What I Learned Taking the FMS

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This is what I looked like last Sunday after spending three days and 20 course hours taking the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) I & II modules.

That’s my face melting.

It sounds (and looks) like a bad thing, but I assure you it’s the exact opposite.

Sitting through 20 hours of anything can be daunting.1

Sitting through 20 hours of non-stop talk on anatomy, assessment, corrective exercise, and how much I suck at the Active Straight Leg Raise can be downright overwhelming. And to be honest there were times I was overwhelmed.

But this was easily one of the best 20 hours I’ve spent doing anything not involving a book, baseball, Star Wars, or chocolate covered strawberries. BOM CHICKA BOM BOM.

Trying to overview the entire experience in one simple blog post isn’t doing it any justice. But I figured I’d try to highlight some “big rock” concepts and tidbits of information I learned while everything was still fresh in my head.

Lets Do This

I’d be remiss not to first give a shout out to both Functional Movement Systems and Perform Better for putting on and running a class-act event. The two together are like peanut butter and jelly or Jordan and Pippen or Batman and Robin (<— without the weird sexual tension).

I’d also be remiss not to lend a huge kudos to the bandleader, Brett Jones, who was the epitome of class and professionalism the entire weekend. He’s like Justin Timberlake, only with kettlebells. And a 500+ lb deadlift.

He along with Mike Perry and Diane Vives did an amazing job coaching all the attendees up and offering their expertise. A slow clap goes out to all of them.

NOTE: From here on out I’m using bullet point format because what follows is going to be a massive brain dump that may or may not make any sense. Good luck.

– The “S” is the most important letter in “FMS.” It’s a (S)creen. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s NOT an end-all-be-all assessment. I’ve always used components of the FMS when assessing my athletes and clients, but always viewed it as the outer layer of an onion. If I need to peel back more layers and dig deeper with other protocols I will.

What does the FMS accomplish? In a nutshell: it ascertains whether or not someone can “access” a pattern.

– Simplifying things even more: the FMS helps to figure out if “you move well enough to do stuff.”

– The FMS can also be seen as a litmus test to see if someone is at risk for injury. Of course a previous injury is going to be the greatest risk factor, but the FMS looks at other things such as asymmetries, mobility, stability, and neuromuscular control.

A great analogy that Brett used to describe the process was to ask the audience whether or not smoking increases the risk of cancer? Yes. Does not smoking protect you from cancer? [Interesting question, right?]

Just because you do or do not do something doesn’t mean anything. The primary goal(s) of the FMS is to set a movement baseline, identify the pain or dysfunction, and set up proper progressions and conditioning to address it.

– Fitness professionals are the worst at testing. We overthink things. There’s no such thing as a “soft” or “hard” 2. There’s no such thing as a 1+ or 1-. The screen is the screen, and it’s important (nay, crucial) to hold yourself to the standards and criteria set forth by the manual.

I’m paraphrasing here, but either shit looks good – and meets the criteria for testing – or it doesn’t.

You can’t overthink things or start doing stuff like, “well, his heel only came up a teeny tiny bit, and only rotated 8.3 degrees. I guess that’s a 3.”

– We can’t feel bad for giving people the score they present with and deserve. It’s doing them a disservice in the long run. It’s just like Brett said and made us pledge as a group before we started testing one another: “I’m still a good person and am not a failure if I score a 1.”

It’s not the end of the world and you won’t be considered the spawn of Satan if scored a “1” on your Deep Squat screen.

Life…will…go…on.

 

– If pain is present…ALWAYS REFER OUT. If pain is present and persists, don’t just blame the hip flexors. Again, as Brett noted, there’s 32 muscles that act as hip flexors, why is the psoas always the culprit for back pain? If you do the screen, apply the correctives, and pain persists, it’s (probably) something deeper and outside your scope of practice.

Seriously, refer out.

But that doesn’t mean we still can’t train the athlete or client. As coaches we can usually train around any injury; we don’t need to keep everyone in a safe bubble where we just tell them to “rest.” To me that’s unacceptable and not an option.

– Take a gander at the Functional Performance Pyramid. Don’t worry I’ll wait.

If you decrease one’s movement capacity and increase their performance (make the movement block less wide compared to the performance block), that’s bad.

If you increase one’s movement capacity (think: yoga) and decrease their performance, that’s also bad.

We’re really good as coaches and personal trainers at building better engines (improving performance), but neglect to address the brakes and suspension (movement). Hence, people often break down sooner.

This is also another fantastic reason why the FMS is valuable. It’s helps you figure out where people need the most work/attention.

– Raise your hand if you feel the Active Straight Leg Raise is a great screen to test for hamstring length.

It’s not.

If anything it’s more of a screen for the “core,” and how well you’re able to control your pelvis. I.e., can you maintain extension on the down leg as you bring the other into hip flexion (and vice versa).

