The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is a tool used to assess a person’s ranges of motion, mobility, and stability at different joints throughout the body. It’s a common assessment tool used by personal trainers, physical therapists, and strength coaches. But how useful is it really? Should personal trainers use the functional movement screen?

What Is The Functional Movement Screen?

The Functional Movement Screen tests multi-joint movements in both the upper body and the lower body. The purpose of the FMS is to assess overall mobility of a client in these different movements, while looking for asymmetries, imbalances, and movement deficiencies. The key premise of the Functional Movement Screen is to uncover movement limitations and tightness, and to correct them before they lead to injuries or impaired athletic performance. A personal trainer can then utilize the results to improve the client’s functionality and quality of movement through proper training and rehabilitation.

The FMS uses seven basic movements for the test:

  • Overhead squat
  • Hurdle step
  • In-line lunge
  • Trunk stability pushup
  • Active straight leg raise
  • Shoulder mobility
  • Rotational stability

Scoring The Functional Movement Screen

Each of the functional movement tests is scored from 0 to 3. The higher the score, the better the ability to perform the movement. Here’s a closer look at the scores:

3 – Person is capable of carrying out the exercise with relative ease and fluidity.

2 – Person can do the exercise but with some limited function, or with excessive effort.

1 – Person is unable to carry out the exercise being asked.

0 – Person was unable to do movement due to pain; should be seen for medical evaluation.

The screening provides a score, with a median of 14. The score does not take into consideration any of the following:

  • Age
  • BMI
  • Previous injuries
  • Athletic experience

It’s not uncommon for a person to score differently when retested on the same exercise, which makes the retesting somewhat unreliable and untrustworthy.

The 7 Tests Of The Functional Movement Screen

For each test, you are scored between zero and three (three is the best and means you have no problems or pain doing the exercise).

Overhead Squat

In this movement, you will need to hold a dowel rod or broomstick above your head, making sure your arms remain in line with your ears. You will squat down as low as possible – making sure to keep good form the entire time.

What is the personal trainer looking for? They will look at your ankles, hips, knees, shoulders, and spine. The trainer wants to see that your upper torso is parallel to your shins, and that your thighs are horizontal. Your knees and the dowel must be aligned over your feet.

If your heels are not on the ground, if the dowel falls forward, if you’re twisting or leaning, or the squat is not deep enough, the move is considered defective.

Hurdle Step

In this movement, you are asked to step over a hurdle a bit lower than knee height. The dowel lies across your shoulders, and you step over with one leg. Your heel needs to touch the floor on the other side without losing your balance.

The test checks to see if your upper body remains neutral and your balance is stable. Poor execution of this move can indicate hip tightness and weakness.

In-Line Lunge

With this movement, you will do a basic lunge holding the dowel behind you. One hand holds at the base of the stick, and the other at the top. Your feet will be pointed forward, and in line with each another. Your back knees will touch the floor. You’ll do this again for the other side.

The trainer is looking to ensure your knees and ankles are stable, and to identify any weaknesses in your adductor and abductor muscles. If your torso moves forward or backwards, if your feet turn out or in, or if you cannot maintain your balance, the move is considered faulty.

Shoulder Mobility

In this movement, you need to make thumbs-in fists and put your hands behind your back. One hand will go over the shoulder, and the other reaches up the back from the bottom. The closer the hands are to each other, the better the shoulder flexibility.

The personal trainer will want to see the symmetry between the sides, if your shoulders are rounded, and how close together you can get your hands. He or she will also monitor for pain or tightness.

Straight-Leg Raise

With your back on the ground and arms to your side, you raise one leg as high as you can without bending your knee. The other leg must remain on the floor.

The personal trainer is looking to see the angle of the leg raised. The move is to determine the strength if the hips, and the flexibility of your hamstrings and calves.

Pushup

In this movement, you will do a pushup to see if you have core strength to maintain the stability of the spine. For men, the hands should be aligned with the forehead and, for women, the alignment is with the chin.

The specialist wants to see if your can prevent your spine or hips from drooping while you push up.

functional movement screen pushup

Rotational Stability

With this movement, you get on your hands and knees with neutral spine. You raise one leg and arm on the same side (6 to 12 inches). From there, bring the raised elbow and knee together to touch. You extend the leg and arms again and return to the starting position. You’ll repeat the move with the other side.

The specialist is trying to determine the trunk rotation, the alignment of your elbow and knees and if there are any differences in the sides. If this move cannot be completed, you can retest by raising the opposite arm and leg.

What Does The Functional Movement Screen Mean?

Multiple studies indicate that poor movement (as assessed using the Functional Movement Screen) and past history of injury are two risk factors for future injury. That risk is compounded in people with both of those factors.

A personal training client with poor movement and a past history of injury needs specific interventions to decrease his or her injury risk. A qualified personal trainer can perform that assessment, and implement an injury reduction program based on the weaknesses uncovered during the screening process.

Should Personal Trainers Use The Functional Movement Screen?

The FMS is a popular assessment tool, but my personal experience is that most typical beginning personal training clients will not have the body movement skills to adequately perform most of these screening tests well.

Your average new client will have weak core and hip muscles, tight hip flexors, and rounded shoulder posture. There’s no way a middle-aged client who is starting a workout program is going to be able to perform a proper overhead squat. You’ll be lucky if they can FIND neutral spine in the quadruped position, let alone maintain balance with limbs raised.

The functional movement screen is fine, but you won’t learn much from spending an entire session on it. Clients already know they are weak, un-athletic, and have weak abs and bad balance — that’s why they’re seeking your help. Showing them this from an assessment is 1) not news to anyone, and 2) just making them feel bad about themselves.

When you develop a good eye for postural deviations and movement compensations, you’ll be able to see a client’s weak links by watching them stand, walk, squat, and row. There’s no need for personal trainers to use the functional movement screen for entry-level clients who are seeking a basic fitness program. Athletes are a different story — the FMS can be a useful tool to show if an athlete is predisposed to injury based on the results of the screening. But for basic personal training, I say don’t bother.