An FMS Discussion Part II


The corrective strategy

Test. Apply a corrective exercise. Re-test.  This concept is HUGE.  The test/re-test process is just massively important in any situation (technology, medicine, cooking, and yes, human movement) if you want to know if a particular intervention works.  Dr. Eric Cobb of Z-Health first introduced the importance of the test & re-test to me.  The concept is equally important in the FMS.  What does it mean and what does it look like?

We can test all sorts of things.  We can test a movement pattern for pain or tightness.  As it pertains to the FMS, we want to at some point test and re-test the seven different movement patterns.  Beyond that, I could use stepping up and down stairs to test for knee pain.  We could bend forward or backward to test for back pain.  I could go into a hip flexor stretch on each leg to compare tightness in each thigh.  I could stand on one leg to test balance.  If you’ve got some sort of difficulty with a particular exercise then that’s a test.  So we test something. Then we apply some sort of corrective.  Then we re-test.

We might foam roll and/or stretch to increase mobility of a joint.  Then we could re-test.  Did anything change?  We might then employ a stabilization exercise.  Then we re-test.  Did things improve or not?  We could move from static stabilization to dynamic stabilization, that is, we can look at stabilizing a joint while moving other joints.  If we see improvement and it holds, then we should practice our new and improved movement.  A phrase I heard at the FMS is “Move well then move often.”  We want to ingrain these new, good movement patterns.  We want to make them habitual.  If we load the movement pattern with weights then we look to get stronger in these new movement patterns.  We can continue to re-test over the course of time to ensure we haven’t regressed back to poor movement.

My strategy: addressing the ankle, knee and hip

Some of my years-long issues regarding my low back, my right knee and left heel/Achilles are still lingering.  These issues aren’t terrible and they hardly limit me but I still would like to clean them up a bit.  My right hip tends to be tight.  I have intermittent moderate right lateral knee pain.  My left calf tends to be tight.  I’ve got some impingement in my right ankle.  Fortunately, my FMS score is a solid 18 out of a possible 21 which means that it’s safe to exercise and work out vigorously.

Mobility restoration

I’ve employed several tools to restore lost mobility and overcome some movement restrictions.  I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve had some dry needling done to my right thigh and hip flexor area.  (I’ve since had some done on my right shoulder as well.)  This has done a very nice job of relaxing some muscles that were in spasm, thus enabling a greater range of hip extension.  I’ve also been using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, and a barbell to get into the gunked up areas of my quads, calves and low-back/quadratus lumborum area.  As I mentioned, my right hip and low back are troubled areas, so I’ve spent more time working there than on my left side.  (Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD has some great ideas on addressing restricted tissue.  Check out pages 34-37 of his new book Becoming a Supple Leopard for a variety of ways to smash the quad and un-glue matted-down tissues.  I’ve been doing a lot of this stuff to great effect.)

A lacrosse ball has been especially useful in getting into my glute minimus and tensor fasciae latae (TFL).  I’ve also been using the Stick on my calves and posterior tibialis.  You can really experiment with a variety of objects, angles and positions when going after these tight, sore areas.  With regard to the test/re-test scheme, it’s  a good idea to mash out one side of your body–your right glute for instance– then mash out the other side.  How do they compare?  Is one side more beat-up than the other?  If so, spend more time working there.  See if over time you can even them out.

Once I’ve spent a few minutes going after soft-tissue restrictions, I go into some joint mobility drills.  Here are some examples:

3D ankle mobility

Hip flexor stretch, pigeon stretch, hip slide

Stability restoration

half-kneeling with rotation

chop & lift

half-loaded lunge


Reactive neuromuscular training:

The only way to do it right is to do it at all.  There is often a bit of frustration or struggle with this process–but that’s good!  Here, we actually help facilitate bad form–we “feed the mistake” in other words.  In this way the unconscious movement fault is made conscious.  Now we have a chance to correct the thing.  What does this look like? (squat w/band around knees, split squat w/tube)





