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Movement screening: what it is & how it helps athletes

Heard of functional movement screening (FMS) and movement competency screening but unsure about what exactly they are and how they can help triathletes? Top Kona age-grouper and physiotherapist Alison Wilson, and sports performance specialist Dr. Matt Kritz PhD explains all you need to know

Do I really need a movement screen?

Let’s reframe the question, are you someone who…

  • Wants to be in good physical condition to cope with variability in training load?


  • Trains regularly and wants to make sure their training is contributing to performance and not mechanisms of injury?


  • Has a reoccurring niggle or injury and wants to know whether its related to your movement competency?


Or think of it this way… We as athletes, (especially triathletes) love investing money on the latest pieces of technology to make ourselves become more efficient and ultimately, to race faster. Some, love spending hours cleaning their bikes and racking them in a prize position on the wall. Funny how we ‘have’, or ‘make’ the time to do this, yet struggle to find time to take care of ourselves to enable us to continue to do what we love. 

An athlete's body is their engine, chassis, and frame. The most important and potentially efficient ‘piece of kit’ you have. It’s been tested and retested for over 1 million years, and self-identified its flaws, evolving to meet the demands of the world; just as we evolve to meet the demands of training load and exercise. Yet one side effect in human evolution is that as humans, we move toward strength and away from weakness. Therefore, like the bikes you ride, shoes you run in or cars you drive, your bodies need an ‘MOT’ to better understand how you are adapting to the training and physical stimulus you are engaging in to ensure you maintain performance and prevent breakdown (i.e. injury).

Movement screens are not miracle cures, but they are designed to give you an insight into why you move the way you do and what movement compensations are occurring. This information can then be used to better understand if the compensations may potentially lead to injury or sacrifice your sport performance. 

As an athlete, I have been fortunate with a sparse injury history and I’m swimming, running and cycling the fastest I’ve ever been, so you may think ‘why bother?’ But, to flip it on its edge, I want to get faster and I want to be able to maintain a higher training intensity. Additionally, I know I have an underlying hip injury which is exacerbated by increased training load and volume.

From screening these basic movements I have now discovered a wider picture of compensations related to stability, mobility and strength deficits around my hip which has helped inform and guide my training. It has enabled me to train with more intensity and progressively increase my running volume.  In addition, the screening identified movements that targeted my weaker areas, and by doing them regularly as preventative exercises and using treatments such as massage and joint mobilisation I have been able to train as  programmed by my coach. As a physiotherapist and athlete, having learnt the hard way, I now make the time and effort to fully practice what I preach and to be more proactive with injury prevention.

The benefits of a movement screen are intended to prevent you having to take time away from training, and to prevent all the associated stresses and costs.

What screening tools are there?

There are several screening tools out there which are commonly used within sports and rehabilitation settings, alongside a number of assessment methods and testing procedures. Specific screens have been developed to help identify athletes at risk. They allow for replication and re-test reliability. Screening was made popular by Brett Allen and Gray Cook, two accomplished and noteworthy physiotherapists that developed The Functional Movement Screen (Cook et al. 2006) at a time when ‘functional training’ started to become in vogue.

There is also the Movement Competency Screen (Kritz. 2012), designed by Dr. Matt Kritz, a strength and conditioning professional who wanted to better understand the movement competency and movement capacity of the athletes he was coaching, before prescribing exercises and training programmes designed to enhance their performance.  After two decades coaching development to elite athletes in professional and Olympic sports, he realised the importance of understanding how an athlete moves, rather than the movement itself. This is of vital importance when considering an athlete’s long term physical development and their ability to sustain, or enhance performance and reduce the incidence of injury.

As a physiotherapist, I am strong believer in having to know the demands of the sport each athlete competes in. Therefore, if I was to screen you as a regular bowls player or triathlete, I would do the background research and ask you, the expert, what you perceive them to be. The demands and the ‘functional’ movements required are sport specific, and what is considered ‘functional’ for one sport may not be for another. The word ‘functional’ is used a lot, especially when describing or qualifying certain ways to train. Siff (2002) simplified the notion of functional training by asking, ‘does the movement pattern or movement you are training, enhance the ‘functional’ competence of your sport?’

How movement screens, which use standardised fundamental movement tasks as we have discussed here, translate to sports specific movement competency is beyond the scope of this article. However, hopefully you are now able to appreciate that within every sport, fundamental movements are the roots of a movement task and there-in lies the reason screening fundamental movements are so effective. They are the stripped down version of a more complex sport specific movement, and how you perform those basic movements can shed significant light on why you may be struggling to perform more sport specific movements or why certain sport specific movements hurt when being performed. 

Continue reading our guide to movement screening: what it is & how it helps athletes (3/3)


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