– The Deep Squat Screen (<—- bolded on purpose) takes place with the toes pointing straight a head. It’s not how we coach the squat in the long run.

1. Toes forward provides some semblance of standardization. It doesn’t make sense to allow people to externally rotate their feet (even a little bit) because that defeats the purpose. You allow someone to rotate 5 degrees, and the next person rotates 15. Like, WTF?

2. Toes forward also makes it easier to see faults and compensations in the pattern.

I literally had a “tense” exchange with a female attendee who gave me push back on making her perform the screen with her toes pointing forward.

Her: “Well I can’t squat if they’re forward!”

Me: “Then you won’t get a 3.”

Her: “Last time I went to this (she attended module I at a previous time), I was told we could point our toes out.2

[Relax, deep breaths]

Me: “Sorry but we were told otherwise yesterday. Toes forward.”

Based off her reaction you would have thought I insulted her yoga pants. With a little bit of a huffy attitude she reluctantly conceded and ended up with a 2.

I guess I’m an asshole.

– Corrective exercise is like boxing. It’s generally accepted that there are four different kinds of punches in boxing: the jab, cross, hook, and uppercut. The Five-Point-Palm-Exploding-Heart-Technique from Kill Bill didn’t make the cut.

 

You don’t need 500 different correctives to “fix” something. You only need a few and to OWN each one. Don’t overwhelm your clients with 17 different variations of glute bridges to perform before they go to bed. They’re not going to do them. Ever.

– Breathing is all the rage in fitness today. And for good reason: it’s something that needs to be addressed.

I’ve seen magical things happen when you help someone address a faulty breathing pattern. But pigging back off the previous comment about corrective exercise, you don’t need to get all fancy pants on people.

Showing your athletes and clients how to properly perform “crocodile breathing,” where they learn to get 360 degree expansion (and to not rely on their accessory muscles like the upper traps, scalenes, etc) can go a long ways in helping to set the tone on fixing stuff….even a straight leg raise or shoulder mobility.

Dumbledore can’t even do that.

 

How’s that for a super scientific explanation.

– You need to be RELAXED when you foam roll. We’re not deadifting max effort weight here. Chill out.

– Don’t underestimate the power of grip work (squeezing the handle of a dumbbell or kettlebell) to help improve rotator cuff function as well as shoulder mobility.

– You need a minimum of 30 degrees of ankle dorsiflexion to run well. Just sayin…..

– Here’s one of the best analogies I’ve ever heard with regards to overhead pressing courtesy of Brett Jones. When explaining the path of the DB or KB during an overhead press tell your client to pretend as if there’s a booster rocket underneath the elbow and that it takes the weight to space.

The path should be straight up, not to the side or in a zig-zag fashion. Straight up.

I Could Easily Keep Going

But I think that’s enough.

Needless to say I HIGHLY encourage any and all fitness professionals to attend one (or both!) of these courses if you have the opportunity to do so. I learned a ton and there’s no reason to suspect you wouldn’t either.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  1. Unless we’re talking a Lord of the Rings marathon or a workshop on chokeholds.

  2. Funnily enough, I also overheard her the following day explain to a few people about a WOD workout she has some of her clients do to “flush out” lactic acid the next day. Um, 1995 called and wants its fitness myth debunked.

  • Brent

    Awesome review Tony.

    I took the level 1 and 2 with Bret here in Seattle a year or so ago. He’s a swell individual for sure and is stupid strong. What’s interesting as heck is how he makes it look so damn easy (as is evidenced by that pic in this blog). When I was at the seminar I recall Brett correcting several people (might have been me too. That’s a lie I’m perfect) because they were tensing up like a mofo when they were going through the screens. Several looked like they were about to have a baby with the overhead squat. Goes to show how we can compensate in so many ways and pretty much ‘lock’ ourselves down to do a movement (compensations through facial expressions is huge). Babies are laughing at us adults. They pop and drop it with effortless ease, while were having hernias doing basic unloaded fundamental moves. And of course they do it with a smile on their face

    FMS is all the rage these days (and for good reason) but like your experience shows, some people simply don’t understand how important set-up is (I’d just refer that person to the manual and leave it at that 🙂 I don’t know how many people I have seen tell me or put a client through the rotary stability screen and say it is just a bird dog or in the deep squat allowing rotation at feet, or with ASLR and allowing more rotation as one leg comes into hip flexion. I wish people would take more time just to learn the system and how to do it the right way. Your cert. means nothing if it doesn’t help your client. I bought all the ‘secrets of..’ dvd series (that brett and gray are in) that really expound on the correct way to screen and some really awesome correctives. I highly recommend the secrets of the core and shoulder. Screw it, all are good.

