How We Use the Functional Movement Screen in Our Small Group Fitness (Semi-Private Training) Programs

How We Use the Functional Movement Screen in Our Small Group Fitness (Semi-Private Training) Programs


Earlier this week, we linked an article from Functional Movement  Systems (Simplicity and the FMS) on our Facebook page, and noted that “at Catalyst, no one escapes the FMS, and our program is based around its results.” We got a few questions about what that means, so this article will go into some more detail about how and why we use the movement screen in our fitness programs.


First – What is the “FMS”?

The  Functional Movement Screen, developed by visionary physical therapist Gray Cook, is a simple 7-step graded evaluation of your movement patterns. It’s based on authentic human movement (What is Authentic Human Movement...) patterns like squatting, lunging, crawling, and reaching.

The screen has been used by the NFL, NBA, Special Operations, Police and Fire Departments, as well as at gyms and physical therapy clinics across the world.

How We use the FMS – New Clients and Initial Program Design

The FMS is almost always the first thing we do on a client’s very first visit to Catalyst. While the screen only takes about 15 minutes to perform, it provides a tremendous amount of information to our coaching team. We use this initial screen for a few purposes:

  • Minimize the risk that our program will cause injury—the FMS lets us establish what we call “red light, yellow light, and green light” exercises. For example, someone with deficient shoulder mobility might be considered a “red light” for overhead lifting, the idea being that if you can’t demonstrate a basic ability to reach overhead, we shouldn’t be lifting weights in that pattern. Importantly, the FMS lets us get specific—so just because you’re ‘red-lighted’ for overhead lifting, doesn’t necessarily mean you should have any restriction on squatting movements, for example.

The above example might seem obvious, but across the fitness industry, it is certainly not. Just a few months ago, we assessed a woman who had been experiencing sporadic back pain after her workouts. Her FMS revealed that she was deficient in her ability to stabilize her trunk, as well as deficient in her ability to squat. And yet the personal trainer she was working with (not at Catalyst, obviously) had her squatting heavy barbells on her back! This exercise would have been flagrantly “red-lighted” with a basic assessment, yet too often in our industry, trainers just jump right into exercise without assessing movement first.

  • Design a customized program, including warmups specific to that person’s weakest links—The FMS provides a specific hierarchy for improving or correcting a person’s movement, which lets us prioritize our efforts towards the “weakest link” which will have the biggest impact on someone’s performance. This is most obvious in our “movement series”—a set of 2-4 exercises we do as a warm-up to our workouts. We design these movement series specifically for each client, based on their movement profile.

    Along with other elements of our assessment, which may include evaluating rotation, breathing, gait, strength, and/or body composition, the FMS also informs the strength & conditioning exercises we select for an individual.
  • Set a baseline—since the Functional Movement Screen is quantifiable and reproducible, it’s a fantastic way to set a baseline for someone’s movement. We use this baseline as a point of comparison against future screens to ensure that our program is moving you in the right direction (make sure the screen is improving, or at least not getting worse, depending on the starting point).

This baseline could also be useful if you were ever to suffer an injury. We would compare your scores at the end of that rehabilitation process to the initial scores, and compare function before and after the injury.

  • Ensure no pre-existing injuries or painful movement patternsAt Catalyst, we promise to never offer you a fitness solution to a medical problem. If something hurts, you need a medical professional, not a personal trainer. The FMS gives us a very low-risk way to discover if you have any pre-existing injuries. The screen includes a wide variety of movements, all of which are performed without any external weight. If something is hurting you, we would much rather find out in the controlled and gentle context of the screen, rather than during a workout.

How We use the FMS – Follow-Up and Monitoring

In our Semi-Private Training program, we also re-screen individuals at least several times per year. Some individuals will be screened as often as every couple of weeks if they have multiple asymmetries, limitations or discussions. Others have a pretty clean screen, and will need less frequent re-evaluation—just a periodic check to make sure there are no surprises. As we often tell people: the FMS is how we start the conversation on movement, but it’s not the end of the conversation. Our coaches are monitoring members each workout, and providing feedback to the client as well as the programming team.

In our follow-up screens, we’re focused on a few things:

  • Re-Evaluate and Re-Establish “Red light, yellow light, green lights”To continue the example we used earlier, if someone was initially restricted from overhead lifting, but after six weeks in our program, they’ve corrected that pattern and can now demonstrate adequate shoulder mobility, we will lift the restriction on overhead lifting.
  • Ensure that the program is moving a person in the right direction—The re-screen is also an objective check that our program is on target. If something that wasn’t deficient in the initial screen has become deficient, we need to evaluate whether the exercises we’ve programmed for that person are appropriate, and/or whether other exercise or lifestyle factors are contributing.
  • Input into Program Design—Like the initial screen, follow-up screens also inform the clients program design. We’ll use this opportunity to adjust the “movement series” (an individual-specific warmup prior to working out) so that it will continue to attack the weakest link and best prepare the individual for exercise. 



The Functional Movement Screen is an incredibly powerful tool, and provides a foundation to the way we program and coach exercise at Catalyst. Since the screen only takes 15 minutes but provides a wealth of information, we can use the screen both at the outset of a person’s fitness journey, in addition to returning to the screen periodically to confirm that the client is moving in the right direction. As well as informing programming and improving movement patterns, the screen also massively reduces the risk of injury, since we’re able to discover pre-existing injuries in a safe way, and determine what exercises may be contraindicated for an individual. 


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