Chapter 15

Developing Functional Strength

Our strength training centers around what we call foundational movement patterns. Think of how a baby develops the ability to move. There are distinct stages in developing every movement skill that involve groups of muscles rather than individual muscles. Think of when a baby develops the ability to get into quadruped position (on all fours). This involves multiple muscle groups and multiple joints including the hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, and wrists.

Before you know it, the baby is crawling, and then pulling himself/herself up onto the knees while using an object to hang onto. Next, they are pulling themselves up into a standing position and then, BOOM – they are walking! In the early years, babies easily pop up and down off the floor, making it look effortless. But, as adults, can we do this?

We used to do it when we were small children. As we get older, we do not generally practice these movements anymore – and why would we? Most of us, including myself, could never have imagined that the foundational movements we did every day as a toddler could potentially save our lives when we get older.

However (and this is especially important), I implore you to consider trying the foundational exercises in this chapter. Here’s why: as we age, most of us lose the ability to do certain foundational movements. When a person lives with PD, it is even more likely that some of these abilities may be lost.

Countless times, we have seen lives change before our very eyes as we teach foundational movement patterns. For some, it means they rolled over without assistance. For someone else, it means they got up from the floor without a prop and without assistance. Regaining abilities like these can be life changing.

Foundational strength training is a whole-body training modality and develops whole body, integrated and functional strength.

The Floor is Our Friend

Since falling is more common in people living with PD and is our number one concern, think of foundational strength training like this: if a person is alone and falls, we want them to have the strength and ability to navigate to safety. Foundational movement patterns will get the person back to safety, but in order to execute these movements efficiently, foundational strength training exercises need to be practiced.

Going forward, we will break things down into specific foundational movements. Each of these are a part of a workout I refer to as, “The Floor is Our Friend.” For good reason, many people with PD (and much of the older population) fear getting on the floor. The floor is not a natural place to be for most people, plus – if you are on the floor, there is a good chance this means you have fallen.

But think about this: once you have fallen (and hopefully are not injured), there is good news! You are down and hopefully you are safe. Once you are on the floor, you cannot fall. You are already down. However, you will want to get back to a safe place without falling in the process. Herein lies one of the main reasons for practicing foundational strength training.

Before moving forward, I must mention:

• Using a combination of more traditional strength training modalities in conjunction with foundational strength training exercises described in this chapter is an ideal way to achieve your strength and functional movement goals.

• The exercises in this chapter were taught to me by my dear friend, Dr. Perry Nickelston. If you haven’t attended Perry’s Primal Movement Chains workshop, go do it! It will change your life. Exercises in this chapter have been somewhat modified from what Perry taught me, but I learned the concepts from him. Be sure to check out his website at

• Find video demonstrations of all exercises in the drop down menu in this chapter.

Let’s use a hypothetical situation, and one that happens all too often.

Imagine you have fallen and end up on your back. You are on the floor and if no one is there to help, you will need to get back to safety by yourself. Using this example, we will go through a process to get you there. This process is going to help you build foundational strength, but that’s just the beginning. This process will also help you move better, function better, and reduce your risk of falling.