint mechanics.  I get that.  I really do.
I just don’t think you need to practice it.

Here’s some verbage and thoughts that I have tried to think through…..

So an exercise with poor form is poor because you have shifted stress away from active muscles to passive ligaments, capsules, joint appoximations.
You can agree, right?  (Heads shaking.)
And remember, I know passive ligaments, capsules, joints, discs, etc. all need some levels of stressful input on a regular basis for normal health.  We agree more than you think, Michigan folks.

So if bad movement, like the real movements we have to do in regular life, put stress to ligaments, we should consider the ligaments.  And we should consider the goal of why we are here in the first place, the preparation of a neural program for a movement.

Can I assume that a neural program for movement is a combination of afferent input from the system and efferent signals from the brain to control the pattern?

Well, my suggestion is that ligaments don’t have afferent pathways.  The brain doesn’t tell ligaments what to do.  The brain tells muscles what to do, and muscles move joints, which can then stress ligaments.  But in that senario, the ligaments just do what they’re told.  The very first time you go into an uncommon pattern, the ligaments get stressed.  The program you are developing is neuromuscular.  There are no ligaments in the neuromuscular system.  The ligaments will do what they are told whether you are “prepped” for the movement or not.  They are like pillars in your basement.  Based on their constituency, they hold up the house without you telling them to.  And if you bang into them a lot, they will progressively weaken.  If you don’t bang into them, they will have as much strength to resist the bang when it comes.
The brain sends no efferent signals to ligaments.

Now there are tons of afferent signals that the ligaments send back to the brain for sensory integration.  And when the ligament requires the inflammatory response or remodeling, the brain sends efferent signals for that to happen.  That I agree with, but there is no communication with the brain and ligaments in movement organization.

So if the whole idea of training bad movement is to program the brain for preparedness and resiliency, and……
bad movement stresses ligaments that have only a finite capacity to resist stress, but……
the ligaments are not part of the neural connections of practicing movement, then………..
what is the point of training bad movement, if………
you can’t train a ligament’s capacity to resist stress?

  • May 26, 2010

Leave a Reply 20 comments

Mike T Nelson Reply

If you never practice for the “ill movements”, how would you ever get better at them?

Wouldn’t the ligaments get better and stronger adapting to the stimulus (again, assuming it is not too much and too often)?

Rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

Charlie Reply

I am not particularly interested in getting better at ill movements. I don’t want to be good at them at all.

And no, the stress levels for ligamentous remodelling occurs with normal unloaded movement.

Nate Brookreson Reply

You’re on fire right now Charlie! If you keep pumping out this much great info, you should start charging for admission.

Carson Boddicker Reply


Excellent work. Thanks for sharing the thought process.

Is it possible that if by changing our movements for the better, there’s a greater likelihood that we’ll go with a good and safe motor program over one that is less “safe” in the future?

Carson Boddicker

Charlie Reply

Of course increasing dynamic stability will limit the need for ill movement.

But more importantly, no one is saying bad movements won’t occur. My suggestion is that there is no value or need to “prepare” for them.

Paul Reply


Fantastic post! Lets keep on increasing stability in the right ways and movement in the right ways. I don’t understand how we need to prepare for bad movement by performing it. It does not make any sense. Lets prepare for poor food options when traveling by eating poor food now.

Another thing with this training flexion is “do no harm”. We have so much evidence from McGill and others that flexion is not great for the spine. It will happen in real life and let it happen. When we train however, lets focus on building correct mechanics, proper joint by joint function and strong movement skills! Reply

Well put. Never train a mechanism of injury. Clearly, during many ADLs & sports in particular people go to end range. From a neurophysiologic perspective “training” should be to eccentrically stabilize such movements. So for the diving for a ball example “training” should occur w/ some lordosis so that WHEN the athlete dives for the ball they do have a “program” (i.e. myelinated pathway) for avoiding the end-range injury mechanism.

You are the man!

Sean Skahan Reply

Charlie- Another great post, and great site by the way.

Tim Vagen Reply

I think you put this very well. I will often use the analogy to folks that we will sometimes bump our head on things. Would it make good to practice hitting our head on a regular basis?
The constant preparation for good movements will cause fewer and fewer bad movemnts. Miyagi always said the best defense is to not be there. That being said, when we are there, the proper training of the neuromuscular structures will limit the stress on the ligaments that are designed for certain amounts of stress anyway.

Charlie Reply

I am just trying to come up with as many angles as I can to continue productive dialogue with these folks that think resiliency is something that can be trained with bad movement.
I believe the fact of the matter is that you become resilient by improving larger excursions of dynamic stability during indicator movements.
We’re all still going to lay out, reach, dive, crouch to accomplish tasks at hand. This post is meant to suggest that any belief of neural control of ligaments is probably not an accurate portrayal of this thought process.

