Pain Makes You Stupid – Purposeful Joint Mobility

“Pain makes you stupid.”
That’s one of my associates favorite quotes of mine.
Not only is it quotable, it’s scientifically verifiable.
My academic progress has been paralleled by my journey out of pain.  As I’ve had more pain relief, I’ve done fewer stupid things.  This post is about how my practice of joint mobility is less stupid than it used to be.

mM: Joint Mobility 2.0

I have spent a lot of money and a lot of time trying to get out of pain.  When it was evident that there was no amount of money that could get me out of pain,  I shifted my attention to figuring out pain (non-neuropathic pain).

Since then, I’ve made significant inroads into understanding the nature of pain…
I won’t detail the entire discovery here but my understanding of pain is in no way similar to the now popular “Neuromatrix Theory of Pain.” (How useful is an over-complication of the simple Black Box Model?) Friends, it is far, far simpler…but that’s a whole other article.

I used to do isometrics. I used to do static stretching. I used to do foam rolling. I used to do instability training on balls and discs. One of the last practices that fell away in my quest out of chronic (or what I call omni-contextual) pain was joint mobility.

To be honest, I don’t even like writing or saying the words. The main reason being  is that it is such an imprecise term. Every guru has a different definition, different principles and a different practice of it.

One guru says to do it to maintain Range Of Motion (ROM).
Another says to to do so to nourish the joints.
Yet another says to reeducate the Nervous System.

Well, that’s a complicated way of looking at things.

Principles are often correct
but when it comes to practices…
those can go off the rails a bit.

One guru tell you to do more and more of it.
Another tells you to make your practice more and more complex.
Yet another tells you to make more precise.

Probably not.
Only if necessary.

“The clarity with which we define a term determines it’s usefulness.”
–Tony Blauer

Micro Movement

As I said before, I don’t even use the term, “Joint Mobility.”  I like another term that is a bit more self explanatory:  micro-movement (mM).

To me, joint mobility is small movement.
Nothing fancy – just small movement.

What’s so special about small movement?
Well, in the hands of the right practitioner,
performance can go way up
and pain can go way down…
if not away completely.

Some may argue that it is outside of the scope of practice for a trainer to relieve pain.  As for me, I think it’s outside of the scope of practice for a trainer to put their clients in pain.  Well, there’s yet another post for me to do.

I used to post incessantly on Internet Forums about how Joint Mobility could instantly eliminate pain (in some people – especially those who have been in pain less than a year.) That is why I was drawn to it and that’s why many are still drawn to it.

It makes sense: movement puts people in pain so movement can take them out of it.  But are micro-movement the only movements that can relieve pain? As it turns out – No.

As people have been testing their big movements (macromovement or MM),
they are finding out that tested movement is correlated with pain relief. Doesn’t it make sense, though? Big movements put people in pain…shouldn’t big movements be able to take people out of pain..and isn’t that more specific, anyway?

A nice side benefit of Gym Movement

While the biofeedback based Gym Movements protocol is not intended to relieve pain (It is intended to deliver a PR every workout), we can’t help it if it does. After all, all exercises that test well are corrective exercises. There is no need for separate performance and recovery parameters.  When all of your exercise is corrective, do you really need warmups, prehab, rehab or cooldowns?

Among those following the Gym Movement Protocol, practices such as isometrics, static stretching, foam rolling, warm-ups and yes, joint mobility, are becoming things of the past.

What follows are 14 aspects of my personal protocol for joint mobility that has allowed me to go from practicing more joint mobility than probably anyone on the planet to almost completely shedding the entire practice.

Micro-Movement (mM) Manifesto

1. Find the minimal effective amount of mM practice

Unless mMs are your sport – seek the mEA.

This includes finding the mEA of mM practice to acquire the ability to do it and the mEA of practice to maintain it.

I don’t know what the mEA of practice is to acquire the skill but I expect it to be highly individual. For now, I can do all of the individual mM about once a month and retain a fairly high degree of movement quality. Since I am trying to find the mEA of practice frequency, I try to increase the time in between practices.

