Functional Range Conditioning, Feldenkrais, and movement variability

Last weekend, I spent 16 hours learning about Functional Range Conditioning (FRC). FRC was developed by Andreo Spina, a chiropractor, BJJ practitioner, and teacher/trainer. FRC is rooted in physiological principles and focuses on the “hardware” of the human body rather than the “software,” or neurology, though the computer analogy was quickly deemed an inappropriate way to describe how humans operate. When you ask a computer to do something, it will perform that thing based on a specific order of events in a very specific manner (and we have just maxed out my knowledge of computers). If you hooked a person up to an EMG, on the other hand, and asked that person to perform 10 bodyweight squats, the EMG is going to look different for each squat. Movement is variable, and after Dr. Spina made that statement approximately 30 minutes into class followed by a reference to Mark Latash’s work, I decided this workshop would be worth my time and I should pay attention.

I began studying a bit of Feldenkrais last year. (Don’t worry, this will be a short segue. I promise to get back to the workshop in a moment). I found the ATMs interesting, and frequently found improvements in my freedom of movement after performing a lesson. I also had two FI sessions with different practitioners to see how the principles were applied in an individualized session. I was curious why Feldenkrais movements seemed to work, and I began applying some of the exercises with my clients, with great success. In an effort to understand what was occurring during the lessons, I read two of Moshe Feldenkrais’s books, which, while interesting, didn’t really explain the “why” behind things. I decided to brush up on motor control concepts and, after some research, chose Mark Latash’s text “Fundamentals of Motor Control,” an extremely worthwhile read if you want to understand the neuroscience of motor control. He discusses variability at length, and explains that for a person to move well, he must have many different options available to him. This statement is backed by many references, appealing to my science oriented brain. This is why Feldenkrais works. Small motions, such as lifting your arm, are explored in many, many different ways. The neuromuscular system then has options available to lift the arm and will pick the most efficient one. Feldenkrais sessions always demonstrate this improvement in efficiency by having you try the movement at the beginning on the lesson and at the end to compare how things have changed. In my opinion, Feldenkrais excels at improving neuromotor efficiency; however, if you are looking to gain strength, however, there isn’t enough external stimulus to elicit a training effect.

Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) builds on the variability concept, with force applied isometrically at varied joint angles in the PAILS and RAILS portion. This allows for control over different movement ranges and strengthens tissue at a variety of different angles. At one point, Dr. Spina asked, “if a movement goes wrong, do you have the hardware to back it up?” Life happens. At some point or another, we will squat with our knees over our toes to pick something up or our ankles might excessively evert. If we never train our bodies to handle this type of stress, when an ugly movement presents itself, our tissues might not be able to handle it. By systematically mobilizing and strengthening tissue in multiple planes of movement, we might reduce our chance of injury. (I would be curious if any of the teams utilizing the FRC system have seen a reduction in injury rates. What Dr Spina is saying makes intuitive sense. After watching this video ( illustrating a man that regularly climbs trees barefoot, I realized our tissues are capable of far more than we give them credit for with our shod, minimal movement way of living. (And I am going to speculate this guy’s risk of rolling an ankle is probably slim). Working mobility in a variety of ways should hypothetically improve overall movement and allow us to access movements we may have lost through disuse. Controlled articular rotations (CARS) were discussed as a way of maintaining joint health and allowing for joint differentiation. I find having clients understand what joints do independently makes a direct impact on their overall movement quality, and Dr. Spina did a nice job explaining the science behind why that occurs.  CARS was used as an assessment tool, and within the system, it is very obvious when it is a capsular issue and the trainer should refer the client out to another health care practitioner. He went into the research on flexibility versus mobility, and was able to clearly back up his assertions with applicable research.

While I utilize joint differentiation, isometrics and movement variability regularly, the PAILS and RAILS system is a brilliant addition to my toolbox. He also validated some of the conclusions I have arrived at in the last year regarding movement quality and isometric training. I was able to implement aspects of CARS the next morning with several clients, and I am playing with PAILS and RAILS in my own movement practice. Yoga is my movement hobby, and the concepts outlined by the FRC system should allow for improved control and mobility. Interestingly, teachers that have advanced practices use similar techniques. If you spend any time in a workshop with Kino MacGregor doing strength work, you will find yourself holding things isometrically and utilizing concepts very similar to the PAILs and RAILs system (to find out more about PAILS and RAILS, take an FRC workshop. You can also check out my video down below where I apply the concepts to a traditional yoga position). The reality of moving well is it is hard work and requires focused attention. Not everyone wants to put in the time, but for those that do, the rewards can be incredible, and even for those that don’t, applying some of the mobility concepts discussed in FRC are a safe to improve joint health and function.  

Yours in health and wellness,
To perform: Set up in ardha hanumanasana with hip flexion. Make sure your back isn’t rounding. As you exhale, begin pressing the front leg towards the ground, taking three breaths to reach a forceful contraction. Hold the contraction for two breaths and on the third breath, lift your leg off of the floor using hip flexion. Do not use your back.