Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Three Dirtiest Words in Fitness

The three dirtiest words in fitness these days are "Functional," "Movement," and "Screen" -- especially when used in that order [1].

For anyone who's unfamiliar, the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is a series of seven functional movements (e.g. squat, push-up, lunge) designed to screen (i.e. check for) for pain, movement quality, and injury risk.

By providing objective criteria for scoring the various movements (‘0’ for ouch, ‘1’ for shitty, ‘2’ for passable, and ‘3’ for perfection -- all my words, not theirs) the FMS enables practitioners to establish a movement "baseline," as well as to identify mobility/stability deficits and side-to-side asymmetries, which can then help guide program design.

The actual FMS scoring system

Sounds like a great idea, eh? In theory, yes. But it’s created a whole crap-ton of controversy.

Some trainers are diehard proponents of the FMS [2], using it on all of their clients at intake and follow-up assessments for comparison to baseline. Others think it's complete garbage, citing studies that have found the FMS’s injury prediction capabilities to be moderate at best.

It’s true: in many of the populations that have been tested, the FMS doesn’t do a very good job of separating people who are at risk for injury from people who aren’t. Potentially due to having too few data points (7 screens × 3 points = 21 total points possible), it fails to do what it was designed to do. Yikes!

Why not just change the scoring criteria to better differentiate between performance on each test, one might wonder? Instead of scoring from 0 to 3, why not make it, say, 0 to 5?

It turns out that by increasing that number, you actually decrease the reliability of each score. This is because when there are 5 possible points it’s much harder to come to a consensus about what a ‘1’ is versus a ‘2’ or what a ‘3’ is compared to a ‘4.’

Even the most skilled testers may not give a particular movement the exact same score on a scale from 0 to 5. At that point, chaos would ensue, and the results of the screen would have even less meaning than they do now. No bueno.

All seven movements of the FMS

My take on the FMS is that it's a decent lens through which to view movement, especially for beginner trainers, and the seven movements comprising it are undoubtably important ones.

After all, just about everyone needs to be able to do a decent squat, push-up, lunge, etc. But the FMS doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about a person, like who their favorite superhero is or where they got those dreadful sneakers so you know not to shop there.

These jawns are tight.

Seriously, though, just because someone can squat like a champ without any weight (which is what the FMS tests), that doesn’t mean they’ll still rock a squat with a heavy bar on their back. And just because someone scores well on the FMS doesn’t mean they know how to run, jump, and throw properly, which is really what counts on the field or court.

To me, the FMS is a good starting point. Most trainers would agree that if someone can’t squat without weight, then they definitely have no business putting a bar on their back [3] or jumping around during sporting activities.

But the FMS isn’t enough. In addition to movement quality, movement capacity must also be probed. So one bodyweight squat looks good. What do 20 bodyweight squats look like (muscular endurance)? What do three reps of a loaded squat at 85% of one-rep max look like (maximal strength)? How about a squat jump (explosiveness)?

Recently, it seems as if the good folks over at Functional Movement Systems have taken note of the gap in their logic [4]. They’re in the process of rolling out a new screen, the FCS, which stands for "Fundamental Capacity Screen."

And so the saga continues. According to their propaganda promotional content, the FCS is designed to bridge the gap between movement quality (FMS) and sports performance skills by looking at things like crawling, climbing, carrying, jumping, and running.

Whether or not these are the best choices remains to be seen. One could make the case for a laundry list of tests that would likely provide useful (though sometimes overlapping) information.

Heck, you could even assess all of these movements!
Though I'm not sure why you'd want to.

In the end, from a practical standpoint, we trainers have a finite amount of time to assess clients (usually an hour but sometimes a lot less). If you’re on the lower end of the time range, it probably makes sense to use the FMS (or something close to it).

The more time you have, the further down the rabbit hole you can go. The key then becomes determining what the most useful tests will be for keeping the client injury-free and working towards their goals.

[1] "Moist" is a close fourth place.
[2] Especially if they’ve paid a few hundred dollars for the certification and testing kit.
[3] Sometimes a light dumbbell or kettlebell held at the chest in the “goblet” position as a counterbalance can actually turn a bad squat into a decent one, but that’s a different story.
[4] Either that or the financial well has finally run dry on the FMS, so they needed to come up with a new money-making ploy. I reckon it’s a little of both. Hey, everyone needs to make a living, right?

Share This