One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

We have all had those moments in life where someone tells us that we should do something- or even better, we have to do something.  Many of these moments happen in childhood, and the message came from our parents.  It wasn’t really rebellion that led us to ignore their guidance, rather a sense of, “I know better.”  Their recommendations usually weren’t cool enough, fun enough or even crazy enough.   However, if you’re anything like me, there came a day where it just hit you- my freaking parents knew what they were talking about.

My experience with the FMS (Functional Movement Screen) and it’s 4 x 4 matrix of corrective exercise has been the same type of relationship.  I looked at the idea of progressing from prone and supine movements with no external load, to quadruped, then on to kneeling and finally standing.  This, along with the idea of progressing from one position to the next, while moving through the four stages of resistance with proficiency, just wasn’t sexy enough for me.  Where’s the fun in that?

4X4 Corrective Matrix:
Position Resistance/Assistance
1. Non-Weight Bearing 1. No Resistance – Pattern Assistance
2. Quadruped 2. No Resistance
3. Kneeling (Half or Tall) 3. Resistance – Pattern Assistance
4. Standing 4. Resistance

I’ll be honest with you- I’ve been training people for eight years now.  I have ignored these systems for so long it’s not even funny.  However, in my defense, I didn’t truly know or understand them until about the last year.  With amazing mentors, like Todd Bumgardner, and amazing literature out there, like Movement by Gray Cook, I have been prodded, ever so lightly to keep these things in mind.  We use these ideas of progressing and regressing movement as the basis of our warm-ups at Beyond Strength Performance NOVA.  Our warm-ups move from prone/supine movements to quadrped, quadruped to crawling, crawling to kneeling and/or deep squat patterns, and finally gait patterns.  But with healthy individuals, you don’t really notice the small improvements in movement proficiency as you do with an individual dealing with a movement disorder.

Meet Melanie:

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Melanie has Cerebral Palsy (Spastic).  Shocker, I know, my picture at the top of this post probably didn’t give that away at all…  But working with Melanie has finally given me the insight to see this 4×4 corrective matrix stuff work!  When Melanie came in for her assessment it had been a few years since she had stood from a seated position without the assistance of canes or pressing/holding onto something with her arms.  Not to mention, it had been more than 10 YEARS since she had stood up from the floor without assistance.  So what did we do?

The video above was taken over the course of two visits- in the same week.  So how long would you guess it took Melanie to progress to stand up on her own?

If you said one week- you’d be wrong.  Two weeks?  Nope.

One visit.  Literally, the very first visit after her consultation.  I really was at a loss for how to approach her training when she came in for the first time.  I was looking at all of the weakness that she had.  I knew that she was using her upper body for everything.  I saw a mutitude of problems that we needed to address.  It was beyond overwhelming.  But I had a great talk with her physical therapist, and he said something that really stuck with me.

“Focus on the global picture of function without paying too much attention to individual things, because certain things just might not improve.”

All of a sudden I could hear Todd telling me to have her roll on the floor, and Gray’s words were popping off of the page about the way that babies learn to move through exploring their environment- “and oh, by the way, here’s gravity- deal with it.”

I have been kicking myself every day since her first session for not filming her initial attempts at rolling.  There was a complete disconnect between her upper and lower body.  Melanie’s legs laid dormant while her upper body tried to initiate all of the movement.  It took her a few minutes to roll 10 feet and then reverse directions to come back to the start position.  However, with awareness on her part, her movement improved in mere minutes and she was rolling with relative ease for the same distance.

As her movement from basic rolling patterns cleaned itself up, we worked on some simple quadruped reaching patterns for what I thought would be the finish of her first session.  I helped her up to a seated position on a bench to explain to her how I planned to eventually progress to “sit-to-stand” exercises (box squats).  I was getting ahead of myself as we had not really done any kneeling or crawling work, but as we talked about it, I asked her to give it a try.  We had just done this in her assessment and it was impossible at that time.

She stood up.

Think about that.  It had been YEARS since she stood up on her own.

Now I’ve worked with a lot of athletes, a lot of weekend warriors- people with some awesome goals of their own.  Never in my life have I experienced such a life-changing moment.  To say we ended her first session on a high note would be a gross understatement.  Words cannot describe the energy that travelled about the facility from what had just happened.

I could not, and will not ever deny the benefit of these basic neural-developmental patterns again.

On her second visit we once again worked rolling patterns, quadruped reaches, added in crawls, and worked our sit-to-stands.  The improvements in movement proficiency were undeniable!  The session went great, so like the last session, I decided to throw another challenge at her.

Can you stand up from the floor?”

Had I asked her a few days prior, she would have thought I was out of my mind…  But now that she had already accomplished the “impossible” just two days prior, she gave it a go.


It wasn’t on the first try.  It wasn’t pretty.  But it had been more than 10 years since she was able to get up from the floor without assistance.

Think about that.

10 years ago I had just gotten my driver’s license.  Where were you 10 years ago?  Is there anything you’ve been trying, but unable to accomplish in that time?

I high fived her so hard that I had to catch her!  That explains the mini high fives that you see in the video above…

The video is actually a bit dated already.  It’s only a few weeks old, but her movement has already improved so much more in that short time- these simple progressions have changed Melanie’s life.  As her proficiency improves in rolling, so does her proficiency in quadruped movements.  There is a direct link between all of these steps.  It seems that Gray Cook, much like my parents, freaking knows what he’s talking about!

We are now working on walking backwards.  This is just one more thing that you and I take for granted every day.  She has NEVER been comfortable walking backwards, but over the last week she has covered some serious ground (pun intended).  In fact, the title of this very post is about her struggles with taking steps backward.  Many times she will take a clean step back, only to lose her balance and stumble forward to recover.

So what can you take from Melanie’s successes?

Don’t overlook the small things.  We’ve all been told to warm up properly, do your mobility work, take care of yourself through soft tissue care, proper sleep, eat well.  All the boring stuff…

Appreciate everything that you have.

Help those around you.

Regardless of what life deals you, press on.

Live your life to the max.


Want to make an impact of your own?  Come out next Saturday and help us raise money for!!/events/281768788600012/

We did this last weekend as well… the turnout was great and everyone had a blast!  Check it out:

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I’ll leave you with this simple question.

Wouldn’t you rather take one step back and work on the basics a little more if it meant you could take two steps forward on the sexy stuff?



Coach Chris


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Chris Merritt
Strength Coach/ B.S. Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University/ FMS/ Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist/ Certified Kettlebell Instructor/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance and Beyond Strength Performance NOVA
Chris Merritt
About the author

Strength Coach/ B.S. Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University/ FMS/ Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist/ Certified Kettlebell Instructor/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance and Beyond Strength Performance NOVA
6 Responses
  1. Jason Mason

    Excellent! This was a great blog and successful story. It is great to see other fitness professionals taking it to a new level. keep up the great work!

  2. Lori A. Gravish, M.S.

    Chris Merritt~

    It was a true pleasure having you as a student at Penn state University! You are stellar in more ways than one. For that, I am grateful to say that you are my friend. YOU ROCK BIG-TIME….

    I will make a visit by the summer. I promise!

    ~ GRAV

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