The SAID Principle Revisited

Last month, I established that mindful movement systems, like Pilates and yoga, can meet the criteria of what is deemed “functional,” as established by specialists like Gray Cook, co-founder of Functional Movement Systems (FMS), in that they:

Place a premium on movement quality over movement quantity:

  • Aid us in activities of daily living (ADL)
  • Act as foundations for more complex or demanding patterns that are part of an activity in which we participate 

I noted that there are extreme exercises in both Pilates and yoga that might not meet these criteria, but on the whole, they not only pass as functional, you might say they put the fun in functional!

Yet there are some key differences, in terms of purpose and scope, between Functional Movement Systems, and the movement systems of Pilates and yoga. To help you better appreciate these differences though, I first need to revisit the SAID principle (which I wrote in May’s newsletter), not to further illuminate how the principle operates in functional training, but rather to examine its shadow, UIOLI, which sounds like a name for a monster that Godzilla might battle, but is in fact a naturally occurring phenomenon that we wrestle with every day. 

SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand, and the simplest way to convey it is, “the body will adapt to the challenges you give it.” The challenges or stimuli can be external, such as the environment you live in, including your work place, or internally driven, such as a choice you make to move your body or not.

If you practice squatting with your legs shoulder distance apart, knees and toes pointed forward, flexing the hips while keeping the spine parallel to the shins, you will get better at it, but it doesn’t guarantee you will be able to do a leaping plié, which requires a strong external rotation in the hips and an upright torso, or a chair pose in yoga, where the legs are adducted and is often held statically to build endurance.

Why might it not work? Because of the “S” in SAID. The body adapts specifically to the demand you impose on it. If you want to be a better long distance runner, you have to run long distances. Speed runs can help increase your pace, but you have to still put the miles in to run a marathon well. And if you do, even if you are sixty or seventy, your body will adapt!

BUT, in the interest of pursuing all the things we love and want to improve upon, we often times forget all the various other ways of moving our bodies, which is the bad news of the SAID principle: we won’t adapt to the challenges we never face, or the things we never practice. When we are young, it isn’t a problem so much, we can adapt pretty quickly and attain competency with a modicum of practice. As we age however, not only does trying new movements become increasingly difficult, but in the absence of regular practice, those movements we once mastered are diminished in us, which, put more simply, is Use It or Lose It, UIOLI.

So now let’s look at how this applies to our discussion of the differences between Functional Movement Systems and the mind body systems of Pilates and yoga.

FMS founders Gray Cook and Lee Burton created their system to solve a problem. As physical therapists and athletic trainers, they experienced frustration and failure using a body part based approach to rehabilitation that wasn’t helping their patients or athletes in a way that reduced their risk of further injury. In time, they discovered that many of the issues were stemming from faulty movement patterns instead of faulty joints, and by correcting the pattern, the athlete confidently achieve a functional pattern and be less likely to get re-injured. 

Rather than waiting for a client or patient to become injured before working with them, Cook and Burton set out to develop an assessment tool comprised of various movement patterns that would indicate whether a person was moving functionally, dysfunctionally, or experiencing pain. Over time they tested and distilled their screen into seven essential movement patterns that assess the key functions that most athletes and active individuals need for performance. 

The brilliance of the Functional Movement Screen is in its simplicity. Utilizing these seven essential patterns, it can assess the potential risk of injury in soldiers and ballerinas, football players and figure skaters, yogis and truck drivers. Then, using a system of corrective exercises, they can help the person move from dysfunction into function. 

Question: Does mastering these seven movement patterns mean that a person will be able to more easily master Pilates or yoga? No. And how do know this? Because of the SAID principle. A person who has scored highly on the Functional Movement Screen still has to go through the adaptive process of learning Pilates or yoga, just like anyone else, though we can say that they are less inclined to experience an injury related to a faulty, fundamental movement pattern.

On the other hand, the strength of the Pilates and yoga movement systems is in their variety. Each contains hundreds of movement patterns that seek to mobilize and strengthen every joint and every muscle in the body. And this is a good thing! Why? Because of SAID and it’s shadow, UIOLI. 

Remember, I’m aiming this at people who are over fifty, a threshold beyond which people who have discontinued movement training, or who have never started, begin to experience changes in their mobility, stability, balance and strength.

For those of us who now qualify for AARP memberships, VARIETY MATTERS. The more ways we can move our bodies every day, the greater the likelihood that we will continue to move fluidly in the future. The very act of doing a push up or a headstand today is the strongest pre-condition or cause for being able to repeat the pattern tomorrow. If we want to move as fluidly at eighty as we were when we were fifty, then it is in our best interest to fill the gaps in our day with as many different types of movement as we can, forward, backward, side, up, down, spin! In designing their systems with such a wide variety of movement patterns, Joseph Pilates and the ancient yogis of India were playing the long game and they knew it.

Even hardcore weightlifters and bodybuilders understand the need for variety in training in order to prevent repetitive use injuries but also as a secret weapon for bursting through plateaus in strength or muscle gains.

I imagine every movement that we can do as a star shining in the night sky. When we’re young, and truly able-bodied, there are so many stars in the heavens that it’s hard not think of them as a blanket, seemingly ever-present and easy to forget about. As we get older, of an age where we begin to reflect on the years behind us and inquire of our body just how many years we might have yet in front of us, we look up and realize that there is more space between the stars than there had been before. For every movement that we surrender to “Use It Or Lose It,” we extinguish another star. It doesn’t have to be that way, and one very strong way of keeping our movement universe full of healthy stars is through variety. 

Interestingly, the strength of FMS, which is its ability to simply and objectively assess seven functional patterns and give people a snapshot of their basic movement competency, is where Pilates and yoga fall short. Proponents of each system tacitly promote it as comprehensive, which can lead practitioners, especially devoted ones, to falsely assume that they are universally fit, and then are surprised to find they may be a Pilates rock star, but must start over in yoga as a neophyte (SAID principle), which can lead them to wonder, “What is this really doing for me? Have I progressed, or am I regressing, and by how much? And where do I stand in terms of my age? How do I compare with other men/women? What are my strong and weak areas when it comes to movement quality?”

FMS has applied their methodology to essential movement patterns, which aligns with their purpose of quickly assessing and correcting dysfunctional movement patterns to reduce the risk of injury in people participating in sports and other movement-based activities. 

What if we wanted to find a way to assess all of the variety that we see in systems like Pilates and yoga in the service of answering the questions I just mentioned? What if we could see a map of our personal movement universe that showed us not only our strength areas and our growth edges for our favorite activity, but also show us how we stack up against movement patterns in other modalities. What would this look like? How would it be organized? How hard would it be to assess? All worthy questions to explore next month, stay tuned!

Happy autumn (the weather is finally changing!),

Patrick

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