It’s a bottom line for fitness enthusiasts and athletes: everyone needs to have a baseline of fundamental human movement. Let me tell you about the Functional Movement Screen—why it makes sense and how it can potentially help reduce the risk of injury for athletes, strength enthusiasts, and recreational exercisers at all levels.
The FMS was developed by physical therapist Gray Cook and Lee Burton to determine whether there is a baseline of quality movement. That’s important because we need to move well before we engage in higher-level exercise or programming. As Gray has stated many times, “You can’t put fitness on dysfunction.”
The screen, which is not a test, consists of the following seven movements. They are intended to identify asymmetries or issues in human-movement patterns quickly and easily.
- Overhead squat
- Hurdle step
- Inline lunge
- Shoulder mobility
- Active straight-leg raise
- Trunk stability push-up
- Rotary stability
These seven movements effectively screen the qualities of mobility and stability to determine poor movement patterns or asymmetries that may be risk factors for injury. The problems can be present even in high-level athletes and physical fitness enthusiasts, so, basically, the screen is important for anyone who engages in regular exercise.
The maximum score you can achieve with the FMS is 21, but scores below a certain threshold, (<14) correlate with the increased injury risk.
Understand that the FMS does not prevent injury. Think of it as a “red flag” for additional deficits in movement patterns. Movement—that is, mobility and stability—is the foundation for performance, and without a strong foundation, there’s a potential for injury.
Is it the only thing we should consider when assessing an athlete or recreational exerciser? No, there are other key factors, performance indicators, and assessments to make regarding optimal safety and performance. Even so, the FMS is one major piece of the optimal fitness and performance equation.
For example, groundbreaking research done in 2010 looked at the FMS to determine the injury risk in female college athletes.1 Thirty-eight NCAA female college athletes were screened with the FMS before the start of their athletic seasons in basketball, volleyball, or soccer.
The results showed that the women who had a score of 14 or lower had significantly increased incidence of injury. A whopping 69% of the athletes who scored 14 or lower sustained an injury, so the lower scores strongly correlated to injury.
The findings are significant and align with previous trials on the FMS (the Keisel study of 46 football players2 and the Peate study of 433 firefighters3, as examples).
The trial involving female athletes, cited above, showed a 4-fold increase in injury risk, and other studies have shown even higher rates. As with previous studies, the FMS was able to predict injury. The reasoning as to why the athletes who scored lower suffered injuries was partly due to compensatory movement patterns they developed that can be masked in athletics or function until they are eventually broken down and revealed in an injury. In other words, repetitive microtrauma by inefficient movement can eventually result in musculoskeletal injury.
What do you do if you get a lower score on the FMS? It’s relatively easy for a skilled coach or trainer to build a corrective exercise strategy into a training program. It simply becomes a part of the program, and after a determined period the problem area is reassessed to determine if the strategy is working.
If not, there are many other exercise options to try until you find the one that does the trick. It’s a sequential, progressive approach that involves monitoring and reassessing for progress, which is fast and easy to do for both the coach and the athlete.
While the FMS offers major benefits and is a valuable tool to help minimize your risk for injury in training and athletics, it doesn’t guarantee that won’t be injured. You can score a 21 and sustain an injury, but it does minimize the likelihood. Make sense?
The first step is to get screened. You can find a local FMS-certified instructor at FunctionalMovement.com. No matter where you are in your training, it will be beneficial to make sure you have good baseline of movement so that you train as safely as possible. If you have a stability or mobility issue lurking, you want to make the attempt to correct it before a serious problem reveals itself.
That’s the reason the FMS makes sense, but remember: it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Train smart and always train safe.
1 Use of a Functional Movement Screening Tool to Determine Injury Risk in Female College Athletes, N Am J Sports Phys Ther, 5 (2), June 2010, Chorba et al.
2 Can Serious Injury in Professional Football be Predicted by a Preseason Functional Movement Screen? N Am J Sports Phys Ther, 2(3):147–158, Aug 2007, Keisel et al.
3 Core strength: A new model for injury prediction and prevention, J Occup Med Toxicol, 2:(3), 2007, Peate et al.
As a physical therapist and a strength coach, Scott has spent 3 decades teaching unconventional approaches to strength & performance training for long term health and fitness results. With numerous training and nutrition certifications, Scott is also one of the world’s foremost experts in kettlebell training and the prominent host of the Rdella Training Podcast. — Scott is the author of The Edge of Strength, a comprehensive new book describing his philosophy and methodology of training and performance (now available at Amazon.com)