Functional Movement Screen 101 (Part 1)

I must first start by apologizing.  It seems that I may have really got going and discussed my philosophy and relationship with the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), but have failed to actually talk about what it is and how it works!  So you are going to find yourself reading exactly that: what is the FMS and what does it do … and, most importantly, not do!  This will be a two-part blog just because I feel that there will be a little bit of information and I do not want to overload you with too much, too soon!  Part 1 you will find me discussing the number system and exercises that go along with the Functional Movement Screen.  While Part 2 you will read about what those numbers and exercises mean, how they can better improve your movement patterns in and out of your workouts, and where to go from here!  So, grab the nearest 4′ dowel and 2×6 and get ready to move!

To start the introduction, there are seven exercises within the FMS and every exercise is going to give me (or whatever FMS certified professional you are working with) a GPS of your movement pattern.  This is a wonderful tool to have as a fitness professional because we are able to take your movement and quantify it.  You may be asking yourself, ‘How in the world can you assign a number to my movement quality?’  This is something I never could have come up, that’s why I’m thankful that we have people in the field, such as Gray Cook, who are innovators and are continuing to question the status quo.

On to the quantification, Batman!  The FMS scale is based on four numbers: 0-3.  Zero indicates pain was involved in the exercise, a score of one says that the person screened is unable to do the exercise as instructed, two lets us know that the screened individual did complete the exercise (but with compensation), and three would means perfect movement throughout the exercise.  You do the math: seven exercises, three is the highest score per exercise, so the highest score allowed on the FMS is … drum roll please … 21!  However, the beauty of the FMS is that it’s not asking anyone to achieve a perfect score.  Well, that is quite un-fitness like isn’t it Fitness Lying Down?  Aren’t we suppose to do the best we can, aim for the stars, and be perfect breaking records everytime we do any type of exercise – screen or not?  A perfect score is optimal, sure, but what the FMS asks is for you to score a 14 with no asymmetries in any of the exercises (that means a score of two down the board).  With that score we as fitness professionals can be assured that your movement patterns are good enough to participate fully in any exercise program without the likelihood of being injured because of a dysfunctional movement pattern, or assymetry.  Whew!  I’m glad that I got that out of the way, now onto the exercises …


Deep Squat


The deep squat will actually tell me a lot about your ability to move, or not move so well.  This is the first exercise that you will be performing in the Functional Movement Screen.  Obviously, it is more than a squat as you can see in the picture … there is an element of shoulder mobility attached to the lower body movement.  A score of three is when you can do the deep squat with feet on the ground, two is awarded for individuals that place the 2×6 under their heels and perform the squat pattern, and one is assigned to those that cannot do either.

Hurdle Step


Next, you will find yourself placing the dowel on top of your shoulders behind your head and stepping up to the hurdle.  Under control, of course, you will be asked to step over the string and place only your heel on the opposite side of the hurdle.  After that is completed, you will gently bring that forward foot back to where you found it behind the hurdle.  Both legs will be tested to find out if there is any asymmetry between the right and left sides.  A score of three means that you are a hurdle step hero, two signals that there was some extra movement – also known as compensations – occuring within the exercise (leaning to the side or forward, twisting, the foot turning in or out to clear the string, and more), and one means that we have some work to do because you look like you are playing a game of Twister standing up!

Inline Lunge


Lunging can be difficult for most people anyway, but to ask them to put their feet inline and then stand on top of a 2×6, and hold a stick to their back … well, now things just got crazy!  Besides looking for hip, knee, ankle, and foot mobility and stability – your top thigh muscles (rectus femoris) and your large back muscles (latissumus dorsi) are going to be put on the spot, as well.  There are quite a few areas throughout the body that have to cooperate for this exercise to happen.  A three is saying that your back knee is on the board, the dowel maintains contact with your head, shoulders, and butt throughout the movement, and that you stayed on the board.  With a score of two, you stayed on the board (Yay!), but the dowel lost contact with the three points and maybe the knee didn’t quite touch the board and went off to the side.  Whereas, a one is scored if you became unbalanced and couldn’t stay on the board or twisting occured to grossly compensate or you just couldn’t do the exercise … and that is no worry at all!  Of course, both sides have to be done to see if there are any discrepancies between right and left.

