Vail Daily column: Measure movement to enhance outcomes |

Vail Daily column: Measure movement to enhance outcomes

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

Movement competency is objectively measured through systems that baseline general awareness and ability. Grading movement helps to direct training for performance enhancement or correct faulty movement patterns depending on what is found. Movement screens are effective measuring tools needed for acquiring robust health, fitness, and general well-being. I am fully engaged with using the Functional Movement Screen as the gold standard for measuring movement competence. The Functional Movement Screen has opened my eyes to more possibilities of developing better outcomes. However, there are few holes in the game of the Functional Movement Screen that warrant further investigation and special considerations for specific populations.

The largest discrepancy I’ve found is with back pain sufferers. The Functional Movement Screen often directs trainers and coaches to increase range of motion and to establish proper stability at specific joints. This is contraindicated for specific populations, and can cause more harm than good. I want to explore this in detail.

Anatomical and genetic differences between populations aren’t accounted for during traditional screening. When considering spine mechanics, many pain sufferers don’t tolerate load, particularly sheer forces and occasionally compressive forces. For example, Dr. Stuart McGill, a leading expert on spine mechanics has found a large population of people such as gymnasts, who are slender in nature and have loose collagen fibers within their spinal discs. A gymnast’s spine is less likely to fail under bending circumstances. However, larger and thicker spines are at a much greater risk of failing while bending and under compressive or sheer load because of the leverage disadvantages of a thicker vertebral column. The irony is that lifters tend to be larger framed individuals, and their spines are at a greater risk despite their ability to lift heavy loads. Here’s something else interesting—a lifter’s lack of flexibility helps them maintain rigidity, an absolute necessity for lifting big weights; bending motions of the low back under load can cause a thick spine to fail. Similarly, I have witnessed too many golfers with low back problems. Most of the time, these golfers are larger in stature with too much motion in their spines. Slender golfers tolerate the torque much easier compared to the larger counterparts. Tiger Woods’ back problems are not coincidental.

However, these pain mechanisms will not show up on the Functional Movement Screen. Here’s the rub: If an individual has poor mobility during specific screens that direct the coach to increase range of motion, what if this individual doesn’t tolerate motion well because of their build? What if a gymnast has tremendous range of motion, a green light for lifting patterns, and the coach prescribes loaded bending motions, but the gymnast is at risk because they have looser collagen fibers in their spinal discs—which is a necessary mobility situation specific for their sport? Too often, we assume that everybody who can touch their toes is cleared for lifting, or that all people must display a certain range of motion in the middle of their back. These are shortsighted understandings of the rules of movement.

Here’s one simple test from Dr. McGill to establish what you’re dealing with. Have a trainee sit on a chair and insist they pull up hard on the seat. Does this cause pain to the low back? You have an individual who does, or does not tolerate compressive loads, depending on the outcome. If this trainee experiences pain, it might not be a good idea to load them with external weight initially. Have them stand up, come up onto their toes and slam their heels on the ground. If this is painful, probe their abdominal muscles with your fingers. Have them repeat the process. If the pain is reduced, you have found the injury mechanism and the solution.

The goal when dealing with painful spines is to find the postures, mechanics, and movements that elicit pain, and avoid those movements initially and strengthen (or lengthen) the patterns that are problematic.

At the end of the day, I still rest my case on the Functional Movement Screen as a handy tool to screen movement competency. The screen is fairly comprehensive and doesn’t leave too much to be considered. However, we must deploy other screening tools for specific situations, such as individuals with angry backs. I hope this helps your understanding further. Have a great week!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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