4 Common Exercise Program Mistakes: The Solution

“Seek to understand the root. It is futile to argue as to which single leaf, which design of branch, or which attractive flower you like; when you understand the root, you understand all of its blossoming.” ~Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living (2000)

Focusing the leaves and branches of a problem will not solve its roots.

In Four Common Exercise Programming Mistakes: What You Need to Know, many fitness professionals tend to develop exercise programs by using mostly assumptions and pre-conceived notions and pre-packaged programs to address movement and performance problems without finding out the root of the problem first. Many look at the “leaves and branches” of the problem rather than examining the roots first. Also, without a system of checks and balances, there is little a fitness professional can do to determine if the program they designed works for the client or not, whether the client’s goal is to lose weight, run the marathon, or improve their batting average after a knee surgery.

One such checks and balance system is the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), which is tool to assess the risk of injury of a client or athlete. It locates movement dysfunction, limitation, and asymmetry and serves as a program design and baseline tool for fitness professionals to see if the program is working or not. Rather than randomly picking workout out of library of exercises, the FMS reveals weak links in a client’s movement patterns. Based on these weaknesses, the fitness professional should first address them first before progressing the client or athlete to higher levels of training. The FMS does not require a lot of space and it can be performed in less than 15 minutes by a proficient, certified professional.

The FMS consists of seven tests that examine human movement at its most basic level, which means that they are the building blocks, or ABC’s, of movement. These include:

Overhead Deep Squat

This pattern looks at coordination between mobility and stability with your hips and shoulders in symmetrical positions. It challenges stability and movement control of the pelvis, abs, and spine as well as stability and mobility in your hips, knees, and ankles.

Hurdle Step

This pattern is part of locomotion and acceleration movement. It challenges stride and stepping mechanics while testing stability and control in the supporting leg and hip. It requires proper coordination and stability in the hips, bearing weight on one side of the body while the other side moves freely. It also challenges upper body stability to maintain balance and posture.

In-line Lunge

This pattern is part of deceleration movements and direction changes when you move. Like the hurdle step, it requires dynamic stability in the pelvis and core with both sides of the hip sharing equal load. The lower body is put in a split-stance position with the upper limbs in the opposite position. It examines your ability to decelerate while maintaining posture, coordination and control.

Shoulder Mobility

This pattern not only looks at how much mobility and stability you have in your shoulders, but also how your thoracic and cervical spine interact with the shoulder girdle movements. The neck should stay relaxed and the thoracic spine should extend before moving the shoulder girdle.

Active Straight Leg Raise

This pattern looks at active mobility of the flexed hip and extended leg and stability in the non-moving leg and hip. It also looks at how well you engage your core before you move.


This pattern examines reflexive stability, which is your ability to engage your core automatically when you push your body up. It is not a pushup exercise or a test of upper-body strength.

Rotary Stability

This pattern examines upper body and lower body stability with a combined upper and lower movement. It is a component of the crawling pattern that is part of our developmental sequence when we were babies and toddlers. It demonstrates reflexive stabilization and weight shifting in the tranverse (rotational) plane and examines coordination of mobility and stability.

We rank how well you move with a four scores: 3, 2, 1, 0. A 3 indicates that you demonstrate the movement with near-perfection with no significant flaws in the pattern. You may demonstrate excellent mobility and stability coordination with no left-right asymmetries. (The deep squat model, my dad, would be a 3.)

A 2 indicates that you meet the minimum requirements of movement. In other words, it is an average score. You exhibit one or two errors in the movement pattern. You can still do the movement pattern, but with some compensation.

A 1 indicates that you cannot perform or complete the movement pattern at all, but without pain.

A zero indicates that you have pain, regardless of how well you perform. This is where the fitness professional must refer you to a medical professional to find out the cause of pain.

The FMS literally roots out most of the underlying problems why some people do not move well and have reoccurring injuries and pain. By checking and re-screening after an exercise strategy is performed, we can determine if the exercise program works or not.

Keep in mind that the FMS is one of many tools and principles that a fitness professional employs to design exercise programs and to solve movement and exercise-related problems. It can be used with body fat tests, VO2 Max tests, and other exercise tests. Think of the FMS as the root of the tree and the rest of the tests as the leaves and blossoms that movement produces.


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