Imagine a test that gives you the answer to all the questions you’ve ever had about the way you move. The full on assessment of how you will perform, how you will move when you’re exhausted, a test on your every movement and how likely it will be for you to get injured in a given activity. A test that determines the sex of your next child…the age at which you die…it will give you a glimpse into the way you die. You open your eyes and see the light. The embodiment of Christ comes down upon you, tells you the meaning of life and you finally reach your moment of enlightenment. All is clear and your mind is forever at ease with where you are, who you are and every single question you have ever had is answered by someone other than Google. All because of the test.
Alright, that’s not likely to happen. At the same time there is a lot of stuff out there on the pros/cons on the Functional Movement Screen. For those unfamiliar with the FMS, it is a series of seven tests developed to screen and stratify individuals based on the way they move. It scores individuals on a scale of 0-21, demonstrating that athletes with a score of 14 or greater correlates to a lower risk of injury. It has been the basis of argument for many professionals and here, we’re going to dive a little deeper.
Why do people dislike the FMS?
There are a lot of coaches, trainers, therapists and individuals who deem the test worthless. One of the main complaints is that the FMS places human movement in a box. The idea that it is such a generalized test, comprised of movements unfamiliar and unrecognizable from a ‘functional standpoint’.
When was the last time you performed an overhead squat?
The tests in themselves are new movement patterns to 90% of the athletes screened. The setup and screen in itself is meant to essentially introduce individuals to movements that mimic functional exercise – the same types of movements that strength and conditioning programs provide to enhance performance. In that sense, you could test someone today and see improvement in their neuromuscular response by simply getting the reps in.
The test is not an accurate depiction of how you move in sport, creating wasted time in the gym. Imagine lining up face to face with a 250# linebacker, dropping your right shoulder driving from your hips while trying to secure the football with your dominant hand and stiff arm him with the opposite. There is so much that goes on in your sport that if you try to make a blanket screen to how you move, it doesn’t make sense. The relationship to your strengths and weaknesses is purely superficial the second an athlete steps foot onto the field/court/bowling alley.
There have been many individuals who stress the importance of improving your FMS score…when it is plainly stated in its mission that it is not meant to be used as a tool for performance. A lot of different places you will find the use of FMS used as a tool for ‘corrective exercise’, preying upon the insecurities of general gym-goers and athletes alike, triggering a fear of getting injured during something as simple as learning how to pick something up.
As an aside, pretty much every study that determines the efficacy of FMS agrees on the following:
Studies clearly illustrate its limited ability to predict athletic performance.
There has been absolutely no correlation found between FMS score and performance. Which explains my lack of ability to dunk a basketball.
Why do people like the FMS?
There is a lot to be said about the FMS being used for good. One thing the strength and conditioning community is truly missing are standards for movement. These general standards can be applied in a multitude of settings – everyone needs to have an understanding of how they move. They also need to be cognizant of how their body can move most efficiently, which the FMS provides as good of a general template as any other test for athletes.
It assesses your general health through movement. The test does provide a great deal of flexibility in determining the athlete’s joint health. With the various clearing tests, it makes it very easy as a health professional to say ‘hey, go see your Doctor before we start doing anything physical’. The medical field and the fitness field hardly ever see communication other than when someone gets hurt. The FMS has provided a decent platform in bringing together large populations of strength coaches, personal trainers and athletes to begin having those important conversations.
Finally, test improvement has shown a loose correlation to decreased injury risk as long as the professional knows what they’re doing while screening.
On the contrary, to predict injury risk in team sports, the FMS total score is supported by moderate scientific evidence. The majority of the FMS based intervention programs showed an improvement on general motor quality.
Your standpoint on the FMS should really not be polarized in one direction or another. There is plenty of research out there that confirms the efficacy of it as a predictor for injury. There is also plenty of research out there that confirms that a higher score on the test does not correlate to a higher level of performance on the field.
The use of the FMS is a step in the right direction in the realm of strength and conditioning. One of the missing links in the field is credibility and relaying health issues to Doctors, physical therapists and athletic trainers. It serves as a tool for purely screening – if someone’s shoulder hurts, you know to refer them to their Doctor before beginning a program. If there are stark asymmetries, that will be a red flag. I’ll never use the test or an FMS movement for power development. I’ll never use it to make someone faster, stronger or jump higher. In general, it does help to a certain extent accomplish the stated goals, straight from the FMS website…but it also shouldn’t be the only tool in the strength coach’s toolbox. There’s a lot more to a health program than if your athlete can’t score a 3 on the overhead squat.
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