2. Test your mM

Use your biometric of choice to test: for me, ROM is the fastest and most reliable way to administer a self test. mM isn’t inherently good or bad. It isn’t any better or worse than any MM (macro-movement), exercise or otherwise. If a big movement can test poorly so can a small movement.

I used to go through all of the mM daily for years. After each session (which was sometimes hours), I wouldn’t feel any better than when I started and often I would feel worse. After I tested my mM, I always felt better having practiced them and would be through in 3-5 minutes. What a concept.

3. Gross to Fine

Whenever we learn movement, we learn in a gross fashion and from there we refine. While your goal may be to differentiate your movement (moving one part without moving another), understand that you cannot start with too fine a motion. For example, start with full spinal rotation before you progress to only rotating your thoracic spine.

4. Use different shapes

People practice Joint Mobility using some very funky shapes: figure eights, infinities, clover leafs. While there is some benefit to using different shapes, the shapes I recommend are those that start off curvilinear and move towards linear. The least challenging to your tissue is to move in is a spiral. The most challenging to your tissue is a line (and it’s the most specific to how we move).

5. Test your type of mM: more spiral, more circular or more linear?

Just because circumduction of the hip has been testing well doesn’t mean hip flexion and extension won’t test better. As a very general rule of thumb, on better days expect to be able to move more linearly. On worse days, expect your movement to be less direct. Over time, expect your “joint mobility” practice to look more and more like active, dynamic and ballistic flexibility training. Isn’t that the logical conclusion of moving from circles to lines?

6. Speed is dependent upon shape

When you move in a spiralic fashion, you will move slower than when you move linearly. No need for multiple speeds. Simply move at the fastest speed you can while maintaining movement quality. Expect that as you build the movement skill your speed will increase. You’ll notice as your speed increases, the shape becomes more linear.

7. Change Direction as sensations make themselves known

As you approach end ROM, you will feel stretch tension. Change direction with whatever shape (more circular or more linear) you are using. Expect your ROM to increase as you move. If you work to your absolute ROM limits, expect those limits to remain the same or become more limited. If you work at the leading edge of your limitations, expect to become less limited.

8. Have an external focus

There is mountain of empirical data supporting the use of an external focus vs an internal focus when looking at performance. I personally have run tons of “anecdotal” experiments assessing the efficacy of an external focus on pain relief on both myself and countless others. The results are in: external focus is where it is at.

Yet our gurus will tell us to feel our muscles and feel our joints in order to move correctly. Moving correctly doesn’t require an internal focus. In fact, we are designed to be externally focused and internally governed. Your body lets you know when something is going wrong or about to go wrong. You don’t need to seek a “sensation.” In fact, you need to avoid particular sensations: specifically, those correlated with effort.

9. Avoid the Elements of Effort

Most of us have learned to avoid failure and have set more PRs because of it. Those using the Gym Movement Protocols have learned to avoid those elements of effort that precede failure and have PRed every workout. It’s only logical. Let me explain.

Let’s say you are going for a lift and you start to fail. What do you do? You start tensing harder, you change your breathing, you shift your alignment. If that doesn’t work, you fail…and sometimes throughout this effort, you might feel pain. And sometimes if you feel pain it’s because you caused damage.

Don’t just avoid failure, avoid those things that precede failure – the first being excessive tension. Applying this to lifting allows for a PR every workout. What would happen if we applied this to our mobility and flexibility/ROM training, as well?

10. Don’t have a set rep count

Your body requires a different number of reps at different times. When performing movement, one of the first signs of excessive tension is a slowing of speed. If your rep speed slows, that may be a good indicator to terminate that set. If your speed increases or doesn’t decrease, consider continuing your set.

11. No need to do them in all contexts

There are endless body positions including sitting, standing, lying, gait positions, etc. Does that mean that you should practice all joint mobility in all positions? Absolutely not. There is lateral transferability of skills. Learn your mMs in one context, apply in all contexts when needed.

12. Have a good reason for doing it

In my opinion, the use of mMs have two purposes: movement acquisition and movement correction. When I teach jiujitsu, I have to break big movements down into smaller movements but I don’t break movement down any smaller than I have to. I recommend you don’t either.

