What is the Functional Movement Screen?

By Diane Vives, MS, CSCS-D, NSCA-CPT, FMS – November 1, 2016
Photography by Brian Fitzsimmons

No matter who you are or what your experience, is there is one thing we can all certainly agree on: Movement dictates the way we live—all day, everyday.  Since 1995, the mission of the founders of the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is for everyone to move well and move often. The founders and now-certified FMS professionals across the globe implement this mission to a span of groups from professional athletes to fitness enthusiasts to rehabilitation clients who need a better focus of return to activity after an injury.  

Early in my career, I remember training a young, developing athlete whose parents were looking to give him the best opportunity to make the basketball team. Josh was 15 years old and certainly was not the most naturally gifted athlete, but he was a kid with the biggest heart who inspired me every time he walked through the door because of his spirit and determination. Certainly a kid I didn’t want to let down. It turned out Josh really struggled to perform basic squats properly, and other coaches had already inundated him with tons of stretching exercises. Being a young strength and conditioning coach myself in 1998, I was studying many techniques on functional training and movement development to improve my training Techniques. I was trying all kinds of squat variations and functional training exercises in hopes to improve Josh’s squat. If you think about the game of basketball, it is basically a series of explosive squats and dynamic squatting type movements (jumping and athletic stance). It was very slow going and seemed as if we were never going to make progress. At this time, I personally did not know about the FMS.  

Fast-forward several years, and many athletes like Josh later, I now understand that Josh probably didn’t have the fundamental prerequisites of mobility and stability to perform a functionally viable squat. From the time I started using the FMS in 2007, I have worked with many similar athletes and fitness clients who have had similar movement roadblocks. By using the systematic approach and feedback of the screen, I can better identify opportunities to address weak links that may be causing poor movement. My heart is in this profession to help people, and good movement can truly change lives and change life experiences and expectations.  

What is exactly is the FMS? It is a simple and quantifiable system of seven fundamental movements that are scored and used to identify your current movement ability. The scoring results are then used to direct training decisions to optimize outcomes for all levels of training, fitness or sport goals. FMS lets us know when there is an opportunity to address a weak link in the fundamental movement baseline that will improve your ability to adapt and be more durable in all aspects of training, ultimately cutting a shorter path to your training goals by removing unnecessary roadblocks. 

The FMS contains two mobility-biased patterns that allow us to look at lower body mobility and upper body mobility.

Now the order of the movement patterns just discussed are given in the order as they appear in our human developmental sequence. This is in fact the order that is used for corrective strategies to rebuild fundamental movement when a weak link is found by the FMS. But, when you are actually being screened, the order of the FMS is performed for time efficiency and flow of screening by taking you from standing movements to floor-based movements. See the following pages for descriptions and images of the following movements.

1. Deep Squat

2. Hurdle Step

3. Inline Lunge

4. Shoulder Mobility

5. Active Straight Leg Raise

6. Trunk Stability 

7. Rotary Stability

The FMS uses a scoring system that takes each movement and applies specific criteria to determine if the movement is in one of four possible categories.  

Score of 3 means they have met all the criteria as prescribed with no compensation.  

Score of 2 means they completed the movement with compensation.

Score of 1 means they were unable to complete the movement.  

Score of 0 indicates there is pain during the movement.   

These results are interpreted using the FMS Corrective Algorithm to allow us to determine the best next step for exercise programming and will be used as a continuous tool to direct future training.  

Currently, the FMS is a recognized, evidence-based movement screen that follows the mission started by its founders Gray Cook and Lee Burton to first move well, and then move often. And now it supports our mission here in Austin to continually take actions to elevate our fitness community and support active lifestyles of all kinds.  

For more information go to functionalmovement.com.

Keep reading to view the functional movements!


Attempting a score of 2.

Deep Squat

Purpose: While this type of full squatting is not often used in modern daily activities or sport moves, active individuals still require fundamental components of the deep squatting movement. It allows us to see the fully coordinated mobility of the extremities, the core stability need to properly connect position and posture in the torso, while the arms and legs maintain symmetrical positions. This total body, bilateral movement shows the multiple contributions of mobility and stability needed equally on both the left and right side.

Attempting a score of 3.

Keep reading for more functional movements!


Hurdle Step

Purpose: This movement observes the proper coordination needed during opposing movement in the hips while stepping into a single leg stance. This single leg dominant movement is essential to force transfer used in locomotion and acceleration activities. This movement challenges step and stride mechanics while maintaining an upright posture that displays proper core stability. The movement qualities here are prerequisites for running and sprinting mechanics.

Keep reading for more functional movements!


Inline Lunge

Purpose: This movement pattern is used in deceleration and change of direction activities. It demands a certain level of stability needed to support the stresses encountered during rotation, deceleration, and lateral movements. The narrow base requires the body to continually stabilize the pelvis and core while sharing the load on an asymmetrical hip flexion/extension position. The upper extremities are in an opposing position that mimics the natural counter balance position.

Keep reading for more functional movements!


Shoulder Mobility 

Purpose: This movement pattern represents the symphony of movement from the thoracic spine, shoulder blade, and shoulder joint to express a full range of movement in a reciprocal pattern. Although this movement goes beyond what is usually required in most basic activities, it displays the contribution of active control each of these segments provide for successful and sustainable range of motion in the upper extremities. 

The screen also uses two stability dominant patterns that display neuromuscular communication on different levels to stabilize posture and position of the torso to create a strong and fluid connection between the upper and lower body. 

Keep reading for more functional movements!


Active Straight Leg Raise

Purpose: This movement allows us to see the active flexion in one hip while the opposite hip is maintaining extension. During this movement the pelvis and core must initiate and maintain stability during the movement. This reciprocal flexion/extension pattern represents mobility in the hips and carries over into many other fundamental movements.  

Keep reading for more functional movements!


Trunk Stability

Purpose: This movement is commonly mistaken as an upper strength test. Instead this is a single repletion movement that allows us to observe the reactive core stabilization as the upper body initiates the pushing movement. This should be done in a manner that the position of the spine—as seen by the torso position—raises as one unit. This somewhat rigid stability shows the ability to create a strong connection and proper stacking of hips, rib cage, and shoulders needed to support many functional movement and positions. 

Finally, there are three standing movements that focus on total body, coordinated movements in order to observe the quality of integrated movement using different stances while displaying upper and lower body mobility that is connected with proficient torso stability. These three bases of support expand into many locomotion and functional movements required for sports and daily activities.  

Keep reading for more functional movements!


Rotary Stability

Purpose: This movement requires multidirectional stability of the pelvis and torso while combining upper body and lower body movement. This displays proper neuromuscular coordination and energy transfer through the torso that is required in many functional positions and movements. Its roots come from the crawling motion we learn early in a human sequential development.

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