What is the Functional Movement Screen?

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What is a movement screen?

The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is used to systematically rate and rank movement patterns. The FMS focuses on identifying significant limitations or asymmetries in movement patterns.

Why should we evaluate movement patterns?

Limitations or asymmetries in movement patterns can often correlate with an increased risk of injury. Since injuries can hinder training progress, or in some cases, cause regression, addressing these limitations and asymmetries is of great importance.

Many strategies focus on addressing individual parts of the body, rather than how the individual parts move together in a coordinated effort with the brain and nervous system in different movement patterns. The FMS therefore seeks to provide professionals with a standardized tool to appraise these movement patterns and screen for any serious issues that may increase the risk of injury.

Screening basic movement patterns ensures that an individual possesses a solid foundation before moving on to more demanding activities.

What are the benefits of the Functional Movement Screen?

The FMS provides fitness professionals with several benefits, including:

  • A standardized tool – The FMS helps provide a standardized and therefore objective approach to appraising movement. This standardization reduces subjectivity when evaluating the effect of exercise and rehabilitation on movement. This is important as studies have demonstrated how professional confidence in judgments can sometimes be unfounded.
  • Improve communication among healthcare and fitness professionals – A secondary benefit of having a standardized tool is that it improves communication amongst professionals working with the same person by providing a common ‘language’ and measuring system. A standardized measuring system allows data to be shared and analyzed more accurately amongst groups of people.
  • A quick method of identifying major movement limitations or issues – The FMS can typically be complete in less than 10 minutes, providing professionals with a time-effective tool to use with their clients. The FMS is also a time-effective tool for screening large groups of people.
  • Requires minimal equipment – The FMS requires minimal equipment, making it practical for virtually all professionals and populations to implement. This also makes it a practical tool for screening large groups of people.
  • Identify ‘weak links’ – The FMS is made up of seven individual screens. This provides a rich amount of information to help professionals narrow down possible issues in stability and mobility throughout the body. This gives professionals a good starting point for more detailed evaluations and assessments. This information is also valuable for professionals deciding on the best corrective exercises to implement with their client.

Who is the FMS suitable for?

The FMS is designed for use by all healthy, active individuals.

For anyone experiencing pain in any of the screens, the SFMA should be used.

Common mistakes and misconceptions about the FMS

Here are some common mistakes and misconceptions about the FMS:

  • It’s a diagnostic tool – The FMS is a screen, not a diagnostic tool. It does not tell you ‘why’ a movement pattern issue occurs, it only standardizes and measures it.
  • It can be used to predict performance – Though the moves in the FMS mimic exercises of the same name, proficiency in the screen should in no way indicate proficiency in exercise performance, especially under load. Scores in the FMS cannot and should not be used to predict athletic performance.
  • It can be used as a comprehensive tool for assessing injury risk – Limitations and asymmetries identified by the FMS can increase the risk of injury. However, there are many other possible contributing factors to injury that are not identified by the FMS – including landing mechanics, strength, endurance, poor agility, power or technical ability. The FMS merely evaluates basic motor control capabilities that often form a good foundation for high-level performance measures.
  • Focusing on the total score – When looking at the results of the FMS, the individual scores are what matters. Looking only at the total score can give you an incomplete picture of possible issues in an individual’s movement.

How is the FMS scored?

The seven movement screens are graded on a 3-2-1-0 scale, where:

3 – Unquestioned ability to perform a functional movement pattern

2 – Ability to perform a functional movement pattern, but some degree of compensation is noted

1 – Inability to perform or complete a functional movement pattern

0 – Pain is present. This is a problem requiring SFMA breakouts or a referral to a healthcare professional

The clearing tests are reported as positive or painful, or as negative or non-painful.

What does the FMS involve?

The FMS consists of seven screens and three clearing tests. The seven screens evaluate seven movement patterns. No single movement pattern is more or less important than the others as all seven are interconnected.

In the FMS, there’s no need to identify anything other than a limited or asymmetrical pattern.

Correct instruction and attention to detail will demonstrate asymmetry, as well as significant limitations in mobility and stability.

The goal of the FMS is to resolve asymmetry and serious limitations, which are identified by a score of one.

The first three tests of the FMS—the squat, the hurdle step and the lunge demonstrate the representation of core stability in the three essential foot positions humans experience each day.

They are referred to as the ‘big three.’

