Function Movement Screen: Why We Don’t Use It as Much Anymore

The only thing you lose is what you cling to. ~Nick Ng

Listen to what your clients need is far more important than what you think your clients need.

Listen to what your clients need is far more important than what you think your clients need. (Photo by Nick Ng)

It is very easy to get sucked into an idea or method and become attached to it. The belief manifests into your being and thoughts. We often see this in almost every aspect of our life: Galaxy vs. iPhone, CrossFit vs. Russian kettlebell swings, gluten-free diet vs. XYZ diet. When we become clingy to something, we tend to ignore facts and constructive criticism that may benefit us.

In the fitness industry, this is no exception.

I used to implement the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) heavily with my personal training practice, which is based on the teachings of various people whom I look up, including Juan Carlos Santana, Gray Cook, and Vern Gambetta. After five years of using it, however, I discontinued the system almost entirely.


In-line lunge: One of seven tests used in the FMS. (Photo by Nick Ng)

In case you don’t know what the FMS is, it’s a movement screen that identifies possible movement dysfunctions and body imbalances in clients, which may or may not increase their likelihood of pain and injury. Created in the mid-1990s by physical therapist Gray Cook, Dr. Lee Burton, Ph.D., and a few of their colleagues, it was a system to bridge the gap between physical rehabilitation and athletic performance. It may even serve as a tool to help physical therapists and personal trainers to communicate better if a therapist refers a client to the trainer.

When I was “married” to the FMS system, I thought this was THE way to train and assess people. However, there were several critics who said that the FMS isn’t needed nor is it valid. These critics include Paul Ingraham and Anoop Balachandran. (You can read their “skepticism” for more details.) At first, I disliked these guys for their criticism, and this negativity toward their criticism has been going for almost a year in 2012. However, after a period of reflection and understanding about the nervous system and its relation to the mind and body, I saw the value of their words and lowered by confirmation bias by a lot.

By late 2012, I discontinued relying on the FMS system alone because: 1. Reliance on any one system anchors my mind in the murky depths and provides little expansion to other philosophies and systems.

2. My clients don’t really care much.

3. More studies show that the FMS isn’t that reliable, such as in this study based on 934 Marine officers candidates.
4. My job as a trainer and coach is to listen to my clients and find out what they want rather than what I think they want.

5. There is more than one way to move, and the human body is very adaptive to move under different conditions — as mentioned often by my good friend and fellow trainer, Ryan Crandall of 3D Yoga.

Even though that anchor is gone, I still follow some of Gray Cook’s philosophy and use the FMS for new clients or returning clients that haven’t trained with me for a long time. In my practice, the FMS is just a quick check to see how well my clients can move, quick 5-minute assessment without getting nit-picky about the score or left-right asymmetry. It’s just a tool among many in my tool belt. When it’s done, we stick with the clients’ program based on the general movement principles, clients’ goals and fitness level and possible contraindications.

As a trainer and coach, our job is to enhance and educate movement that is specific to our clients. If we want to address pain and injury, we always refer out to a qualified medical professional.

After almost a year without adhering to any single protocol, I feel that I have more potential and flexibility to work with more people.


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