When dealing with very special cases of pain relief, I sometimes have to break movement down smaller than I do in my performance practices. Even then, I don’t make movement any more isolated than necessary. In fact, for long term pain, isolated movement is often contraindicated.

13. Move what’s not moving

Seeing what is moving too much is easy. Maybe that’s why corrective exercise experts focus on it. They do so by stabilizing what’s moving too much with contraindicated levels of tension. This isn’t necessary and it’s counterproductive. When you move what isn’t moving, what is moving too much often moves quite a bit less.

Take me for example: from my years as a martial artist throwing punches and kicks, I run in a very inefficient pattern by rotating through my spine. As opposed to me stiffening my spine, I might work on arm extension which would allow me to disperse force without rotating my spine.

In many cases, there is a probably a good reason why something isn’t moving. Just because an issue requires correction doesn’t mean it requires correction today. Test to see if moving what isn’t moving is actually good for you.

14. Move Smaller, See better

Sometimes the only way to see what isn’t moving is to practice moving everything independently. This may be the biggest benefit. Moving better has allowed me to see better.

How do things move or function? That is determined by the shape or form of the joint where the movement occurs. What follows below are some (not all) of the joint areas in the body and how they move. You can practice these open chained, close chained, bilaterally or unilaterally but for god’s sake, do so purposefully. There is no need to make joint mobility your sport. Use mMs to help you acquire movement and correct movements.

Big Toe

flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, transition between those


flexion, extension


dorsiflexion, plantarflexion, eversion, inversion, transition between those


flexion, extension, rotation in a flexed position, transition between those


rotation, flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, circumduction


anterior, posterior and lateral tilting, transition between those, forward & backward torsion


rotation, anterior, posterior and lateral translation, transition between those, flexion, extension, lateral flexion and extension, transition between those


retrusion, protrusion, elevation, depression, lateral translation, transition between those


upward and downward rotation, elevation, retraction, protraction retraction, transition between those

Upper Arm

rotation, flexion, extension, horizontal abduction and adduction, abduction, adduction, circumduction


supination, pronation, flexion extension, transition between those


flexion, extension, ulnar and radial deviation, transition between those


opposition, reposition, flexion, extension, abduction, adduction


flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, transition between those

Think it over, try it out.


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If You Can’t Measure It, Did It Happen?

Continuing on this weekend, learn the metrics of progress.

How do we measure progress in the weight room and during gym practice?


I use this term to describe several things, relative to the task at hand.

  • Weight used for the movement in relationship to the one rep maximum you can lift (%1RM). This is how intensity is often measured for lifts such as the Olympic lifts, the Powerlifts, and other “big lifts”. If you are deadlifting 400 and your max is 500 (known and tested)- the intensity is 80%. Naturally this is not 100% accurate because your “max” is a number which is changing all the time up and down slightly, but it is useful for observation and tracking purposes. Continue reading If You Can’t Measure It, Did It Happen?

No Regrets

A trend has emerged with people contacting me, and I would like to cut this one off as early as possible.

The marker is typically started with something like this “…I recently implemented the Gym Movement Protocol and I have been making the best progress of my life ect, ect, ect MY ONLY REGRET IS I DIDNT KNOW THIS 20 YEARS AGO etc etc.”

Indeed, how exciting it is to ponder where you would be now had your first venture into fitness been Gym Movement.  What IF two decades were marked with PR everyday?

But this does not serve you. The protocol did not exist than. The stage was not set. Everything is happening at the pace which is it supposed to happen. This leaves you only with regret if you continue to explore this thought from that angle.

Regret does not serve us in any case I can think of other than to allow us better decisions in the future.

Regret costs much, but pays little.

Regret demands guilt in some level, and typically shame in some capacity.

These things do not make you better. In fact, I believe guilt and shame make you worse.

So I leave you with this, instead of wondering where you would be IF something had happened differently in your past, work now to shape your present and your future.

