Here’s a quote from Gray Institute® in which to ponder: “There is a difference between the imprisonment of the tool using you and the empowerment of you using the tool!”

Essentially, creating – and using and tweaking – the environment to enhance movement is the name of the game.

Another quote by Gray Institute® is this: “The best practitioners need only an open room to facilitate the desired Chain Reaction®.”

Essentially, a Movement Professional doesn’t necessarily need his / her patient / client to be in, on, or use anything (other than an open room and the patient’s / client’s body) to be successful. The exciting aspect, though, is that different environments, different equipment, different tools have the ability to enhance one’s function.

In Applied Functional Science® Nomenclature – created by Gray Institute® –Environment is the first variable that clarifies any movement. By default, if nothing is described, the Environment is an open room (think of a flat, firm, horizontal surface). This would be true of almost all of our studios, fitness centers, and clinics. Similarly, when Movement Specialists start a training and rehab movements, the default is their normal workspace. Not much thought is given, at least initially, to adjusting or “tweaking” that Environment.

In this blog entry, we take a deep dive into the Functional Movement Spectrum. Specifically, we focus on Environment, which is included as a principle / truth in the Physical Sciences. In “The Introduction” to this Functional Movement Spectrum Series, we identified the following descriptors for Environment: Natural (functional) vs. Unnatural (non-functional).

The first goal for Environment is to be natural (authentic) to the activities that the individual engages in. From this perspective, many pieces of equipment used to train or rehabilitate create an Environment that is unnatural. This is acceptable as long as the Movement Specialist recognizes the implications of working in these unnatural situations. There must be a plan to move from unnatural to natural – what we at Gray Institute® identify as “bridging the gap” – as quickly as possible.

Even the firm flat horizontal surface is not natural for many activities. A carpeted surface is not natural to a basketball floor. A firm surface is not natural to a grass field or beach sand. A horizontal surface is not natural to a golf course. For this reason, many training centers employ multiple surfaces within the building (micro environments). Most of us do not have the luxury of all these different surfaces in one place. Training and rehabilitation must move to these natural settings in order to be considered optimal, truly functional.

Let’s look at how Environment plays a role within Rehabilitation. In Applied Functional Science®, tweaking the Environment goes beyond moving from unnatural to natural in a logical progression. The Environment of a movement can be tweaked to create success for the patient / client or to increase the challenge of the movement. An example of creating success would be a patient / client who has limited internal rotation of one hip. Using 3DMAPS® (3D Movement Analysis & Performance System,, it may be determined that the same side subtalar joint lacked eversion (pronation). This lack of eversion inhibits the internal rotation of the femur leading to hip dysfunction. To create more success at the hip, the foot can be placed on an angled surface. The surface would create an inverted starting position of the foot, allowing for available motion at the subtalar joint. This tweak of the Environment does not fix the subtalar limitation (that is a separate goal). What it does do, though, is “remove” the inhibitory factor of the limited foot motion, and allow the training of the hip internal rotation to be successful.

Let’s look at how Environment plays a role within Performance / Prevention. When the Movement Practitioner wants to increase the challenge of a movement, the goal may be to create a “buffer zone“ (of success) by going beyond the natural Environment of the activity. To improve the single leg balance of a basketball player, a cushioned surface could replace the firm surface once success on the natural surface has been attained. Although the cushioned surface is unnatural for basketball, it is utilized to provide a greater challenge to the patient / client, with the goal of creating a “buffer zone” (of success). The input from the proprioceptors will be different and the output from the muscles will need to be stronger and quicker. When utilizing the Environment to increase the challenge, the Movement Specialist must be concerned about creating too large a tweak (cushion in this example). If the tweak is too great, the body’s response will alter the original movement to the extent that the value / purpose of the movement is lost.

Authenticity is the goal of movement. We as Movement Professionals can leverage the principle of Environment, strategically making movement more natural, more functional, and better for the individual!