General Tools for Specific Results Part I

In a field where there are so many different ideas, methods, theories, practices-whatever you want to call it- there is even more controversy in regards to what you should or shouldn’t do.  At the heart of the arguments for many coaches of physical preparation is the Functional Movement Screen (FMS).  The FMS is sort of the country music in performance training: you either love it or hate it. There aren’t many people in the middle.  If you do not know what the FMS is I’d like to invite you out from under your rock and tell you to take a look at it.  These seven “tests”, and I use that term loosely, are just what the title says- a screen.  The primary goal of the FMS is to hopefully find nothing dramatically wrong with an athlete. Honestly I think that’s where a lot of people miss the boat (but that’s for another day).  

The second purpose with the FMS is to see if anything hurts.  If your athletes have pain with any of these screens get them to your ATC-L and/or a doctor to see what’s really going on.  The third goal is to find what the athlete has issues with.  It could be a musculoskeletal imbalance, the inability to perform a general movement pattern, a stability problem, or a mobility issue.  Notice this is the third objective as I see it.  I can tell you from experience that more often than not, your athletes are going to score 2’s, which means it’s not perfect, but it’s average. The big question now, and the reason I have Mike Robertson on our speaking docket this year, is what do you do with an FMS score?  How can you continue to improve performance? By that, I mean how can you still actually train based on what their scores are?  Today I’m going to give you my interpretation of this, how I handle it, and where I can see it going in the future.

I sat in the 1 day FMS class in 2009 with Danny Raimondi, who at the time was my assistant.  Dr. Lee Burton taught the course and it was truly eye opening.  I was drinking the FMS Kool-Aid more than a frat boy doing keg stands on a Friday night.  We screened everyone, had corrective strategies for each athlete based on the teams’ average scores and their individual scores.  It was awesome.  I then took a step back and noticed we were spending a lot of time on this, and consequently, much less time training.  I didn’t like this, so like any other performance coach, I freaked and cut it back. Way back.  We kept in some of the corrective work, but definitely did not focus much on it.  That leads me to this past Tuesday.  I was sitting in my office that has the FMS charts all over the place after a group with our Men’s Basketball team and I had an “ah-ha” moment.  Watching our specialized exercises, I noticed some guys had issues getting certain positions, some had issues holding it for multiple reps, and some had no issues at all.  It slapped me in the face like a Jon “Bones” Jones spinning elbow: a simple, effective way of implementing corrective exercises.      

I need to give a side note before I get into this.  Gray Cook and Dr. Burton are a LOT smarter than I am.  They understand this system in ways that I’m sure I’ll never be able to comprehend.  With that being said though, they are not strength coaches.  Gray is a PT while Lee is a Ph D and the director of Athletic Training at his university, and, as such, they wear a different hat than I do.  I’m not completely sold that you will ever “fix” someone due to the number of perfect repetitions it takes to “rewire” the nervous system.  What I am sold on is that the “corrective means” help you immediately after you perform them.  They help with your general exercise technique.  That thought is what slammed me to the ground like Hulk slammed Andre The Giant in 1983 (yes Charlie that’s a wrestling reference).        

What if we took a step back after we screened our athletes and looked at the scores vs our programming?  After this, what if we found where we should implement the corrective exercises to help improve performance of the exercises that we know will help improve the athlete’s performance in competition?  I can give you a simple example.  If you follow what Dr. Yessis teaches you will know that the pawing action in running needs to be improved to increase top end speed.  Looking at the pawing action in running, there are general exercises that help improve this (good morning and back raise).  Now “zooming” out even more, what FMS “tests” are similar to these?  The Active Straight Leg Raise (ASLR).  Ok, great, so now what?  Well, while “warming up” to your working set/sets you would incorporate the corrective exercises.  If it helps the ASLR, and the ASLR is the general pattern of the exercise performed, can you conclude that the general should assist the specific and therefore improve the ability to perform the movement?  I think so.  What about bigger movements, like say, the squat?  This is tricky, but I think that this will make a bit of sense.  Proper mobility builds stability. I think we can all agree on that.  I also think we can all agree on the idea of us not wanting to “fatigue the core” prior to squatting. With that in mind, we look at what tests will improve mobility, or work on the imbalances in mobility first as we warm up.  

First would be the imbalance: a different score on the ASLR, shoulder mob, lunge or step over would be attacked first.  Second would be if the athlete has a 1 or 2 in the ASLR or shoulder mob- I’d attack that during the warm up.  You can also incorporate “general” work in their warm up to the exercise as well based on what you know about athletes in the particular sport.  Using basketball as the example again, there’s a really good chance that they have poor ankle mobility and tight hip flexors.  Those two are limiting factors in squatting so everyone does some ankle mobility work and hip flexor stretching before their first warm up set.  I typically tell my guys they need 4 warm up sets, though I do not prescribe loads and reps for them.  The “warm up prescription” is typically, “get there in 4, be smarter than dumb.”  I do prescribe what they need to do when they’re not under the bar, however.

I realize that everyone loves a tasty beverage and that people want to feel like they “belong”, but before we get on a sugar high from all the Kool-Aid and get married into a specific camp on training we need to look at what we are doing and how we are actually impacting the athlete.  What can we do to actually help them get better at their sport?  At the end of the day that is what our job is.  I feel that is a way to make improvements in training and the ability of the means to have a positive transfer.  In the next part of the series I will go describe how I use the “corrective exercises” with general exercises; in the third part, I’ll discuss how I’ve applied more specific means towards the training of basketball players, and how you might include these exercises into your own sports.

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