In the pre-season period, professional (fitness) coaches will assess their athletes fitness and movement abilities, before devising a relevant training programme. Speed, strength, endurance and peak & mean power are standard measurements to be taken, preferably in a high performance laboratory setting. Checking for musculoskeletal imbalances is also important, and in this regard an orthopaedic examination from a sports MD should be the route of choice. If not, a physiotherapist or athletic therapist can perform a functional movement screen (FMS) which can provide useful information to the coach. However, the FMS should be interpreted with caution as it does not predict athletic performance. Nor does it specify the difference between biomechanical & neural inputs into movement control. On the other hand, strength training is taken for granted as being key in improving athletic performance. So we were happy when we came across a study that looked at the relationship between FMS and 1RM squat to a number of athletic performance indicators.
A recent study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research examined the relationship between FMS or 1RM squat to athletic performance. 25 collegiate athletes were tested for FMS and 1RM squat, while a series of fitness tests were performed subsequently: 10m sprint, 20m sprint, vertical jump and agility T-test. Pearson correlation coefficient analysis was applied to see if there was any relationship between either FMS or squat on test performance.
The results showed that the FMS had no relationship to 10m sprint time (r = -0.136) or 20m sprint time (r = -.107), did not correlate to leg power in the vertical jump (r = 0.249) nor did it relate to agility (r = -0.146). In contrast, 1RM squat was significantly correlated to 10m sprint time (r = -0.812) and 20m sprint time (r = -0.872), and also significantly correlated to vertical jump (r = 0.869) and agility t-test (r = -0.758).
If you look closely at the numbers, they reveal interesting findings. While the squat is positively associated with leg power i.e. higher squat value indicates higher leg power value, the squat is negatively correlated with speed & agility i.e. the higher your 1RM value, the less speed and agility you will demonstrate, and vice versa. So the take home message from this study for athletes is that they don’t need a heavy squat to be fast or agile. However, squat training in the 15 rep range will maintain speed-strength, and similarly if working in the 4-6 rep range, we have shown in our last post linked here that reps 4-6 is where speed & power are lost.
The FMS is a useful tool, but a coach needs to be very cautious in how it’s interpreted. It can point out muscular or joint imbalances which is a good starting point, however whether those imbalances are neural or biomechanical is impossible to tell from the FMS. In the pre-season phase, a good physiotherapist will evaluate BOTH neural and biomechanical movement and from there decide how to proceed with the rehabilitation process. Whether the findings/problems in the FMS are neural or biomechanical has implications for the subsequent treatment, and this is where the athlete and/or coach can easily get lost. It goes without saying, that any muscular imbalance can limit movement efficiency and therefore expert opinion should be sought, best practise is to consult a qualified physiotherapist or sports MD. Finally, while we like the FMS for its ability to point out basic movement limitations, it does not predict athletic performance and as such it should be eliminated from specific fitness assessment.