Mike T Nelson Reply

I am probably the only one here who thinks this way, but I feel that if a “ill movement” will happen at some point, should we not be prepared for it?

We can do that by programming some “distress” training in–exercise or movements that acutely may degrade our overall movement quality ACUTELY.

By all means, I am not saying START to train for falling by going out and taking a full force header into the ground; BUT we can do a very slow and progressive fall.

Over time, like all training, we make it progressive. Soon we can do a high speed fall without as many bad consequences. Watch Parkour guys—they can drop massive distances without any ill effects. They have learned to dissipate/redistribute force.

If you know something may happen, wouldn’t you want to train for it?

Please let me know if I am not making sense or am completely out of my tree (which is possible)

In regards to food, I would say yes—-we should eat “bad” foods on occasion so that we are better able to survive, esp if we know we may be in an area with less than optimal food (ex military deployment).

We want to be as metabolically flexible as possible—taking in anything and making fuel from it with few side effects.

I am working to use metabolic flexibility as perhaps a marker for health as part of my research.

Rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

Neal Wen Reply


I don’t understand how training with lordosis will help program an athlete to prevent end-range injury for something like “diving for the ball”. And what is the end-range injury mechanism for such an event? Thanks

Neal Reply

many a hoop player gets sciatica from:
– sitting on too low of chairs or bench
– many hours of travel
– crappy beds
& poor flexibility in their post hip capsules so that when they squat, bend,dive etc they wind up in end-range flexion.

Therefore, the training should be to increase the depth of the squat whereby the athlete can avoid end-range flexion.
“Things are simple, we make them difficult.”

The training should not be to perform uncontrolled motions since uncontrolled motions will occur. Why not peel back & & go as deep as possible into potential mechanisms of injury & train conscious motor control of the “brakes” (eccentric action), so that we can extend the individuals skill & automatize it.

Charlie’s word resilence fits here. Or Pr McGill’s “margin for error”.

Bob Taylor Reply

One just needs to look at gymnasts. Time and time again, I hear coaches say you need to practice these extreme routines and practice the “bad” movements because that is what the sport is. Most of these young athletes have numerous overuse injuries, stress fractures,etc before they are in their 20’s.
Not worth the cost.
Bob Reply

I think my response to Neal does also hit Mike’s point about if we are going to be facing injury mechanisms shouldn’t we repetitive train them. Of course the answer is YES. But, under control. It is control we want to train, not injury. Everyone faces potential injury. Why not train the conscious control of these forces so we can increase our CAPACITY to stay healthy. With practice of these conscious actions will become programmed subconsciously (i.e. myelinated or insultated neural programs).


Charlie Reply

Mike – If indeed this is where you are coming from, I think you should explain the S-Phase methodology enumerating the principles of the Startle Reflex and the assumptions that it can be dampened (not removed) with patterning deceleration choices in “falling” movements.
This is not my expertise, but my understanding is that these “falling” movements are not taking a bump like in wrestling but plyometric landing choices and push-up drops. These make great sense as long as the deceleration challenge meets the body’s capability through execution of technical proficiency.

Please explain before there is any suggestion you are out of your tree.

I have no suggestions for eating bad foods. I do what I’m told when it comes to nutrition, and I am not ready to eat things that are bad in the name of “priming” my digestive and/or endocrine system.

Mike T Nelson Reply



Yes, I have done a whole bunch of Z-Health work, including the S Phase (sports phase) cert.

In short, what you said is correct. I normally don’t explain it that way since I think it over complicates it.

You hit the nail on the head, it HAS to be done in a progressive, slow, pace. Just like all training, you are preparing the body for what it WILL see come game day and in life.

In life, one of the biggest fears is falling. Why not train for it to reduce the overall fear (startle) component of it? I don’t want to walk around in far (even if it is subconscious).

Yes, if you fall, you will probably be injured if you fall hard enough. We can’t change physics, but we can change our REACTION to it.

Startle response is hard wired, so when teaching a fall, we want to take advantage of it with the normal hand position that WILL happen. This is much faster and much easier to teach than trying to teach something that goes against our hard wired reflexes (taught in Tony’s SPEAR course).

Rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

Lane Whitson Reply

Appreciate the post. I know a little bit about the topic but am always glad to find out more information.

Charlie Reply

Lane – Was there anything that you would agree or disagree with?

Hector Reply

I’ve studied a bit of the Gary Gray stuff and don’t recall him saying we should train ill movement patterns. I do recall him saying we should train the body relative to the positions and loads that it will go through in it’s function in a progression that “challenges” the system (i.e- ligaments) that doesn’t progress beyond the person’s functional threshold of success. This doesn’t mean doing a single leg balance with with knee abducted with 300lbs on your back. However, if the body has to go there in function, there’s a safe way to progress so that the muscles,fascia, etc can safely control the movement.

Isn’t this what everyone should be trying to do?

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