National team coach Brent Fougner believes running form is the key to a long and successful career in the sport. When he learned about functional movement screening a little more than a year ago, he made sure it became a key component of the Pacific Sport National Endurance Centre, where he is the director. “It’s really taken off,” says Fougner, a middle-distance coach for Team Canada and the long-time head coach of the University of Victoria Vikes cross-country and track teams. “I’ve seen it in other sports and we’ve applied it right away with our group. Any recruit that comes to Victoria now gets a screening done.”
Developed by physical therapist Gray Cook and athletic trainer Lee Burton, the functional movement screen is a set of seven simple tests designed to evaluate movement patterns and uncover a person’s weaknesses and asymmetries. The seven movements — deep squat, hurdle step, in-line lunge, active straight leg raise, shoulder mobility, rotary stability and push up — all require mobility and stability.
Each of the seven tests requires just one repetition, with performance rated on a scale of zero to three. A score of 14 or less means you are at risk of injury.
Imbalances not only lead to injury, they also reveal inefficiencies in the way a person moves. Gray and Burton have applied the screen to a number of sports organizations, including the Montreal Canadians and the Toronto Blue Jays.
It’s especially useful for runners, Fougner says. “Some of the problems that we have are around mobility and stability. If you think of an athlete and everything that they need – the base of what they need to perform is functional movement. Their body’s got to be able to move efficiently, and on top of that you start to work on things like skill and performance.”
Chris Broadhurst, clinic director at the Toronto Athletic Club, began using the screen when he was the head athletic therapist for the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes in 2007. “It gives us a nice overview of how the body is moving and where we need to make improvements in their training,” he says of the screen, which only takes about 30 minutes to perform.
As with any athlete, runners can work certain muscle groups while others go neglected, leading to overcompensation problems. “Sometimes just cleaning up the movement patterns clear up a whole host of issues that are going on in the body,” Broadhurst says.
Besides helping to guard against injury, the screen also helps runners to become more efficient in their movements. Areas of stiffness or weakness, which the screen helps detect, result in what Broadhurst calls “energy leaks.”
“By cleaning those movement patterns up we no long have these energy leaks. We have a fluid running motion, and the more fluid we are, the better we’re able to absorb forces, the better we’re able to run with higher energy levels,” he says.
By revealing an individual’s asymmetries, trainers and coaches can design a program to improve running form. “The end result is a much more efficient stride,” Fougner says. “You’re not compensating and you’re able to train more and you’re going to be more efficient in that last 100m of a race, or whenever you need it.”
Dave McGinn is a Toronto-based journalist.