The other four tests in the FMS – the active straight-leg raise, shoulder mobility, trunk stability pushup and rotary stability – are referred to as the ‘little four.’ They help refine the information and represent more primitive function. Problems in these four tests may show or display compensation in the big three to some degree.

All the tests in the FMS look at mobility and stability, but there is a bias in the little four toward one or the other. The straight-leg raise and the shoulder mobility tests both have a bias toward mobility, while the trunk stability pushup and rotary stability have a bias toward stability.

Always focus on the little four first, all scores being equal. This is important when a person has low scores across multiple tests. In this situation, a focus on the little four is the safest and most effective way to progress with your corrective strategy.

The hurdle step, lunge, active straight-leg raise, shoulder mobility and rotary stability are split patterns because they are asymmetrical. These tests can be observed and appreciated in both a left or right pattern.

The squat and trunk stability pushup are straight-pattern symmetrical tests, since in these there is no opportunity to look at the left and right side of the body independently. When you observe low scores across multiple tests, the symmetrical tests should take a back seat to the asymmetrical, split-side tests.

After screening, you should plan the corrective strategy of a split pattern before a straight pattern.

With straight patterns, there is a higher degree of neuromuscular control. The split pattern will allow the corrective exercise strategy to magnify a functional asymmetry with mobility or stability challenges. A faulty straight pattern may actually incorporate an asymmetry from a split pattern.

Logically, all asymmetries should be managed before straight patterns are addressed.

Here are the seven screens and three clearing tests of the FMS:

Deep Squat

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The deep squat is used to test bilateral, symmetrical, functional mobility and stability of the hips, knees and ankles.

The dowel held overhead calls on bilateral, symmetrical mobility and stability of the shoulders, scapular region and the thoracic spine.

The pelvis and core must establish stability and control throughout the entire movement to achieve the full pattern.

Hurdle Step

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The hurdle step will expose compensation or asymmetry in stepping functions.

The hurdle step challenges bilateral mobility and stability of the hips, knees and ankles. The test also challenges stability and control of the pelvis and core.

Inline Lunge

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The inline lunge places the body in a position to focus on the stresses as simulated during rotation, deceleration and lateral movements.

The narrow base requires appropriate starting stability and continued dynamic control of the pelvis and core within an asymmetrical hip position equally sharing the load.

The inline lunge places the lower extremities in a split-stance position while the upper extremities are in an opposite or reciprocal pattern.

This replicates the natural counterbalance the upper and lower extremities use to complement each other, as it uniquely demands spine stabilization.

This test also challenges hip, knee, ankle and foot mobility and stability, at the same time simultaneously challenging the flexibility of multi-articular muscles such as the latissimus dorsi and the rectus femoris.

Trunk Stability Push Up

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The goal is to initiate movement with the upper extremities in a pushup pattern without allowing movement in the spine or hips.

The push-up movement pattern tests the ability to stabilize the spine in the sagittal plane during  the closed kinetic chain, upper body symmetrical pushing movement.

Rotary Stability

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The rotary stability pattern observes multi-plane pelvis, core and shoulder girdle stability during a combined upper- and lower-extremity movement.

It demonstrates reflex stabilization and weight shifting in the transverse plane, and it represents the coordinated efforts of mobility and stability observed in fundamental climbing patterns.

Asymmetrical Straight Leg Raise

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This pattern not only identifies the active mobility of the flexed hip, but includes the initial and continuous core stability within the pattern, as well as the available hip extension of the alternate hip.

This is not so much a test of hip flexion on one side, as it is an appraisal of the ability to separate the lower extremities in an unloaded position. This movement is often lost when flexibility of multi-articular muscles is compromised.

Shoulder Mobility

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The shoulder mobility reaching pattern demonstrates bilateral shoulder range of motion, combining extension, internal rotation and adduction in one extremity, and flexion, external rotation and abduction of the other.

Active Scapular Stability Clearing Test

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Done at the end of the shoulder mobility screen.

This clearing exam is necessary because shoulder impingement will sometimes go undetected by shoulder mobility testing alone.

Spinal Extension Clearing Test

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Done at the end of the trunk stability pushup test.

Spinal Flexion Clearing Test

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Done at the end of the rotary stability test.

WAIT!!!! Don’t Forget To Download Your FREE FMS Tools!

If you want to integrate the FMS into your own practice quickly and easily, download your FREE FMS Scoring Sheet, Verbal Instructions and Scoring Criteria. These tools will help you conduct the FMS quickly and perfectly, every time.

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