Does the “Functional Movement Screen” actually work?

HHave you ever seen someone at your gym squat or lunge with a marked rod or go over a rope-like apparatus as an instructor observes?

They were probably taking a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) test. It is one of the oldest and most popular systems for screening for injury risk and athletic performance using strength, mobility and movement tests.

The FMS website shares, “The FMS is our tool for standardized movement screening to see how a person, regardless of age, is moving in daily life. The test is intended to help coaches and trainers create better-informed strength and conditioning programs.”

“I find the FMS useful as a basic tool and a simple, quick way for clients to see their potential deficiencies and strengths,” says personal trainer Alexis Lynn. “We can then retest to see the improvements and see what’s working or not.”

But do Does the FMS actually provide reliable information? Unfortunately, the research doesn’t quite back up the claims.

In terms of predicting injury, multiple studies and systematic reviews have shown that FMS actually has no predictive value. For example, a paper using FMS on 257 collegiate athletes reported that it was only slightly better than a 50/50 chance (flipping a coin, basically) to identify those athletes at highest risk of injury. A systematic review flatly stated that FMS showed no power to predict injury.

Research on whether it can accurately predict athletic performance is less clear, but the same trend appears. A systematic review found only low to moderate evidence that adolescents scoring higher on FMS score better on physical tests of agility, running speed, strength, and cardiovascular fitness. A different systematic review found no predictive nature of athletic performance excluding the deep squat and in-line lunge tests.

So, what should FMS be used for?

Although using FMS to predict injury or athletic performance appears to be a stretch, the tool to be able to Used to assess movement quality, or how well a person is moving. Because tests mimic real-life movements (squatting, lunging, overhead reaching, stepping) and focus less on whether you’re able to complete the movement and more how You complete it.

“Simply bringing movement quality to the forefront of a person’s mind can be a huge win—in both the rehabilitation and performance worlds,” says physical therapist Jessica Lee. “Using FMS is a simple and relatively quick way to present complex topics in a relatable manner that people can physically experience as they go through the test.” Concepts like thoracic extension, or how well you can arch your upper back, are much easier to understand by doing them than just talking about them.

Are there more useful tests?

There are other tests that may be more predictive than FMS. For example, the Star Excursion Balance Test/Y Balance Test is used to measure side-to-side differences in standing dance. To do this, you stand in the middle of a grid and reach as far as you can in one direction. Studies have consistently shown that a difference in forward reach greater than four centimeters between the two sides of the body can predict lower body injury risk.

A landing error scoring system test may also be useful. But it’s a bit more involved—the person conducting the test records the participant as they land from two different angles (straight on and from the side) from a 30-centimeter high box, and then grades the landing on a point system. Research has shown that a possible predictive value, but there is still work to prove this.

Trainers can use force plates to measure various qualities during a movement such as jumping. And advanced motion capture systems are being developed to accurately measure things like center of mass and joint range of motion.

As technology continues to evolve and become more reliable, we’re only going to see more focus on objective testing to help us measure areas of fitness that can be improved. And it will only give us more information to put to good use.

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