Using a testing system such as the Functional Movement System, a staple of the industry, can help coaches improve their athletes’ performance. In the world of strength and conditioning, results are key. Designing a strength and conditioning program that makes an athlete stronger in all areas and fixes his or her weaknesses is a big key to success. To see what weaknesses an athlete has, you must have a system to analyze the athlete in certain movements. This not only shows what the athlete may need to work on, but it Functional Movement Systemalso gives you, as a coach or trainer, a baseline on some athletic movements and a starting path toward designing a program. There are many systems out there that test for mobility, stability, and other movement patterns, but I believe there should be some athletic movements involved as well. For testing the mobility, stability, and core of an athlete, there is no better test than the Functional Movement System.

The Functional Movement System (FMS) is a staple in the world of strength and conditioning and should be learned and understood by anyone designing a program. The FMS was designed by Gray Cook and detailed in his book, “Movement: Functional Movement Systems – Screening, Assessment, Corrective Strategies,” as an assessment protocol to pinpoint weakness in the movement of an athlete’s body and break down the body by stable and mobile joints. This is called the joint-by-joint approach. The FMS has seven main tests that look at the function of the body and how it relates to certain movement patterns. These patterns will show where the body has a potential weakness, such as tight ankle joints. Each test has a maximum score of three points for a total of 21:

  • A score of 0 means there is pain in the movement being performed and there should be a referral to a healthcare professional.
  • A score of 1 is the inability to perform or complete the functional movement pattern.
  • A score of 2 is the ability to perform the functional movement pattern, but some movement is compromised.
  • A score of 3 is a movement that hits the pattern correctly with no major compensation of the body.

The number we look for is 14. Research shows when the number of the total test is 14 or lower, the potential for injuries is greatly increased.

The Functional Movement System Tests

Here are the seven tests outlined in Cook’s book:

  1. Overhead Squat or the Deep Squat – Designed to see the body’s mobility and movement of the ankles, knees, and hips. It also will show shoulder stability and core strength.
  2. Inline Lunge – Challenges the body’s ability to resist rotation. Putting the athlete in a scissor position ensures the trunk and lower body are in proper alignment. The ankle, knees, and hips are also challenged with stability, mobility, and balance.
  3. Hurdle Step – Tests the hips and torso working as one. This is also a great test of balance and provides a picture of the athlete’s natural stride. The ability to stabilize the opposite side during movement is also a good indicator of balance and strength.
  4. ASLR (Active Straight-Leg Raise) – Tests the flexibility of the hamstrings and disassociates the lower body from the trunk. This exercise can reveal how the athlete might compensate for lower extremity injuries.
  5. Rotary Stability – Requires an extreme amount of coordination and stability. By far the most difficult test, its main purpose is to stabilize the core while the extremities are moving.
  6. Shoulder ROM – Shows the range of motion of the shoulder, including internal rotation, extension, and adduction.
  7. Push-up – Reveals trunk stability as the upper body moves from a dead motion to a full-body motion, although many people may think this test is for upper body strength.

jshs7e0wedo283fmsceThese seven tests are crucial for designing a program that not only makes your athlete stronger but also addresses movement. Popular CrossFit exercises, such as the snatch, squat, deadlift, clean, and handstand push-up, are all difficult and high-level movements that require strength, mobility, and stability. This testing system is key to showing what the athlete needs to work on. There are certain corrective movements you can do to help with a movement. When you receive your score and talk to the strength coach, you’ll get lists of correctives to help the deficiency in that movement.

If you do not have access to the testing above, there is still a great way to complete the tests and get some feedback: a self-assessment via video. Athletes can videotape themselves doing the above tests and send them to a strength coach or try and diagnose the issue themselves. Gray Cook’s “Movement” book is another great resource for any serious athlete and strength coach.

Other tests that are more athletic in nature are crucial to designing a program based around these strength protocols. While the above testing shows you mobility, stability, and core scores, the following tests will show you what aspects your athlete needs to focus on:

  • Vertical Jump – Measures power output. The ability to produce force is key in any sport. Specific to CrossFit, the vertical jump helps with box jumps and overall power production. Also, testing each leg will show you the difference in power from one leg to another. There will be a difference, but too much of a difference is a good indicator of possible injury to the weaker side.
  • Medicine Ball Throw – Indicates core strength. While sitting down with the athlete’s back flat against the wall and legs out in front, take an 8-pound medicine ball and have him chest-pass it as far as he can. This is a great indicator of strength. Not allowing an athlete to use legs shows if the core and upper body is strong. Use a 6-pound medicine ball for women.
  • 1.5-mile or 3-mile Airdyne Bike Ride – Measures aerobic fitness and endurance. No doubt about it, CrossFit includes endurance, and making sure your athlete is ready to attack tough WODs is essential. If you don’t have access to an Airdyne bike, use the rower for an equivalent of 1 mile for time.
  • 800-Meter Run – Combines aerobic endurance with anaerobic conditioning and sprint speed. Both the aerobic and anaerobic systems are used and the 800-meter run requires the athlete to be in great shape.

These four tests will show you power output, core strength, speed, force production, and endurance. They are important for creating an athletic profile for each client to ensure their program will target their weaknesses and improve their strengths.

While the above are extremely important for any program to be written, there is nothing that replaces exact data. Exact exercises for CrossFit can provide that data. These include the main movements you see in most any WOD. They are:

  • Three-Rep Snatch, Three-Rep Hang Clean, Three-Rep Deadlift – Using a three-rep max is safer and less taxing than a one-rep max. A three-rep is a also a great number because it’s very close to your max effort, so there is less slop when you calculate the max numbers. This allows the program to be more specific.
  • Handstand Push-ups or Push-ups for One Minute – This test is great to see the muscular endurance of the upper body. If the athlete is able and passes the FMS protocol, try the handstand push-ups. Or, do the normal push-ups for one minute.
  • Ring Rows for One Minute – Again, a test that will show the endurance of the upper body. Why not a kipping pull-up test? Simply too many possibilities for injury.

These tests are crucial to creating a great program in which you can always see if the athlete is improving. Remember to always have the same person conduct the test, as this will allow for validity. Not everyone tests the same in the FMS.

Downloadable High Resolution FMS Posters

Trunk Stability

Trunk Stability


Hurdle Step

Hurdle Step


InLine Lunge

InLine Lunge


In part two of this article, we will look at how we can fix some of the issues regarding movement patterns that will make your athlete more mobile, stable, and able to sustain the grind of a long season. It will also cover some programming for novice or beginner lifters to help their power in the Olympic lifts.

Photos courtesy of Functional Movement Systems

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