Shoulder Mobility


Ah, the shoulder mobility screen, our first fundamental mobility look of the day!  This exercise is quite simple in explanation, but can be very difficult for many people to perform (especially with equality between sides).  What I love is that even though this screen is dubbed the Shoulder Mobility, your shoulder joint is only one component of this movement.  I first start by measuring your hand and with that number I am going to ask you to hide your thumbs in your fists and bring those knuckles as close together behind your back as possible.  I will then measure the gap between your knuckles and if that gap is the same measurement, or less, of your hand length you get a three.  If that gap is equal distance, or less, of your hand length and a half – you get a two … greater distance than that … one.  As always, you are probably getting the idea that we have to screen the other side, too!  I have found from the majority of those that I have screened that it is popular to have an asymmetry between sides – but mother nature is not a fan of popularity (or asymmetries), so this is of great importance to clean up (more on that next week)!

Active Straight Leg Raise (ASLR)


Back-to-back fundamental mobility screens … I just can’t stand the excitement!  Okay, I do get a little carried away, but this stuff gets me going!  If I told you to lay on your back and lift your leg up – you most likely could whip that sucker up pretty high.  Now, if I told you to do the same raise, but more slowly and to keep your opposite leg down on a 2×6 – you may find out you aren’t able to lift as high, what gives?  I posted on the Facebook page (and listen, if you haven’t like the page yet – do so!  And if you have liked it, keep sharing it) about the hips being a window to the core and when you throw your leg up there without any thought, most likely the ol’ compensations kick in and take over.  With a slower movement and keeping the down leg on the board, we eliminate the compensations and ask the areas that are suppose to be in charge of this movement to do what they should do – now we have an authentic, genuine leg raise!  So, I find a magic place to place the dowel and if the ankle of the raising leg goes past it you get a three.  If that ankle makes it higher than the line of where the down knee is but not all the way up to the stick – it’s a two and can’t get ‘er up that high?  Well, you know you have some work to do to get out of the “one zone!”  Don’t forget those asymmetries!

Trunk Stability Push-Up (TSPU)


Finally, a “real” exercise!  Or, maybe you don’t like push-ups…don’t sweat it, this is not to test if you can do a push-up (even though you do have to lift your body off of the ground).  No, the major component of this movement is just like the title implies: a stable trunk.  Can those stabilizers between your hips and shoulders fire like they should when involved in this pattern?  This is the only screen where there is a slight discrimination between males and females.  Males will begin this screen with their thumbs inline with the top of their forehead and females at chin level.  If the push-up is performed with hands at this position, then you earn a score of three.  If this is unattainable, then males lower their thumbs to chin level where females will take it down to collerbone level.  If the push-up is performed in this position with trunk stability – two – if not a score of one is given.

Rotary Stability


Almost there, last screen exercise – the Rotary Stability – cue the fireworks!  This exercise is more than the “bird dog” exercise you may be familiar with.  On hands and knees (what is known as quadruped position) you will extend same side arm and leg then bring it in to touch the elbow to that same-side knee.  If you can do this in a controlled (key-word, controlled) manner you will receive a score of three.  If you are unable to perform that movement, then you will be asked to take opposite arm and leg, extend them, and bring them under you to touch your elbow to the opposite-side knee.  If you can work through this pattern with control and fluidity you will see a score of two on your sheet, if not, we need to get rid of that score of one!  A little tiresome and beating the dead horse, so to speak, but still important – both sides need to be screened to make sure that there are no asymmetries!

And there you have it the FMS in a nutshell.  Now believe it, or not, there is more depth to this simple screen than what was just briefly stated here (uh, did I just say briefly).  And don’t worry, if there are exercises that you saw on this site that you don’t think you can perform, you just say so, and we move on … again, more about that next week!  For you Star Wars fans out there, this may seem to be the Episode I of the entire series, but it’s good to know the nuts and bolts of the FMS before we put it all together next week.  I’m sorry for all you non-Star Wars fans for the analogy; I suppose you are just going to have to watch the middle trilogy (IV – VI) and then go back and watch Episode I to understand what I mean!  May the rolling be with you!