Increase Movement with Functional Movement Screening Tests

In the world of athletics, everything starts with movement. An athlete’s ability to move in different planes is critical to their personal health and success as well as the success of their training program. Functional movement screening (FMS) is a process used to evaluate seven fundamental movement patterns executed by athletes without musculoskeletal injuries to illuminate opportunities to improve their movement. The screening is meant to place athletes in extreme positions where inadequacies in movement, including a lack of stability or mobility, become noticeable and therefore fixable.

Below is an analysis and explanation of how to take athletes through three of the seven movements (deep squat, active straight leg raise, and shoulder mobility) and how to improve deficiencies.

Grading Scale

The stability, mobility, and execution of each movement is graded on a scale from 0-3. An athlete earning a score of 3 demonstrates a perfect example of the movement with no deficiencies. An athlete earning of a score of 2 exposes some deficiencies and compensation at varying levels, but generally can get through the movement. A score of 1 is given to athletes who either cannot get through the entire movement or show extreme deficiencies and 0 is given when there is pain associated with the movement.

Functional Movement Screening #1: The Deep Squat

The deep squat tests shoulder, hip, and ankle mobility all in one. The athlete holds a dowel directly overhead with a shoulder-width grip and feet shoulder-width apart. The athlete will sit down into the deepest squat they can perform and hold for a few seconds during evaluation. Have the athlete perform a few squats in this position. Then have them perform the exact same movement but with their heels elevated roughly two inches.

Things to look for (what would earn a three):

Common deficiencies include athletes turning their feet out to get deep as well as leaning their torso forward. A perfect score would include their hip crease below parallel, a straight torso, and no foot movement.

How to fix:

  • Work on thoracic spine mobility to aid with overhead movement.
  • Loosen up hips with stretching and soft tissue work to increase depth of squat.
  • Work on dorsiflexion mobility in the ankle to help with squat depth.

Functional Movement Screening #2: The Active Straight Leg Raise

This movement highlights pelvic control and functional hamstring flexibility. It includes the athlete laying on their back with a 2×4 board behind their knees. The athlete will raise one leg up as high as they can while their other leg maintains contact with the board. The person screening will place the dowel in a vertical position along the outside of the ankle and use that position based on where it is in comparison to the dormant leg to grade.

Things to look for (What would earn a three):

If the dowel is between the pelvic bone and the mid-thigh, that would constitute a 3. If the dowel is between the athlete’s mid-patella and mid-thigh, this would earn a 2. A 1 would be given if the dowel is between the knee and the ankle.

Note: if the dormant leg comes off the board at all while the other leg is being raised, this could mean poor pelvic control.

How to fix:

  • Hip extension patterns such as hip bridges to help with pelvic control
  • Active stretching and soft tissue work to improve tight or inactive hamstrings

Movement #3: Shoulder Mobility

This functional movement screening tests for general scapular control as well as shoulder mobility. It will include the athlete making fists with both hands. With one fist, they will go overhead and behind their back reaching as far as they can downward with the palm facing their body, while the other fist will go underneath and behind their back pushing toward the other fist with the palm facing outward. The key is for the athlete to try to get their hands as close together as possible while keeping their ribs down and maintaining a neutral spine.

Things to look for (what would earn a three):

Grading will be based on the distance between the athlete’s hands and the posture they maintain. Before the test, measure the athlete’s hands and use that as a reference. If their fists are a hand away from each other or less, that would earn a 3, a hand and a half would warrant a 3 and even further would earn a 1. If the athlete’s scapula flares out too much or if they aren’t maintaining a neutral spine, this could bump them down on the scale as well.

How to Fix:

  • Serratus work including rowing and reaching patterns
  • soft tissue work to open up the pectorals and latissimus dorsi, improving general shoulder mobility and forward shoulder posture.


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