Functional Movement Screen

Welcome to the introductory segment of the Functional Movement Screen. This series will be published on a regular basis over the next two months. It was developed in partnership with Sean Griffin of Chicago Primal Gym, who is FMS Level II certified.

Author’s note: this series is based on the Functional Movement Screen™ developed by Gray Cook and Lee Burton. While I am certified by the organization, I am not affiliated with the FMS nor do I claim to represent its views. I encourage you to explore the official website: FunctionalMovement.com.

What is the Functional Movement Screen?

The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is a series of simple exercises designed to identify an individual’s physical limitations and asymmetries. It’s an excellent foundation for developing stable, efficient movement patterns. This will reduce your injury risk and improve your physical performance.

In this article, I’ll outline the basic structure of the Functional Movement Screen and discuss why it should be included in your fitness program, regardless of your age, gender, experience, or training intensity. Subsequent articles will provide the tactical knowledge needed to apply the screen to your workouts.

I’d suggest starting with the following introductory video, then reading the article for a more in-depth explanation.

Why Is It Important?

The ultimate goal of the Functional Movement Screen is to boost your physical performance and protect against injury. This is relevant to everyone.

FMS boosts performance and protects against injury

I’ve never encountered a client that did not have a physical limitation or asymmetry. To be clear, my clients are not rehab patients, but rather individuals from the general population. Most maintain a healthy lifestyle and think of themselves as “in shape”.

Physical limitations are often something as simple as a muscular imbalance or inflexible joint. Most have developed gradually over time and do not necessarily manifest as acute pain or disability. As a result, faulty movement patterns become the default and are often unnoticed or ignored.

However, if they remain uncorrected, these limitations can lead to serious movement dysfunction and an increased risk of injury. Further, they are almost certainly reducing the efficiency of your current workouts. This analogy sums it up:

“Think of it this way: Even if a car has a flat tire, you can still drive it pretty fast. But that tire uses up extra energy and will eventually distort the overall alignment of the car.” (ExperienceLife)

Fortunately, these physical limitations can be corrected. The first step is to identify them, which is the primary role of the Functional Movement Screen. Several studies have verified its efficacy for this purpose, including a 2013 meta-analysis by the University of Notre Dame.

The second step is to customize your fitness program based on your screen performance. This can be done using corrective exercises and other techniques, which I’ll discuss throughout this series.

After you complete these steps, you’ll be in a better position to master any type of movement. This will help you overcome training plateaus, build strength, boost endurance, and take full advantage of your body’s potential.

Screen Structure

The Functional Movement Screen is a broad term used to describe seven individual exercises (also called “screens”), which are generally performed in a sequence. These screens are split into two categories: Primitive Movements and Higher Level Movements.

Each screen requires minimal equipment and can be performed in any setting. The best results will be achieved under the guidance of a certified professional, but the screens are also possible to complete on your own.

Structure of the Functional Movement Screen

The first category, Primitive Movements, focuses on developmental patterns such as crawling and rolling. These rely on the basic and transitional function of the shoulders, core, and legs.

The first two screens in this category are often referred to as basic mobility movements. The next two are called transitional movement patterns.

  1. Active Straight Leg Raise tests alternating leg raising patterns while lying flat on your back.
  2. Shoulder Mobility tests reciprocal reaching patterns.
  3. Trunk Stability Pushup tests high threshold stabilization.
  4. Rotary Stability tests low threshold rotational stability in a quadrupled position.

The second category, Higher Level Movements, focuses on more advanced capabilities of the legs and core. Together with the Primitive Movements, they will provide a comprehensive look at your physical limitations and injury risk.

  1. Deep Squat tests the bilateral, symmetrical squatting pattern.
  2. Hurdle Step tests the single leg supported stepping pattern.
  3. In Line Lunge tests the split stance lunging pattern.

This section is a little technical, but don’t worry. I’ll discuss each of the screens in detail as we progress through the series.

Scoring the Screen

Your performance is determined using a simple scoring method. Each of the seven screens receives a 0, 1, 2, or 3. The total screen is scored on a scale of 21, which is the sum of your seven individual scores.

The meaning of each score is below:

  • 0 = pain in the movement (see a medical professional)
  • 1 = inability to perform the movement
  • 2 = movement performed, but compensation is needed to complete
  • 3 = completed movement with no compensation

According to multiple studies, a total score of less than 14 (out of 21) is correlated to meaningful injury risk. For example, in one study, 69% of NCAA athletes who scored 14 or less sustained an injury in the season (NAJSPT).

I’ll provide additional guidance on scoring as we dive into each of the screens in future articles.

Applying the Screen

Ideally, the Functional Movement Screen would be performed before you begin an exercise program. Many professional sports teams and military units use the screen in conjunction with a medical exam, which helps identify all risks that may impact an individual (FMS). I would suggest the same process to anyone beginning a new fitness program.

However, I realize that you’re likely already involved with a fitness routine. Fortunately, the FMS is designed to “plug into” any program, whether it’s CrossFit, yoga, running, or any other physical activity.

With my clients, I perform the screen during our initial assessment. This is a relatively quick process that provides the feedback I need to develop a customized training program.

From here, I prescribe 60-minute workout sessions that incorporate elements of the Functional Movement Screen. Here is an example structure:

  1. Soft tissue work. I generally use a foam roller, lacrosse ball, or stick to help loosen major muscles. The purpose of this step is relieve knots, adhesions, and other tightness.
  2. Breathing exercises, which engage the core, warmup the respiratory system, and boost mental focus. These are all critical to successful completion of a high-intensity workout.
  3. FMS corrective exercises, which are highly tailored to each of my clients. In future articles, I’ll help you develop your own customized routine.
  4. Dynamic warmup. This step includes high knees, butt kickers, and other exercises to prepare the muscles and joints for a high-intensity workout.
  5. Skill work. This includes the performance of certain lifts and exercises. The goal is to establish proper form, which is critical to injury reduction and optimal physical performance.
  6. High-intensity workout. It’s time to work! This step includes a variety of exercises that are designed to build strength, endurance, agility, and other components of fitness. I often incorporate FMS corrective exercises during the rest periods.

For my workouts (step #6), I tend to incorporate functional movements in a circuit format, which helps build strength as well as cardiovascular fitness. However, the principles of the Functional Movement Screen apply to any type of workout, whether you’re lifting, running, or even on the elliptical.

It may seem complicated at first, but these steps are actually fairly easy to incorporate into your own workout. This series will help you do exactly that. My ultimate goal is to reduce your injury risk, improve tissue quality, strengthen your muscles and joints, and accelerate your physical performance (no matter what level you’re starting from).

Next Steps

The next part of this series provides an in-depth analysis of the Active Straight Leg Raise, which is the first of seven exercises in the Functional Movement Screen. By the end of the series, you’ll have everything you need to identify your limitations, retrain your body, and achieve optimal performance.

About the Author

Sean Griffin Bio Picture
Sean holds certifications from Functional Movement Systems, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and International Youth Conditioning Association. Read his full bio or visit ChicagoPrimal.com. Email him at Sean@ChicagoPrimal.com.

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