FMS: My New Approach to Training

As usual, these last few weeks have seen me nerding out on a couple of topics. I’ve been chasing up clinical exercise info to help support my exercise physiology application, which has been interesting, but more exciting (for me anyway) has been reading and going over Gray Cook’s Functional Movement Screen. I decided a while back that I’d like to seriously look at using the screen as part of my client assessment. I’ve always been a big believer in developing strong foundations prior to lifting heavy (or running hard, or anything else), and within my experience, movement dysfunction equals poor performance and pain – if not now, definitely down the track. At this point in my career (more as an athlete than a coach) the idea that fixing the basics rather than working on the pain site to improve function and performance makes sense. After all, as an athlete I’ve done a lot of “knee” rehab, with minimal gain and an increased awareness of hip dysfunction. Moving on to hip dysfunction has helped the knee some, but really emphasized a lack of core stability and strength. I’ve known about that for a while, namely because I know I don’t do anywhere nearly as much stability work as I should…

So I got the Functional Movement Systems books (Athletic Body in Balance and Movement, both by Gray Cook). I haven’t read them cover to cover (Movement has a lot of clinical stuff in it), and I think even when I have it’ll take a few repeats to get all the finer points. But the beauty of the books and the screen is that, for as popular as they are and as much info as they give you, they are extraordinarily simple. In particular, they stress a need to not overanalyze the movement. It’s a quick score based on what you see. So, armed with new found confidence in my ability to recognize good versus bad in basic movement patterns (and supported by the example pictures in the book), last night I had my very first crack at applying the FMS to a real-life client.

My self-review? It was definitely a first effort. It wasn’t as polished as it could be, and some of the questions I got hinted that I could have done a better job of explaining what I was doing. But the feedback was great, and overall I’m stoked to have gotten through it so well! As an added bonus, the test scores and watching the movements being done has given me soooo much information, way more than any of the other screens that I’ve used in the past.

For those that aren’t familiar with the FMS, it was designed as a tool to help define movement quality by taking a patient or client through a series of foundational movement tests (this is me paraphrasing, by the way). Some of the tests will be familiar to gym goers and athletes (the deep squat, the inline lunge, the truck stability pushup) while others are a little more off the beaten track (the shoulder mobility and rotary stability tests, the hurdle step, and the active straight leg raise). Cook tells us these movements are included because they form the base of all of our other movement, whether exercise-related or simply performed as a part of daily life. Once these movements are scored, it’s a relatively simple process – find the worst one and work on that. No need to focus on strengthening a specific muscle, or identifying the biomechanical weakness – just work on the movement. Even better, if you’re not sure how, the books and the related website have tons of examples of corrective exercises for each test.

This is definitely a turning point in my evolution as a trainer and a coach. This tool will definitely help me streamline my assessment process, and it will be interesting to see how it changes my approach to programming. More importantly, I look forward to re-reading and continued exposure the screen, the information supporting it, and to learning from others’ experiences using it. This may change my whole training philosophy! Now I just need to practice… Any volunteers?


No Pain, No Gain?

I’m continually amazed by the number of people I see training when “it hurts”. The old adage “no pain, no gain” is definitely alive and well. Frankly, I’m amazed I don’t see more people walking around in slings and on crutches, but I guess that’s just a testament to the resilience of the human body.

Once they put on their workout clothes, people seem to forget that pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong, and if we keep going, it’s going to get worse. Continue reading

What is personal training, anyway?

Personal training: when you pay lots of money for someone to stand next to you and tell you to do things that are hard. That’s what my clients tell me, anyway. Anyone can do that, though. Is it doing you any good?

Good personal training is really what you’re after. Note: this is not is NOT someone you like (or you want to like you) standing next to you counting your reps and then moving you to the next machine. Good personal training IS supervised sessions that fit into a progressive plan, resulting in you achieving your goals. You can bet that a good trainer will be a lot more concerned about how your moving than how many you’re doing. Continue reading

The Big Three

Exercise. Diet. Recovery.

The Big Three.

It doesn’t matter if you are a pro athlete or a stay-at-home mom. If you have fitness or sports performance goals, these are the boxes you need to tick.


To most people, this is synonymous with training, getting in shape, making the team, or whatever you end-goal is.

Most people would be surprised how relatively un-important exercise is in the Big Three triad. The truth is, a little stimulus can go a long way. Whether you are doing cardiovascular work, strength or resistance training or something more sports-specific, the idea is to challenge your body and promote changes such as gains in performance or loss in weight.

Exercise – the challenge or stimulus – works by stressing your body’s normal state. This will cause a temporary decrease in your physical capabilities. Since the body doesn’t like stress, the subsequent recovery process will go above and beyond the old “normal” so that the next time you exercise, it won’t be as physically stressful (that’s what the body thinks, anyway).  The result is physical adaptation. In exercise science circles, we call it supercompensation, and it’s based on Seyle’s General Adaptation Syndrome.

In plain English, exercise breaks you down. Recovery builds you up, and then some. You can call it progress. 


This is what you do to give your body a hand with the physical processes of recovery and adaptation (the upward swing of the line on the graph above). Your recovery efforts will mean that your body goes through this process more quickly than if you had just gone home fromtraining and sat on the couch for the rest of the night.

