Industry Interview: Chris McGrath (Part 1)
Today’s post is the first part of a fantastic two-part interview with industry leader Chris McGrath, MS, CSCS of Movement First.
Chris is a personal trainer, fitness educator and consultant in New York City with more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry. Among other events, he will be conducting a Functional Movement Screen and Corrective Exercise Workshop February 12th-13th at Focus Integrated Fitness in NYC. Having previously attended one of Chris’s presentations, I guarantee he’ll have some great information to share. You can register here if you’re interested.
For those who don’t know, the Functional Movement Screen is a seven-part test designed by renowned physical therapist Gray Cook to identify movement impairments so we don’t “put fitness on top of dysfunction” and get injured when we train. To learn how Chris assesses and improves movement, read on…
Chris, can you briefly explain the philosophy behind the 7 tests in the Functional Movement Screen?
The shorter answer is, the seven movements are designed to screen fundamental movement needs linked to all functional activities. At first glance, not all of the movements resemble everyday activities; the FMS movements are designed to screen the ability to coordinate appropriate mobility and stability in the right places at the right time. For example, the deep squat test doesn’t necessarily look like a squat you’d normally do, but it does screen a person’s ability to coordinate ankle, knee, hip and shoulder mobility, and stabilize in the appropriate plane while maintaining core/trunk stability. This ability isn’t something you can detect by testing each joint individually.
Each joint is required to have a certain amount of stability and a certain amount of mobility, and some joints are designed more for mobility while others more for stability. Generally speaking, the ankles, hips, thoracic spine and shoulders are designed for mobility while the feet, knees, lumbar spine and scapula are designed for stability. The seven FMS movements ultimately challenge mobility and stability through dynamic (but technically lower-threshold) movements. If we observe compensations in a reasonably controlled and stable external environment, what would make us think that we are not compensating when we try to perform more rigorous tasks in the less predictable world?
Suppose we don’t have the FMS kit. Can we modify the screen and still get accurate information about movement?
The FMS can be administered with reasonably little equipment. A dowel or broom handle, tape measure and some sort of wide tape (wide scotch or masking tape, athletic tape or even duct tape should work) would be necessary to mimic the seven movements that we do with the kit. A 2×6 about 3-4 feet long would also be helpful for scoring appropriately. The dowel would work for the deep squat, hurdle step and in-line lunge, and can also be used as the marker for the active straight leg raise. The measuring tape would be necessary to measure tibial (shin) length for the hurdle step and in-line lunge, and to score the shoulder mobility test accurately. The athletic/duct tape can be used to create the hurdle for the hurdle step (perhaps attached to two chairs or a doorway) and can also be laid down on the floor to act as a line for the in-line lunge if a 2×6 is not available. The tape can also act as a marker for the hand position in the trunk stability push-up. Lastly, the 2×6 can serve as the heel lift modification for the deep squat. A two-inch heel lift is necessary to accurately score the squat when the subject does not achieve a score of 3. The 2×6 can also be used as the standing board for the in-line lunge, as well as the tracking board for the rotary stability screen.
While these solutions are adequate, the kit does add two things: The first is a level of organization and professionalism. I am somewhat known for “McGyver-like” solutions, and that’s great in a pinch. But it certainly looks more professional when things appear official. The second advantage is that the FMS kit keeps you honest with the requirements for each movement. If the FMS is going to be part of a regular screening and assessment process, it may be worthwhile to invest in the kit.
Many people have multiple movement problems. How do we know where to start when correcting them?
That is the entire purpose of the movement screen. The FMS acts as a ranking and filtering system. By screening and scoring the seven movements, we provide an opportunity to objectively address the highest priority (or “weakest link”) first when applying corrective strategies. It is important to recognize the distinct difference between a screen and an assessment; the FMS is designed to screen and grade each movement without assessing. The screen tells us what later needs to be assessed. This is why we describe it as a filter: It filters out the biggest problems.
Each movement is scored or “ranked.” The movements are each scored from 0-3, and this ranking system tells us exactly where to start. Pain always results in a score of zero, regardless of movement quality, and this means a thorough examination by an appropriate practitioner is needed to ensure the pain is not something serious. Assuming there is no pain, the 1, 2 and 3 scores will tell us where to start. A score of 3 indicates that the movement was demonstrated at least once with perfection; a score of 1 indicates a movement that could not be completed once in three attempts; and a 2 is everything in between: It indicates a movement that was completed, but only through compensations.
The deep squat and the trunk stability push-up are the only bilateral screens. The other five are unilateral, which will provide a left and right score. Once we have completed the screen, the rest is simple: We address the 1′s first (the lowest score without pain). Then we look to see if there are any asymmetries among the 1′s. Asymmetrical 1′s take highest priority because asymmetries have been shown to be the greatest predictors of injury. Then, we work our way to the 2′s and 2′s with asymmetries.
To emphasize the point of a screen, we recommend screening quickly, but accurately. For example, in workshops, we often see practitioners get hung up on the squat because most practitioners are very familiar with squats. So, they spend a lot of time picking apart a squat with a score of 2. But often the subject demonstrates 1’s and/or asymmetries on the other six movements – which ultimately means the squat would not be the highest priority. This can lead to time wasted on assessing when we should only be screening. It essentially defeats the purpose of the screen to assess at the same time.
Another note: None of the movements are designed to be easy; we are trying to expose mistakes. If the movements were easy for most people, we wouldn’t learn much about them. At the same time, it is important to remember that we are not looking for 3′s across the board. The FMS is not a competition; it’s simply a screening process.
Great stuff and there’s even more to come. Stay tuned for Part 2!