With Buddy “Coach X” Morris

The functional movement screen is one of the most popular diagnostic tools used by physical therapists, strength and conditioning coaches, and other health/medical professionals who work with athletes, clients, and rehabilitation patients. It was formulated by Gray Cook, a physical therapist, in order to give objective information regarding how clients move in basic motor patterns.

The screen consists of seven tests:

  • Deep squat
  • Hurdle step
  • Inline lunge
  • Shoulder mobility
  • Active straight leg raise
  • Trunk stability push-up
  • Rotary stability

Each of these tests is scored on a scale of zero to three (zero is given if there is pain with the movement and three is given if there isn't any compensation in the pattern). In order to pass the screen, an individual must score above a total of 21 between all the tests (Cook 2010).

There are many individuals in the fields of physical therapy and strength and conditioning who are both proponents and critics of the screen. Legendary strength and conditioning coach Buddy “Coach X” Morris has preached utilizing an active/dynamic warm up throughout his career, working with both NFL and Division I football players. He is a strong opponent of the functional movement screen and has been known to be quite colorful when addressing this issue.

Buddy cites the late Mel Siff and gives further insight into movement related issues:

“Simply because posture is poor does not mean it's pathological, nor does it mean [that] a person with visually poor posture undoubtedly will suffer from more musculoskeletal problems. Simple isolationist mm testing of trunk or any other muscle cannot determine if one’s muscles will be operating inefficiently or in some state of imbalance in actual multiangular sporting activity.” —Mel Siff

Buddy goes on to say that “anything that creates greater awareness of optimal patterns of stability or mobility can help to improve motor skills, posture, and movement efficiency! Awareness training more than any given exercise or therapeutic regime on its own is likely to have a greater impact on improving posture than anything else. Awareness creates cognition, [and] cognition creates motor learning” (Morris 2012).

Most strength and conditioning coaches would agree that this screening is incomplete because even if an athlete completes the screen with a passing score, the test itself omits some very important basic, athletic abilities. These include walking, skipping, jogging, hopping, jumping, and sprinting. An easy solution to this problem for a coach is to forgo using the functional movement screen and utilize an active/dynamic warm up consisting of basic drills such as walking, skipping, hopping, jumping, jogging, sprinting, calisthenics, dynamic stretches, power speed drills, and others to address torso stability.

Attention should be paid to several key abilities throughout the entire active/dynamic warm up:

  • Coordination of hip and shoulder rotation
  • Spine stabilization (limited flexion, extension, and rotation)
  • Suppleness of active muscles
  • Rhythm and relaxation of movement
  • Effort or difficulty in execution
  • Stability or mobility of joint
  • Breathing patterns and rate
  • RPE rating by both coach and athlete
  • Ability to achieve triple extension (ankle, knee, and hip)
  • Foot strike and eccentric strength during walking, jogging, running, skipping, and hopping

Another key concept to utilize is the joint-by-joint approach for classifying the need for stability or mobility in a specific joint. A screening test like this is invaluable for its ability to make coaches more familiar with their athletes and increase their observation skills of some very important basic abilities related to movement.

Below is an example of an active/dynamic warm up used to assess athletes:

  • Walk/jog/run, approximately 5 minutes
  • Split jacks, 10 each
  • Skiers, 10 each
  • Skips,10 each

  • Quadruped t-spine rotations, 5 each
  • Trunk rotations, 5 each
  • Good mornings, 10
  • Lunges, 5 each
  • Squats, 10
  • Push-ups, 10
  • McGill curl-ups, 10
  • Bird dogs, 10
  • Planks, 30 seconds
  • Side planks, 30 seconds
  • Marching As, 5 each
  • A skips, 5 each
  • Rolling hops, 5
  • SLJ, 5
  • 20-yard sprints, 3

Each of these exercises gives useful feedback to coaches on one or more of the most important basic abilities. These exercises also provide feedback on whether or not each of the joints is adequate based on the joint-by-joint approach to stability and mobility. One key element of physical preparation that this active/dynamic warm up assesses and the functional movement screen doesn't is work capacity.

Ask any coach and he will have his own way of describing what work capacity is. Some may call it being in shape, some may call it being fit, and others may say that they need to get their team's conditioning up. It all means the same thing—the ability to perform a substantial amount of work in one “session” and repeat it consistently over multiple “sessions.” Coaches know that in the large group or team setting, everything is about training (or in this case testing/assessing) economy. You only get so much time with athletes, so being able to kill two birds with one stone is huge.

One final point with this assessment—the “test material” is also used throughout the training cycle (before each and every training session) in the form of the active/dynamic warm up, which enables the coach to visually track progress all the time! In no way is this assessment complete, as Buddy “Coach X” Morris has pointed out about the functional movement screen and other movement type screens: “I’ve seen athletes pass the [functional movement screen] with great scores but things suddenly change when you add a “load” or you mechanically stress them. First it was the transverse abdominis and drawing the belly in. I invite you to do that next time you get under a heavy squat. Then the multifidus, then back stabilization, then patellofemoral issues, then shoulder and thoracic issues, then ankle mobility. Now it’s all about the hips! Everything that goes wrong is hip related” (Morris 2012).

This assessment is not the end-all be-all. It merely is one piece of the puzzle when it comes to testing and assessing an athlete. Any good coach will tell you that in order to fully understand an athlete’s abilities, you must test all of his abilities. Makes sense, right? I personally believe that this test, or something of the like, gives the physical preparation coach a much more holistic view of whether or not an athlete is ready to participate in a physical preparation training program.


  • Cook G (2010) Movement: Functional Movement Systems – Screening, Assessment, Corrective Strategies.
  • Morris B (2004) GPP Manual. Columbus, Ohio: EliteFTS.
  • Morris B (2012) Training: I HATE the Functional Movement Screen. Retrieved: January 28, 2013, from www.nyscenter.com: http://nyscenter.com/2012/09/26/i-hate-the-functional-movement-screen/.