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?