Naturally, do whatever you want to do…but no more emails to me telling me of regrets, I will simply direct you back to this very post.

More forward, and evolve now.

By the way, Do you know what happen IF worms had machine guns? The birds wouldn’t fuck with them any more…


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10 Ways To Remain Weak

Recently I have stepped on a lot of people’s toes, so I am going to use my super powers of better to try and meet them where they are at and hopefully put some more pep in their step. I understand I have distressed some of you, for this this I have wrote the following as a way to restore your confidence in me and hopefully balance out your life. Please take note of my final bullet as it was prepared exactly for you.

While I am not versed in the way of being weak, I have made many observations of the weak and I would like to share these observations in an effort to allow the average to remain average. Allow me now to share 10 things you can do right now today in order to remain weak.

#1 Do what the status quo tells you to do

Do not challenge anyone or anything. Suppress all thoughts of individuality and become yet another spot of white in the sea of sheeple. Continue reading 10 Ways To Remain Weak

Why Are You A Personal Trainer?

Like many things in life,
This probably started because of a girl.

We met.
We got married.
We got comfortable.
We got fat.

Leading from the front, My wife started working out.
I followed.

She bought a book called Body For Life and started the challenge.
I followed.

We got great results and outgrew our apartment gym and joined Bally’s.
I actually led on that one.

One day while working out,
I overheard a trainer talking to a client and thought,
“This guy don’t know shit.” Continue reading Why Are You A Personal Trainer?

PR Thread 15 March 10 through1 April 10

People are talking, and they are talking specifically about YOU.  Those of you who are better everyday. They are whispering about a group who lifts 50 thousand pounds a night 4 days a week. A group who breaks PRs every time they exercise. A group who takes in all of the people who have no home. A place of free thinkers, a place of trouble makers. A group who offers no answers, only questions.

Let them TALK, all the while you continue to ACT.

Post your PRs. I want to see over 500 comments on this  entry. 500 PRs posted in the next 15 days.


PR Thread stomps forward, our tribe grows: 6 mar – 13 mar 2010

Everyday a new chance for you to shine. Everyday offers the promise of better. Perpetual Progress is forward movement.

Our metric is simple-Improvement everytime. More weight on the bar, more reps in the bank, faster, easier, cleaner, smoothier.

It does not matter what your goal is, it does not matter what tools you choose. We are about better.

Post your progress


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PR Thread marches on…26 Feb 10 to 5 March 10

I am on the road in St Paul attending a course with Frankie, Brad, Mike T, Chuck, and Marty. While i am away i would like you to continue to share your progress with each other and your observations with your training.

Observe, Ask a question, gather data, test it, screen data, share data, and retest. This is the process.

We will return early next week.

Love Me Now, Dear Deadlift: Why YOU Need To Get Better at Picking Things Up Off The Ground

It happened yesterday, it will happen today, and I am certain it will occur tomorrow

Lift 395lbs on the double overhand axle, an extreme example of what i am talking about

You can pretend you don’t want it; you can label yourself any way you want. You can arrange your goals any way you want, and you can try to play square peg in the round hole.

I am talking about picking things up from the ground. Maybe it’s a shoe, maybe it’s a baby, and maybe it’s a purse, suitcase, or box. It does not matter; you do it all the time.

The deadlift or what was once known as the “dead weight lift” is unavoidable life movement. This means it makes sense to train it as a Gym Movement. I have not had a single day where I did not bend down to lift something. Continue reading Love Me Now, Dear Deadlift: Why YOU Need To Get Better at Picking Things Up Off The Ground

Productive or Defeating? Can You Tell The Difference?

Seriously bro...Hard-CORE!

“Where are you at with your fitness training?”

This is a question I ask when anyone contacts me with training questions. Technically there is no right or wrong answer. I simply want to hear the verbiage used to describe whatever actions the person is taking when they “go workout.”

As I sit here tonight, reflecting on my training log from the last three years, I realize it isn’t a useful product to anyone else because it doesn’t accurately document the true state I am in while I exercise. Continue reading Productive or Defeating? Can You Tell The Difference?