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

It’s hotting up!

Summertime, and the training’s easy… ok, not easy. We still want to push ourselves and work towards our training goals, and as it’s getting nicer out more people tend to take their training outdoors. Nothing wrong with that- a little change can be a big stimulus and motivation.

Just keep in mind a few things when you’re exercising outdoors in the hot, humid summer weather…

Use your towel. Sweat evaporation is one of your body’s primary cooling systems. But when it’s humid, sweat evaporates more slowly, meaning that your self-cooling system wont work as efficiently. Your towel can be your best friend in two ways: You can wet a small towel or bandana and wrap it around your neck or put it under a hat to help the cooling process. Or you can just keep a towel handy to wipe the sweat away. That stuff really stings when it gets in your eyes!

Ease into it. Take it slow at the beginning and let your body adjust to the temperature. You might already feel warm and ready to go, but going through a dynamic warm up will still be a major benefit. Not only do you get the standard benefits of preparing your muscles, joints, etc for the work ahead, but you’ll be able to gradually adjust to the heat. Increased temperature can sneak up on you, especially when you’re focused on other things like the burning in your quads…

Take a dip. Hit the pool, or the beach if you can get there. Swimming and water walking are great, as are options like kayaking or canoeing, surfing, or bodyboarding. Water walking and a dynamic stretch session in the shalow end of the pool are particularly good for rehabbers and arthritis sufferers. You can still get dehydrated and sunburnt in the water, make sure you’ve got a water bottle handy and reapply sunscreen as needed. Cooler water can help keep your core body temperature down, which can help prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Lower body temperature will also keep you going- a rise in core temperature means the same exercise will seem a lot harder. If you’re cooler, you are more likely to get your full workout in.

Take a break. Heat exhaustion can have many symptoms. If you are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or confused, you’ve probably pushed yourself a little too hard. Muscle cramps or weakness, lethargy, and nausea are also symptoms, and it’s also a problem if you stop sweating or get goosebumps. If you think you’ve overdone it, take a break somewhere cool, drink plenty of fluids, and if symptoms continue, seek medical attention asap.

Avoid the hottest part of the day. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it always amazes me to see people running at 12 noon in the blazing sun. Maybe it’s your only time for a workout, but maybe you could also get up a half-hour earlier. Some mornings it’s already boiling by 8:30, and it just gets worse from there. Peak temperatures can occur from 10:00 AM onwards, and don’t start to cool down until 3:30 or 4:00 PM. If you are bound and determined to have a lunch-time workout, keep it short, try to stay in the shade and make sure that you take all the necessary precautions to protect yourself from the sun, heat, and dehydration. This goes double when the humidity is high, since as discussed, your body will be even less efficient at cooling itself and working to its full potential.

Don’t let any of this scare you away from summertime training in the great outdoors. There are so many options, and it’s always nice to get out of the gym. Just like everything else, use your common sense and you’ll be a-ok.

Why do you want to know?

I ask a lot of questions when I start with a new client. Lots and lots. About training history, medical and injury stuff, nutrition habits, goals, and lot of other stuff. And though I let all new clients know to expect this, as we’re going through it, sometimes they seem surprised.

Here’s the deal: The more I know, the more I can help you. Exercise is important, one of the big three (diet, exercise, recovery) in achieving your physical goals. But those big three are more or less equally important. The more I can help you with all three of these things (and all the other smaller things, like prehab/rehab, non-supervised training, soft tissue work), the easier it will be for you to reach your goals. If I know how much training you’ve done, your likes and dislikes, your preferred time for training, your injury and medical history, and a lot of other deep-and-meaningful (to me) questions, it will be way easier to give you the right program, and way easier for you to actually achieve it!

Every good trainer should be doing this, too. If you turn up to your first training session and the your trainer sticks you straight on the leg press, you might want to ask yourself A) what you want to get out of this and B) how this trainer is going to help you get it, without knowing anything about you. Food for thought.

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!


Next time you are at the gym, look around. I bet you can tell why different people are there. It’s usually one of three reasons: lose weight, get lean or ripped, or get bigger.

How do you think that’s working out for them?

Probably not great, right? The vast majority of regular gym goers see very little change beyond their first month or two at the gym (and they might not even see much change then). I obviously can’t pinpoint the exact reason why each person doesn’t succeed with their training goals, but I would be willing to bet it’s got something to do with the 23-to-1 rule.

Never heard of it?

Here’s the jist: You spent one hour a day in the gym. You have 23 hours a day to mess your hard work up.

Being honest, a lot of people aren’t even in the gym for an hour (or at least not a productive hour). I’m not telling everyone they need to workout for an hour a day, every day. I’m just trying to highlight the fact that you have a lot of time to inadvertently sabotage yourself in any number of ways. Let’s compare two gym junkies who have both completed a solid 45 minute weights session this morning:

Junkie 1: Had a post-workout shake ready to go. Went home for a contrast shower and a good breakfast with a big glass of water, then went to work with a clean lunch and snacks that he had packed the night before, so he was sure he had enough quality food and wouldn’t be temped to go and get something from the vending machine. He made sure he got up from his desk every hour or two for a bit of a stretch and walk around. After work he went to play some pick-up basketball, had dinner, stretched while watching tv, and was in bed by 9:30 for a solid nights sleep.

Junkie 2: Had a shower at the gym and went straight to work, grabbing a extra large caramel mocha latte on the way. At 11am he was starving and popped down to a cafe for some quick bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns. That took a little longer than expected, so he stayed a little late at work and had a mid-afternoon Coke to keep him going. On his way home he stopped by a friend’s house, and after a beer or two there, it was getting late. Since he was too tired to cook, he grabbed some takeaway for dinner- because calorie loading is ok when you’re lifting to gain. By the time he got to bed it was 11pm, and since he was stressed about getting up at 5 the next morning, he had trouble falling asleep.

Who do you think will be successful in achieving their goals?

Junkie 1 might seem a little obsessive compulsive (and he isn’t half bad), but I bet junkie 2 sounds somewhat familiar. If this is you, take some time out, think about what you’re doing and why, and start to plan what you want to be doing, how to do, and start now.