There are a lot of ways you can enhance your recovery, most of which are the most effective when used right after training.  The idea is to gt your body moving back towards normal as soon as possible, by helping clear metabolic waste products, provide easy-to-access energy and amino acids, and generally allowing your body to rebuild and repair. I recently covered some of the most common and effective recovery modalities, but we’ll go through a quick recap here, or click on the link to take you to more info.

Sleep: The most important aspect of recovery. Your body shuts down all but the most essential processes to work on rebuilding.

Pre- and Post-workout nutrition: Also very important, this helps provide readily available blood glucose and free amino acids to put your body in an anabolic state.

Compression garments: The compressions from the form fitting clothes helps shunt metabolic waste products like lactic acid out of the muscle and into the bloodstream for filtration and removal. Science isn’t sure how well they work, but thousands of people use them and love them for increasing performance and decreasing soreness. 

Ice/Cold water therapy: Also helps remove metabolic waste products and limits intramuscular swelling caused by damage from exercise, leading in decreased soreness. Try hot and cold in the shower, or go cold straight for a minute or two to get it over with.


Pre- and post-workout nutrition was briefly mentioned above, and while these are super important for maximizing your recovery and exercise-induced adaptations, your overall diet is equally important. Great pre- and post-workout nutrition isn’t going to help if you eat at McDonalds and KFC the rest of the time.

Now, if  you look around the internet or fitness magazines or what-have-you, you’ll notice there are about 1,001 different diets out there, ranging from really good to downright awful. Grapefruit does not a balanced diet make.

On the other hand, eating clean is a common component of all the good ones. It’s a pretty simple concept: If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, you shouldn’t eat it. This goes for drinks too.

Clean list: Fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, whole grains, legumes, etc.

Dirty list: Pizza, ice cream, Twinkies, Tim Tams, schnitzel, chili cheese dogs, you get the picture…


That’s the Big Three. It’s not rocket science, but it’s amazing how often one component or another is overlooked. Keep your training balanced between these three and watch your progress. You’ll be hitting PBs before you know it!

Top 7 things that will NOT make you “Get Big”

I get told a lot “I need to get big”, which is generally followed by a questions such as “What is the best supplement for me?” or “Should I use pick-a-gym-accessory?”.  While it’s great that at people are thinking about the next step in the process, most of the time they need to fix what they are already doing before they start anything new.

1. Protein …And other supplements. Supplements are great, and can play a huge role in muscle hypertrophy, but no matter what you are taking, it will not make you get big unless you are working to get big.  That means lifting heavy things frequently enough to stimulate growth.  Once you start doing this on a regular basis, a protein supplement is one of your best tools to make the most of your lift.

2. Isolation Exercises So you want to get big?  Enough with the bicep curls.  Get more bang for you buck with multi-joint exercises that stimulate the big muscles.  Chins, anyone?  Even a bench press will give you more of a boost than any curl you can think of.  On that note, get into the leg work.  Squats, deadlifts, and lunges, along with multi-joint upper body exercises will stimulate significantly more testosterone than working one or two small muscles.  More testosterone = more growth.

3. Weightbelts And other gym accessories.  Like the supplements touched on above, these are very useful tools when you need them.  Like when you squat 300 kilos.  Since most of you don’t, quit worrying about it and just get under the rack.  Your core musculature, including rectus and transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum to name some of the main players, is like nature’s weight belt.  Let your muscles do the work.

4. Two-Hour Workouts Traditional hypertrophy ranges suggest 3-4 working sets of 8-12 reps of any given exercise, with a maximum of 90 seconds between sets. Couple this with reason number 7, and it should only take you 45 minutes to lift, including warm ups, soft tissue management, and the like. Once you pass the hour mark, catabolic hormones will increase to the point that you’re breaking down more than you’re building up. Proper recovery will be that much harder, and adaptations that much longer to achieve.

5. Your iphone This might seem a little random, but the Men’s Health workout of the day app will not get you big. Neither will any other random selection. Want to bulk up? Try a planned program based on your personal goals, and incorporating progressive resistance, including deloading weeks where appropriate. If you aren’t comfortable designing a program for yourself, ask the staff at your gym or get a trainer to design one and take you through it.

6. Lifting every day Exercise breaks down. Rest and recovery rebuilds. The recovery processes can take a few days or more, depending on the damage done. If you’re working the same muscle group every day in the hopes of seeing results sooner, I have bad news for you: you are digging a hole deeper and deeper. The more damage, the longer the recovery. Give your body a fighting chance and rest each muscle group a day or two before training it again.

7. Doing every exercise possible At this point you might be seeing a pattern: There is a point of diminishing returns for every muscle group. More is not always better; in fact, more often leads to more damage, which as previously mentioned, leads to longer recovery periods and less chance of adaptation (and therefore growth). This is even more true when coupled with reasons 4 and 6.

If any of these sound familiar (or all of them), it’s time to re-evaluate your program (or lack thereof). A muscle building program isn’t hard to put together, but you have to be sensible about it. It can take months or years to put on noticeable muscle mass, but it’s certainly doable if your program provides both adequate stimulus and recovery.