The FMS: Assessing movement quality to maximize performance and fitness

“First move well, then move often.”

-Dr. Gray Cook, co-founder of the FMS


When you develop an exercise plan, how do you know which exercises are best for you or your clients? Do you choose exercises based on how “hard” they feel? Or did you see someone do an exercise and decide to follow suit? Regardless of how you ended up with your current program, take a moment and consider this:

1.    Why are you doing what you are doing at the gym?

2.    How do you know those exercises are best for you?

In aide of faster fitness results, or to keep workouts “fun”, some skip over the fundamentals and progress to advanced lifting techniques too soon, or choose exercises arbitrarily without a thought for the correct use of progression and periodization.

Many of us have developed less than ideal movement habits. Unfortunately, if we add complexity or intensity to an already dysfunctional movement, we dramatically increase our propensity for injury. When we’re injured, we can’t train, and without training all other exercise goals (fat loss, muscle building, performance enhancement, etc.) will go largely unrealized. This is why injury resistance must be the top priority of any exercise program.

In order to maximize injury resistance, we must first master the fundamentals.  This involves the ability to perform fundamental movements without asymmetry or compensation, both of which place extra strain on our tissues and can predispose us to injury. Intuitively, it should follow that it be beneficial to perform an assessment to identify said asymmetries and compensations. This assessment should go hand in hand with our other fitness assessments to provide an accurate snapshot of an individual’s health and fitness needs before we jump into the exercise programming process.

Inexplicably, while physique, strength, and cardiovascular fitness have enjoyed long-standing attention within the fitness industry, there has been very little emphasis placed on the assessment of movement quality and injury risk, which, as we have now established, must be an essential step in the fitness assessment process.

Enter the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), a movement quality assessment tool developed by Dr. Gray Cook and Dr. Lee Burton. Initially used to assess the injury propensity of elite athletes, Dr.’s Cook and Burton soon saw the potential for using the FMS across all populations, both athletic and otherwise. Almost 20 years after it’s inception, the FMS is now considered the principle method of assessing movement quality and injury risk in the fitness setting.

Primary benefits of using the FMS include:

1.     Identification of factors that may increase injury risk.

2.     Direction of the programming process, which sets a clear path of corrective exercise to restore functional movement patterns.

3.     A baseline measurement to assess progress in movement quality.

4.     Helps re-orient and teach correct movement technique for most patterns performed both in and outside of the gym. 

The FMS rates 7, fundamental human movement patterns on a scale of 0-3, with very specific criteria applied to each score. This lends a degree of objectivity to the screen and ensures we have a clear priority set before beginning an exercise plan. Using the FMS we assess mobility of all the major moving joints of the body, as well as core stability and health of the shoulder and lower back (2common areas of pain) Furthermore, we capture an individual’s functional motor control—essentially how proficient you are in the 7 movement patterns featured in the FMS. These specific patterns have been identified as forming the basis of most movements we perform in the gym and in our activities of daily living; do these well and you can rest assured that you are ready for whatever your workout might throw at you. All of this can be done in roughly 15 minutes, which is an exceptional ROI.  

Without using some kind of movement assessment I believe we do a grave disservice to our fitness clientele and ourselves. We often speak of providing a custom exercise program, but without first assessing a person’s quality of movement, how can we possible know what they need? The FMS helps us answer this question by objectively scoring the individual’s functional movement patterns and teasing out their weakest links, which can then be addressed as part of a fully individualized exercise program.  This will lead to substantial improvements in performance and resistance to injury.

If you’re interested in learning more about the FMS, and how I use it to steer my exercise programming process, please visit or contact me directly.