An FMS Discussion: Part I


The Functional Movement Screen is a subject I’ve been studying (and writing about) recently. I recently had the pleasure of traveling to San Francisco to attend the Functional Movement Screen (FMS).  I got to meet some interesting, smart people and some great information found its way into my brain.  So what is the FMS?  From the FMS site:

Put simply, the FMS is a ranking and grading system that documents movement patterns that are key to normal function. By screening these patterns, the FMS readily identifies functional limitations and asymmetries. These are issues that can reduce the effects of functional training and physical conditioning and distort body awareness.

The FMS generates the Functional Movement Screen Score, which is used to target problems and track progress. This scoring system is directly linked to the most beneficial corrective exercises to restore mechanically sound movement patterns.

Movement patterns vs. Muscles

A key component of the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) paradigm is the idea of training movement patterns rather than individual muscles. For example, what muscles does the squat use?  Pushups? The deadlift?  For that matter, what muscles does basketball, gymnastics, swimming, or raking leaves use?  The answer is a lot of muscles, and these muscles must work together in sequence to create movement. (A better question might be “What muscles don’t these activities use?) This concept of addressing and thinking in terms of patterns rather than muscles is important in terms of how our brain works.  When we walk, our brain doesn’t say, “Fire the glute max, and medius, now the semimembranosus, now the semitendinosis, biceps femoris, now the gastroc, soleus…”  The brain says, “Extend the hip.”  The brain has a map of our movement patterns and it executes our movements based on that map.  An analogy might be a song.  When we hear a song we hear a song.  We typically don’t listen to the individual instruments absent the other instruments.  We hear a cohesive, coordinated song. While it may be appropriate and necessary to analyze individual muscles in some therapeutic processes, remember that our brain drives our movements via coordinated patterns.  Very typically our pain and dysfunctional movement is due to faulty movement patterns in our brain.  The FMS strategy helps restore those patterns.

Mobility first.  Stability second.

World-class mobility and stability

Gray Cook discusses developmental movement from infancy on up.  Babies start as helpless, wiggly blobs with no balance or coordination of any sort.  At some point in their lives they may become gold-medal gymnasts, top professional tennis players, surfers, piano players, chansaw jugglers, stilt walkers–who knows what?!  In other words they go from a highly mobile yet uncoordinated state to a much more stable and coordinated state.  This ability to blend mobility and stability into movement is called motor control. (Unfortunately due to the Western lifestyle which is chock full of sitting, these former masters of motor control often turn into weak, rigid, unbalanced, uncoordinated zombies racked with pain.  It’s not simply “age” that robs us of motor control.  We choose to avoid moving–and then we become unable to move well.)  The big point here is mobility precedes stability, and we certainly need both.

It’s important to understand that joint stiffness isn’t the same as stability.  A joint often stiffens due to injury or lack of movement.  If we are unable to effectively stabilize a joint, then that joint may stiffen as a sort of a plan B by the nervous system.  A stiff, poorly moving joint is not a healthy joint.  Why?  Primarily a stiff joint brings on poor proprioception.  In the grand scheme, a stiff joint is a poor transmitter of information to the brain, and a poor receiver of information from the brain.  It doesn’t pay attention well.  If you have trouble standing on one leg, it’s very likely that one or more of your joints are stiff.  For an illuminating discussion of the mobility/stability concept, please read the Joint by Joint Approach from Gray Cook.  The concept was born out of the observation that as we look at the skeleton from the ground up, we tend to see an alternating pattern from joint to joint in which one joint tends to be stiff and the next joint tends to be loose and sloppy. It might be a bit technical for some people but the big chunks of information will be digestible for most and it’s a very powerful concept when thinking about movement dysfunction.


Might an asymmetry be hiding in this athlete?