    Really Interesting too because I’m diving into a little PRI right now (I like to refer to it as grad school of FMS), and in the LAIC pattern the left hip is generally anteriorly rotated relative to the right hip. This has relevance to the FMS because it might give way why someones left ASLR is less than the right ASLR. In an ideal world I would FMS (to get a baseline), PRI them (to get them neutral) and then re-FMS then to see if my FMS score changed. Then do a BOSU ball squat circuit obvi 🙂

    Finally, Id give FMS seminars a 9.96/10. The one thing I wish they would spend a little more time on is how to communicate to your clients. Telling someone they are ‘dysfunctional’ or implying your positive clearing exam means your spine is about to explode creates more problems than it solves. Finally your clients should feel success even with the awkwardness of the screen. I like the simplicity of the FMS, but now with it being more popular I think trainers need to take a step back and really understand the system and limitations of the screen and not oversimplify it or worse yet start diagnosing people. I really wish the exam required you to perform a live screen on someone. Logistically tough to do, but might weed out those who just want a cool FMS paper to hang on their wall.

    Blowing up your wall again Tony 🙂

    • TonyGentilcore

      Excellent review yourself Brent! Thanks for sharing your experience, and happy to hear you’re exploring other avenues as well (PRI).

  • Spencer Storer

    Really great stuff. I (like some I presume) sat transfixed during many of the things I learned this weekend. I feel like my whole world has been turned upside down. I’ve been religous with the weights and fitness since 18. it’s who I am. It’s what I do. I finally decided to make a career of this passion after 13 years in the insurance industry. I received certifications from NASM and crossfit and then got a job at my local gym. I learned quickly I knew nothing. My anatomy needed a big refresher (still on going, constant). I expected to see guys like me coming in. Guys who enjoyed training and really enjoyed pushing themselves. But that’s not who came. Old people came. Broken people came. Obese people came. Some of them hardly took the training seriously. Some would text while I’d talk. Some clearly weren’t going to amend their diet, and coming in once a week to meet me and sweating wasn’t going to help them get “toned”. I began to wonder what the hell I’d done. I was searching for a system. A way to program people. And then I took FMS this weekend. And while it didn’t all sink in right away (and still hasn’t I have loads to learn) I did feel late Sunday the ideology sunk in. Much of my anxiety had lifted as I headed into work that Monday morning ready to screen my clients. I’m still at a point where I feel like the more I screen the more I learn. But at least now I have a way of putting clients in positions where even they say “What’s wrong with me?”

    • TonyGentilcore

      Glad you enjoyed yourself last weekend Spencer, and that you took a lot away with you.

      Just remember that as much as the FMS is the bees knees, it’s just a STARTING point.

  • Kris Camelio

    Tony you’re hilarious and you have a Dan-Johnlike knack for simplifying vast things and packaging them so that we simple folk can better understand them. That anecdote about the out-toed fitness professional really struck a chord with me: I was at a seminar one time and there was some poor personal trainer stuck in extension who kept trying to claim he knew better regarding spinal biomechanics than the great Dr. Stuart McGill. The world needs more people like you and Mike Perry who allow us to understand the benefits of simple, accessible yet profound things like standardizing data and quadruped rocking. Thank you!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Comparing me to Dan John??????? Come on. Lets not get too crazy.

      But thank you.

      Giving credit where it’s due: Mike Perry was THE MAN when it came to keeping people honest on testing. No deviating what-so-ever with that guy watching….;O)

  • Danny Twoguns

    Very good points, overall review and a good read.

    Random thought I cant help but ask – how had you gone/why did you go so long without taking either of those courses?

    • TonyGentilcore

      I went because I wanted to and felt it was about time I took the course(s) to get more of a hands-on “feel” for the testing and cueing.

      Part of not going was just due to having the time to do it. To take three full days off of work is no small task and takes a little planning…;o)

  • Adam Trainor

    I wasn’t going to read this article, just scan it, but every time I sit down to read something from TG I get sucked in and want to get every little part. Especially chocolate covered strawberries. Funny thing about the squat test anecdote and the attendee’s toe direction. As fitness people, and by “fitnes people” I mean people who work out, we really have to stop treating the gym like it’s some test we may fail. It’s lab time. It’s really difficult to tell a group of people that usually have some ego issues from the get-go to turn off the “I’m gonna win all the things” attitude. Thanks for another good one, Tony.

    • TonyGentilcore

      And I should note that the woman who I referred to in the article was a lovely woman overall. She just didn’t like to be told to put her toes forward….haha.

      Thanks for the kind words Adam, glad you enjoyed it.

      • Adam Trainor

        Thanks back TonyGentilcore. Show me the determined person who likes to be told to do anything, and I’ll show you someone who isn’t competitive. I think coaching other coaches has to be the most thankless work in the world. Best served with coffee.

  • Andrea Rodgers

    I’m sharing this with my trainers at work. Great article, Tony, as usual!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Andrea.

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