What is Functional Movement Screening (FMS) and How Can it Benefit You in the Gym?

Many people are unaware of what FMS (Functional Movement Screening) is. Although it is growing in popularity, it is not a common thing you see trainers using at the gym. Today I’m going to talk about what it is and how it can help you whether you are an elite athlete or someone just starting an exercise program.

According to the founder of FMS, Gary Gray, he says, “FMS is the screening tool used to identify limitations or asymmetries in seven fundamental movement patterns that are key to functional movement quality in individuals with no current pain complaint or known musculoskeletal injury. These movement patterns are designed to provide observable performance of basic locomotor, manipulative and stabilizing movements by placing an individual in extreme positions where weaknesses and imbalances become noticeable if appropriate mobility and motor control is not utilized.”

Basically, the idea is that movement quality should precede performance and skill work thus building strength, endurance, and skills on a strong foundation that is more resilient to injury. FMS is a series of 7 different movement screens including the overhead squat, hurdle step, inline lunge, shoulder mobility, impingement clearing test, active straight leg raise, trunk stability pushup, spinal extension clearing test, rotary stability, and spinal flexion clearing test.

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The information collected from these tests is used to detect movement pattern deficiencies, asymmetries, and muscle imbalances in an individual. Knowing these kinds of things can help athletes or anyone increasing their physical activity level by being aware of the limitations in the first place, and then enhance performance and/or remove the limitations by addressing the issues with corrective exercises. First, there is a cutoff in which an individual could be categorized as “at risk for injury” or “not at risk for injury” by engaging in physical activity. This can help a trainer try to fix whatever the client is dysfunctional in by prescribing corrective exercises. Most of the time when a trainer gets a client they assess them by seeing how many pushups and sit-ups they can do, testing their cardiovascular fitness, 1 rep max, etc. However, this is backwards. They analyze the quantity of movement but neglect the movement QUALITY. Someone may be able to complete 100 pushups in a row but if they have a lag in their spine during the movement then it’s just a matter of time before they blow out their back.

For example, let’s say Joe decides that he wants to get in shape and he is ready to do whatever it takes to get fit. He’s excited and the perfect client because he is dedicated 110%. He is given an exercise program and is working out all the time…however, he wasn’t given a functional movement screen and he has several movement pattern dysfunctions, muscle imbalances, and asymmetries. A few weeks in and his endurance increases and he is jogging further than ever before…but with imbalances and poor biomechanics. All of the sudden he starts getting sharp pain in his back when he walks and has to stop working out. Then weeks go by and he picks it back up all to go around in a circle and get hurt again. If functional movement is assessed and movement pattern dysfunctions are addressed in the beginning, then corrective exercises could be prescribed to hopefully reduce his risk of injury and therefore make him more able to get through an exercise program SAFELY and effectively.

On another note…athletes can also benefit from FMS. While they might score higher and not be categorized as “at risk for injury”, they may still have asymmetries, which could be addressed and help them maximize performance and reduce their risk of injury down the road. For example, pitchers throw a ball hard and fast over and over again every single day. This powerful, repetitive motion likely causes some muscle imbalances. If they are not taken care of, and the repetitive motion continues with a large asymmetry, the pitcher could get a torn rotator cuff or some other kind of shoulder injury. If this pitcher is a starter and a major contribution to the team, that injury could cost them the World Series.

Some may argue that asymmetries and/or muscle imbalances are sport specific and normal, in which I would agree to an extent. For example, a sprinter whose normal starting position is left leg forward with a forward lean may have more prominent back and hip extensor muscles on the right side compared to the left, as well as a slight anterior trunk lean. This could be good for his performance and in fact, the design of a person’s anatomy could be a deciding factor on if they would be good at the sport. Think about a volleyball or basketball player who would need some height to really be good, or a gymnast who would need large ranges of motion and maybe not be quite as tall as a basketball player. Certain body types are meant for certain sports. However, research does suggest that symmetric muscle mass and function is superior to asymmetric muscle imbalances with respect to injury prevention (Varekova, 2011).

If you have any questions regarding FMS or would like to sign up for a screen please reach out by e-mail or phone! Jkasten1@asu.edu/ 602-733-0675

Kim, D., Cho, M., Park, Y., & Yang, Y. (2015). Effect of an exercise program for posture correction on musculoskeletal pain. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 27(6), 1791-1794.

Tyler, T. F., Nicholas, S. J., Campbell, R. J., & McHugh, M. P. (2001). The association of hip strength and flexibility with the incidence of adductor muscle strains in professional ice hockey players. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 29(2), 124-128.

Vařeková, R., Vařeka, I., Janura, M., Svoboda, Z., & Elfmark, M. (2011). Evaluation of postural asymmetry and gross joint mobility in elite female volleyball athletes. Journal of Human Kinetics, 29(1), 5-13.

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