A key part of the FMS is the recognition of and correction of asymmetries. Often when someone goes through the FMS we’re able to expose asymmetries in range of motion (ROM), balance, coordination, strength, etc. One side of the body is good at a movement while the other side isn’t.  (The half-kneeling exercise often exposes an asymmetry.) Typically the test subject has no idea the asymmetry exists. He or she has been moving through life unconscious that they’re lopsided and out of whack.  In other words, we’re helping create awareness.


But why do we care about asymmetries?  Think about this: If we go to perform a squat, a deadlift, a jump, a press–some sort of movement that requires strength, power and coordination–but we’ve got one side of the body that can’t handle the job, do you think at some point we might incur an injury?  If one side is mobile, stable, and strong while the other side isn’t, what do you think might happen?  Could we see a situation where lifting something off of the ground might cause some weird torquing forces through the hips or spine?  Hello herniated disk.

Next I’ll discuss the corrective process and use some of my own issues as examples.

Gray Cook, FMS & Dry Needling


The true champion will spend more time working on weakness than showing off strength.
– Gray Cook, Athletic Body in Balance

Gray Cook

I’ve taken great interest recently in Gray Cook’s material including the FMS or Functional Movement Screen as well as two books by Gray, Movement and Athletic Body in Balance.  Gray is a physical therapist, strength coach and kettlebell instructor.  Much of his work focuses on identifying our weaknesses and improving our poor movement patterns.  He’s been in the fitness/rehab world for a while and I’ve known of his work for a while but just recently have I really dug into it and I’m finding it very fascinating.

Functional Movement Screen

The FMS consists of several movement patterns: the overhead squat, inline lunge, hurdle step, shoulder mobility reaching, straight-leg raise, trunk stability pushup, and rotary stability pattern.  These movements are fundamental to the way we move.  They combine elements of stability and mobility.  The purpose of the screen is to identify deficient movement patterns, asymmetries (this is a potentially HUGE issue) and pain.  If someone test poorly on any of these tests then we know what areas need corrective exercise.  This is a process of identifying weaknesses and making them strong.

Visit to PT Mike Kohm & dry needling

I wanted to get a first-hand exposure to the FMS and the clinical companion to the FMS which is known as the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA).  (The SFMA is used by physical therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, etc. to further investigate painful and dysfunctional movement.)  I looked up FMS/SFMA certified practitioners in the Denver area and I selected Mike Kohm of Neuromuscular Strategies.  Mike is a PT and a yoga instructor who has experience with runners and cyclists. When I made my appointment I had nothing much wrong with me.  I’ve had a little bit of right shoulder pain which has improved recently, but mainly I just wanted to see if there were any odd movement issues that I might want to take care of.  A few days prior to my appointment I strained my right hip flexor while running sprints.  Perfect time to see a PT.

I won’t go into every aspect of the assessment but it was a very thorough examination that did indeed expose some less-than-optimal movement patterns.  He ID’d some funny movement at my right tibia and we figured out more about my right shoulder.  We looked at some exercises to improve both areas.  Just a couple of days later and both areas are moving much better.

As for my hip flexor, he did some dry needling on the strained area. This procedure is similar to acupuncture but it doesn’t rely on quite the same method.  It involves inserting an acupuncture needle into a tight, spasming muscle.  Sound like fun?  It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, though it wasn’t any party either.  I felt a stick and then a sudden but very brief cramp and then the muscle relaxed.  Mike used the needle in three spots.  It definitely felt better afterward.  Mike said he thought dry needling could cut down by half the healing time for strained muscles.  Sounds good to me.

FMS Self-Assessment & the Bretzel

Finally, there are a lot of interesting and informative Youtube videos discussing the FMS and corrective strategies.  Here are a couple.  The first is an abbreviated version of the FMS that you can use to evaluate your own movement patterns.  The second is a very useful thoracic spine mobility drill known as the Bretzel.  There are two versions of the Bretzel.  These drills can be quite useful in addressing shoulder pain among other things. Try some of this stuff out and see what happens.