Movement Deficiency Vs. Movement Dysfunction

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In today’s post I’m going to dive into a discussion on how the Functional Movement Screen benefits me and my fellow trainers, as well as how it benefits the clients we work with. The bottom line when it comes to prescribing exercise programs for people is that you first have to know how they move. Their movement ability will dictate what they can and can’t do in an exercise program, and it will dictate what needs to be fixed before you can jump into higher intensity exercises. The Functional Movement Screen provides us with a tool that can be used to screen movement and determine where a client is starting in their exercise program, and how they progress through that program.

But I don’t want to spoil the whole thing now! Read on to learn more about how I screen for movement ability and why it’s so crucial when it comes to exercise…


A little over six months ago I had the opportunity to complete the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) Level 1 Certification. While the FMS is often a topic of controversy throughout the world of strength and conditioning, physical fitness, and rehab – with some people swearing by it, and others denying its efficacy – I found the certification training to be very insightful, and helpful to me as a trainer.

While my goal today is not to dive into the conversation of whether or not the FMS is really all it’s cracked up to be, I will say that from my observation the people who speak ill of it are usually those who don’t understand what it is and how to properly utilize it.

The Functional Movement Screen was designed as a tool to efficiently and effectively screen (not assess) movement competency in individuals. What I mean by this is that the FMS is designed to screen for problems in an individual’s movement, and provide a direction for the next course of action. Sometimes that movement problem can be dealt with using corrective exercise strategies, and other times, especially if there is pain with movement, it would be appropriate to send them to a rehab specialist.

You can think of the Movement Screen as analogous to health screenings. The goal of a health screening is to identify diseases before you have symptoms so that they can be better treated at earlier stages. In the same way, the FMS is designed to look at movement ability and identify movement problems before you have symptoms (i.e. pain). If you can treat these movement problems prior to developing pain with movement, you will have a much better chance at staying injury free.

That being said, the underlying premise of the screen is something that often gets ignored, especially in the world of personal trainers and strength & conditioning coaches. That premise is that not every client who comes to us is ready to jump right into our standard training programs. Rather, many people lack the ability to adequately control their body’s movement through the necessary range of motion to complete fundamental movement patterns, even in an unloaded context (i.e. without resistance).

So often, trainers think that the problem with clients who first come to them is simply a lack of strength and endurance, so if they can get them to squat more, deadlift more, push and pull more, run more, etc., they will get better. This is something I will refer to as Movement Deficiency. It’s the state in which an individual simply hasn’t trained their body enough, so a good strength & conditioning program will go a long way in solving their problems.

Unfortunately, this assumption misses the boat for a lot of people. The fact is that many clients show up to trainers with not only movement deficiency, but also Movement Dysfunction. Movement dysfunction describes not just a lack of strength and endurance, but an underlying problem with the individual’s movement ability. For one reason or another, they cannot move through a fundamental movement pattern without compensation.

This provides a big problem, but also a big opportunity for trainers.

It’s a big problem because the trainers who think that they can fix all their client’s movement problems simply by getting them stronger and more durable, often get their client’s injured or suboptimal results because they haven’t addressed the underlying movement problem. Simply adding challenge to a dysfunctional movement pattern with an external load or higher intensity won’t fix it, it will lead to greater compensation, and potentially injury.

In the same breath, this is a big problem for trainers and fitness celebrities who are putting out group exercise programs, exercise DVDs, group exercise classes, etc. The underlying assumption of these products is that people basically have the same movement and physical fitness problems, and they simply need to move more to get in better shape and feel better. However, what you quickly learn from screening and assessing many different people is that, while there are similarities, no two individuals are the same. No two individuals have the same injury history, exercise experience, and especially not the same movement ability.

No matter how experienced you are as a trainer, you can’t write one program that addresses the movement needs of fifty different people all at the same time!

With that in mind, you can see the problems that arise from the group exercise craze, as well as the mass marketing of fitness DVDs and exercise programs. Many individuals jump into exercises and movements that they are not ready for, and thus they ingrain poor movement patterns, which over the long-run lead to injuries.

This is not to say that all group fitness classes or programs are bad, as there are some programs out there that seek to screen movement and address movement problems before throwing their clients into a group class. However, by and large the goal of group fitness and mass marketing of fitness programs is to make money, not to provide an optimal training experience.

On the other hand, there is also a big opportunity for trainers here, because if they can identify and address a client’s movement issues up front, they will set their clients up for long-term success with a much lower risk of injury. They will also effectively separate themselves from the other trainers who do not do this.

So, one of the best ways that the FMS can help us is to serve as a standardized system which we can use to objectively screen clients for movement dysfunctions when they come to us. It gives us the criteria for determining what fundamental movement patterns are necessary, as well as the guidelines for what acceptable and optimal movement patterns look like.

When we identify a movement dysfunction in the Functional Movement Screen, we now have an objective measure that tells us what movement patterns may cause problems if you continue to push through them without correction. It’s these dysfunctional patterns that need to be corrected before advancing on to higher intensity exercise.

The FMS also serves as a basis for re-screening to determine if the movement corrections you’ve attempted to make have done their job. If I take someone through the screen four weeks after the initial screen, I can determine right away if what we’ve done over the past four weeks has worked, or if we need to take a different course of action.

There’s nothing worse than being unable to determine if you’re making any progress with the exercise program you’ve given to a client. This only leads to frustration, and a lack of clarity on the part of the trainer and the client. The FMS helps provide clarity when it comes to screening and correcting movement.

So, what’s the bottom line?

Basically, if you’re a trainer, or someone who prescribes exercise for individuals, you must have a means to distinguish between movement dysfunction and movement deficiency when you have clients come to you. If you don’t do this, there’s a good chance you’re trying to treat each client the same by giving them a standard strength and conditioning program without first addressing their movement problems.

Equally as important, if you’re someone who’s considering getting started with an exercise program, it would be worth your while to seek out someone who can screen movement and determine if you have any movement dysfunctions.

Without this crucial piece up front, an exercise program will at best be suboptimal, and at worst get you injured.

Movement ability is key, so be sure that you’re screening it first.

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#FunctionalMovementScreen #DavidDrinksFitness #MovementDeficiency #ExerciseAssessment #MovementDysfunction #DavidDrinks

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