This blog is an off-the-cuff response to an email that I received from a former student of mine. Some details have been removed for privacy, and others have been added for clarity, but generally, these are my thoughts on the Functional Movement Screen. In summary, it’s all about how it’s administered and what is done with the data; the context and environment must be conducive to utilize the information in a productive manner.
https://www.aaronchew.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/FMS2.jpg 1280 1920 Aaron https://www.aaronchew.ca/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/tian-ming-stamp-black.png Aaron2016-08-23 09:33:262020-08-16 09:37:54Is the FMS useful in a high-performance sports environment?
I was an exchange student in your KIN303 Lab. I’ve had a longterm injury, which only started to get better while I was in Canada, rehabbing with the FMS. I can feel myself leaning toward the FMS side of things and I just wanted to ask you some questions as you definitely seemed to lean on the strength side of things. The last thing I want to do is narrow my thinking this early on. I think it’s best not to become too one sided, already I can see there’s times when the FMS way is seems best and times when the strength way is best, but I still have so much to learn.
From you I just want to know what negatives you have on the FMS? And what makes you choose such a strength-based outlook? And then also what negatives you have on the strength-based outlook and the positive you have on the FMS side of things. I’d also be keen to look through a bit of your work (think you were writing a thesis) on strength based training. Appreciate your time.
The FMS/strength debate is a contentious one, so I wanted to make sure I had the time to sit down and give you a thoughtful reply. Firstly, it’s great that you’re already starting to think critically about these things early on. I’d agree with you that it’s potentially dangerous to become narrow minded, no matter what stage of your career you find yourself in. That being said, jumping in head first into a particular stream or philosophy is the best way to learn about it, so long as you keep an objective/critical mindset and don’t drink too much of the kool-aid.
As for my own philosophy, I hope I didn’t come across too strongly and give the impression that I’m very pro-strength and anti-FMS. They are two approaches to two distinct, yet somewhat overlapping, areas of sports performance. In my view, the “strength” approach falls in the realm of strength & conditioning in a performance setting, whereas the FMS falls more in the realm of rehabilitation in a more clinical setting.
I was influenced very heavily by the FMS for the first 3-4 years of my career. I took FMS level 1 & 2, and a number of semi-private mentorship courses before becoming an auditor and helping to facilitate and teach the FMS. The clinicians that I worked with are brilliant and taught me a great deal about the FMS and how the human body works. I’ve also been treated under its principles for injuries of my own, and I agree that what they do with rehab works. I’m without a doubt a better coach for knowing what the clinicians taught me, and I’m certainly glad I have the certification, knowledge, and experience with the FMS under my belt. Not only is it becoming an industry standard, my experience with it also allows me to speak critically about it with my colleagues if I need to.
In terms of any “negatives”, that all comes down to the context and how it’s being used. If all you have is a hammer, everything ends up looking like a nail. I’ve seen trainers try to forcibly apply FMS and corrective exercises in a high performance manner, yet they have no idea how to coach or program for sprinting, weightlifting, and other developmental aspects of performance. Correcting movement dysfunctions and improving movement quality certainly helps to a point, but past that point you run into diminishing returns and I’ve found the low threshold stimulus of common corrective exercises is not enough overload for the system to adapt. Also, there’s the notion that asymmetries exist naturally both among individuals, and within particular sports, and in turn may be required or advantageous for performance. So, spending time trying to balance these asymmetries out may either be counter productive or an inefficient use of time. In the high-performance environments, particularly in collegiate and professional systems, time is money; contact time with athletes is extremely limited, and the priority is to win games. Time is often better spent practicing the sport, or training to improve transfer to sport. You also can’t forget that taking time away from strength training in order to correct movement may put an athlete at greater risk of injury if an athlete’s strength levels are sub-par compared to his/her peers and they enter competitions weaker than their opponents.
One common way around the issue is to provide corrective ‘homework’ to a client. However, despite your best intentions to educate the client, some individuals just want to lose weight and get a good sweat on, and might get irritable if you have them doing low-threshold work for too long. The same goes for the high-performance athlete; the athlete may have performance goals that they may be required to hit, or they may need to prepare for a competition or event in a very short amount of time; spending time on corrective exercises in this regard may be counter-productive. The measure of a good coach would be how to effectively sneak in corrective work, while keeping stakeholders happy with what you’re doing. Or, is it possible to “correct” movement with strength work, which would be even better.
On the “strength” side, insofar as 303 was a “high performance strength & conditioning” course, I was attempting to convey that in order to improve in the “high performance” athlete (as opposed to general population), you must progressively load the organism in order for it to adapt and see an increase in strength/power. From my experience, I was indoctrinated so far into the FMS, that I was ignorant of the other extremely important aspects of high performance training, such as advanced periodization models, linear speed training and sprinting mechanics, tapering strategies, and getting hands-on programming/training experience with high level athletes and teams, which is ultimately where I wanted to be in terms of my career. I always say jokingly that I want to be a great strength coach and not a crappy physiotherapist. I’ve learned the FMS to an extent where it suits/exceeds my needs as a performance strength coach; if I wanted to get deeper into the rabbit hole, I’d become a physiotherapist or athletic therapist.
Apologies for the long email, but hopefully that answered some of your questions. To be honest, I’m still finding my place on the spectrum of FMS/strength. I have had experiences where I’ve banged my head against the while trying to apply corrective strategies when all the athlete needed was more strength work. Conversely, I’ve come across situations recently where very “strength-based” coaches have tried everything in the book to correct their athletes’ movements, and have come to me for a screening where the FMS found and “corrected” the issue immediately. Here again, I like to use the tool analogy; a hammer is a great tool, but you’re not going to use it to screw. FMS and strength training are merely tools in your toolbox; how and when you use them determines whether you’re a good or bad coach.