Athletic Sustainabilty: First Principles of Movement

The concept of  First Principles thinking has been recently again popularized by Elon Musk, and earlier, Aristotle.  First principles is about the breaking down of concepts into the most basic and fundamental truths.  In a way, a „zooming out“ of complexity in order to get the big picture, only to zoom in again – but into the relevant place.  Not every tool is appropriate for a given genesis of pain or dysfunction.  Otherwise, we could find ourselves attacking a perceived problem with a given tool or methodology that we’re familiar with; but without having carefully discerned what the priorities are.  We must first ask ourselves WHAT it is that we are trying to achieve, and in that context, WHY we have chosen a given approach.

 A great modern clinician should be able to navigate between the concepts taught by the many great schools and masters of our current world – especially in the age of information overload.  

According to Dr.Liebenson, what he learned from Janda & Lewit is nothing less then the „First Principles“ of rehabilitation.  The First Principles of Movement by Dr. Craig Liebenson summarize how he has transcribed Professor Janda and Dr Lewit’s work in accord with Lao Tzu, Bruce Lee, Stephen Jobs, and many other great thinkers and innovators of both ancient and modern age.  Each of them resonates the same fundamental truths.

Dr. Liebenson begins with principles so that we do not become, as Dr. Lewit said „a slave of methods.“  He wishes to encourage and support ALL of the great „systems“ and approaches available. It is truly about a passion for learning that distinguishes the mavens or outliers who live by the mantra „be a learn it all, not a know it all.

 The presence of so many great systems courses – SFMA, DNS, FMS, PRI, Strong First benefit the overal promotion of health within the community of health promotion and performance enhancement specialists, by offering „how to“ guides in the form of protocols and algorhythms.  

Dr. Liebenson‘s main system in clinical reasoning is using the scientific method.  This is at the heart of MDT &  Karel’s empirical process which he calls the CAP.  For those who have had the privilege of working with him, they know that he follows a systematic approach which is constantly evolving, as well as becoming simpler and more powerful.

Some of its keystones are:


Symptoms – i.e. shoulder pain – there are „go to“ functional shoulder WODs that usually re-set the pain systemti.


Dysfunction – i.e. poor movement literacy with the „hip hinge“ there is a „go to“ trainable menu to reactively improve this movement literacy.


Fear-avoidance – i.e. catastrophizing we emphasize the functional training range which is also the PAINLESS range, and which is appropriate for the task at hand to create safety in active movement and therapy, while enhancing self-efficacy


Motor learning – i.e. „guide by the side“ in which we follow gamification strategies to create an environment where people can „problem-solve“ themselves rather than be instructed on what to do. This is to enhance residual adaptation consistent with Tyson Beach’s mantra „its not about winning the exercise, but winning the adaptation“.


Relatedness – i.e. motivation or „buy in“ is achieved when, as Mike Boyle says: „we can explain the why behind the what“.  Why we’re doing what we’re doing and anchoring it to our patient/client’s goals. This achieves trust and shifts the approach from the merely empathetic one, whereby we are giving people merely what they want or expect (ie. manual therapy or pain relief) to one driven by compassion, where we are getting to their underlying goal, such as avoiding disability or surgery, and getting back to participation.

Dr.Liebenson recommends a deep dive into the different schools of thought to develop expert craft. Such as in MDT, McGill’s Big 3, KBs, etc

The scientific method has 3 components:

  • Reading the literature (e.g meta analysis, EBHC, etc) for scalable approaches and 1st assumptions to generate a testable hypothesis
  • Designing an intervention and testing it. The CAP (hypothesis testing) to be precise and to personalize our program N=1
  • „Be a learn it all not a know it all“ – i.e. No Dogma. In science most hypothesis are proven FALSE. So an open mind is needed to learn from mistakes and come up with a new testable hypothesis. As Dr Lewit said „keep an open mind for new ideas that sometimes shows what you thought or believed before was wrong.“

And, we inspire GRIT (e.g. persistance & passion) to learn the nuances of mastery & art in the systematic pursuit of patient/client centered goals:

  • McGill 101 – To calm down sensitivity, then build tissue integrity up again
  • Hypothesis Test in a precise manner which allows for us to find to the lowest common denominator; and a personalized approach that is results oriented.
  • This bridges the gap – Jill Cook & Tim Gabbett style – from current capacity shortfalls to required capacity for one’s specific demands w/in certain timeline constraints.

While Dr.Craig Liebenson teaches the Principles of philosophy, he also applies many systems.  He believes in prioritizing by principles first, and thinks of the systems as guardrails. What distinguishes his approach is that he focuses on the „dilemma of information overload“ from so many great choices; and shows people how to integrate the different approaches in an efficient manner. The main key and what’s unique to him is the 4 Principle approach. These are the „open sesame“, and when supported by the systems (i.e. guardrails) one can accelerate their journey to helping others by marrying the science, craft & art, as only a master integrator can do.

In the words of one of Craig’s faculty, „Craig is able to easily explain to you the most basic take away fundamental truth, based on which a given system is built upon, and put it into balance with a seemingly opposing one; so that they can work together in a larger context“

As a world traveler, I find that each culture has its unique way of looking at reality.  They are each right in their own perspective, and when you live with them long enough; you begin to think a little more like them.  In terms of education, the most fundamental difference I’ve personally found between North America and Central Europe is that while the European system offers one a large amount of hard knowledge, the North American education system is more focused on teaching one HOW to think and apply that knowledge.  Neither approach is better, and both are important.  Similarly, when I’m working side by side with one of my physical therapists, I don’t pretend to be one; and ask them for the depth of their insight when necessary.  At other times, being so influenced by their own methodology, they ask me for a „trainer’s perspective“.  Good results are often rooted in „knowing what it is we do not know“, understanding what we are trying to achieve, deciding which methods to employ, and learning the difference!

 Dr. Craig Liebenson’s course is not about learning a superior methodology, but rather about learning how to apply a scientific method based rationale, and how to navigate among various methods – many of which are shown and taught. 

I really wish to thank you for your knowledge and wisdom! You have inspired me a lot with your passion and you gave me a new perspective! Ad astra per aspera! Craig Liebenson Claudia Natalini, Rome, Italy

Craig, it was a pleasure learning from you, I like your style. – Tomáš Jusko, Slovakia

“in millions saw the apple fall, but newton was the one that has asked why”.(Bernard Baruch)
Thanks for all Craig LiebensonEmanuele Bratoll,Italy

Thank you Craig, reconsider some old dogmas, inspiring lectureKestutis Laurinskas S & C Coach Lithuanian Olympic Team

Thanks again for the inspiring course! This course is a must for Every sport physical therapistMarsha Westerhof, PT Dutch Olympic Track & Field Team

Feeling mighty fortunate after this week, learning from master instructor Craig Liebenson. The most stimulating educational experience I’ve had in a long timeNick Sams, DC Montana, USA

He keeps inspiring. It’s my third time and I still learned new things… I’m already looking forward to the next course…it’s now 3 day’s since the course… I had some exceptional results! The thing that made a huge difference is the shift from passive treatment first to active treatment first. The effect on the patient to see the immediate result is overwhelming! Thanks againRoel Jacobs, PT Belgium

I personally admired your professionalism in your presentation and your answers.  My patients will receive better care in the future because of what I learned this weekend.  Thank you. – Kathryn Hodges, DC

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