In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the basics of the University of Missouri functional movement screen and how we used it to determine special needs for individual athletes at Mizzou. We then went through some of the common dysfunctions and solutions to what we see when dissecting the first exercise in the screen—the PVC squat.

The next movement in the screen is the overhead PVC squat. The results in this test should actually coincide quite well with the PVC squat. At first glance, it may seem like a waste of time to test both movements and in fact, that was our original thought as well when we began screening athletes. However, we quickly saw the need to include both movements. I’ll explain more about the overhead squat in a later article. For now, we’re going to skip ahead to the third movement in the Mizzou functional movement screen—the PVC reverse lunge.

This is our version of what is commonly known as the Thomas test.

I’m sure you’ve seen this before. Basically, the athlete lays back on a training table with his hips on the edge of the table, pulls one knee to his chest, and lets the other leg hang. The athlete’s down leg should hang so that his femur is on the same plane or slightly lower than the plane of the table. If it doesn’t, you can make a few assumptions as to why this is.

If the athlete’s down leg doesn’t make it to the plane of the table but his knee is still bent, we can assume that his iliopsoas musculature is tight.

Tight iliopsoas

If the hanging knee is stuck in extension when the athlete lies back, this indicates a tight rectus femoris in the hanging leg.


Tight rectus femoris

If the hanging leg shoots out laterally, this indicates a tight TFL and IT band on the hanging leg.

Tight TFL/ IT band

We can take these same concepts and apply them to one of the most common weight room exercises there is—the reverse lunge. It’s important to note that the Thomas test is not only a test but an awesome stretch you can use as a corrective exercise as well.

In this movement, the athlete puts the PVC right down his spine. His head is in contact with the pipe as well as his upper back and tailbone. His hands are placed so that one hand is above his head and the other is in the arch of his low back. When we run the test, we like to have the one arm above the head while the ipsilateral leg steps back. There isn’t any real significance behind it. We just like to be consistent.

When evaluating this movement, the action of the reverse lunge step is significant, and we will explain that later. But for now, let’s only look at the finishing position and what we can derive from it.

A good finishing position:

From the front:All toes are pointed straight ahead, and the feet are approximately hip width apart.

From the side:The front knee is over the front ankle while the back knee is approximately one inch off the ground. The PVC pipe remains perpendicular to the ground, and the gap between the lumbar spine and the PVC is “neutral,” meaning the gap hasn’t grown. This is the “ideal” position.

Here are some of the most common deviations from the “ideal” and their solutions:

Problem #1: The athlete has an exaggerated lumbar curve.

From the front: The athlete looks pretty good.

From the side: Everything appears normal except the gap between the PVC pipe and the lumbar spine has increased. The hips are more than likely in a slightly anteriorly tilted position.

The problem: We’ll assume the exaggerated lumbar curve was only present in the finishing position of this movement. Later, we’ll look at it a little differently, but for this, the problem is almost always that the illiopsoas musculature is too tight. Remember in the Thomas test when a tight illiopsoas made it difficult to get full hip extension? In this case, the athlete couldn’t get the extension from the hips, so he used lumbar extension. The psoas pulls the lumbar spine anteriorly and leaves the pelvis in anterior tilt. Hyperextending the lumbar spine gives the athlete the illusion of a good lunge.

The solution:The illiopsoas musculature is extremely difficult to get to with soft tissue work. If you have a great massage therapist, use them. If not, this wall lunge stretch is awesome. The key is to flex the glute of your back leg and pull your belly button inward. This will hold your pelvis and lumbar spine in a neutral position instead of allowing them to tilt anteriorly, thereby elongating the illiopsoas.

Problem #2: The athlete’s front knee drifts forward over or beyond the toes.

From the front: The athlete looks pretty good.

From the side: The athlete’s front knee has significantly drifted forward over the toes while his back knee makes an angle greater than 90 degrees.

The problem: In this case, the athlete has attempted to get depth on his lunge and in doing so has shifted forward instead of down. The problem is more than likely a tight rectus femoris. Remember from the Thomas test how the knee stayed in extension? This is the same deal only now the back knee doesn’t want to shorten so the whole body shifts forward instead of down. This creates the illusion of depth without bending the back knee.

The solution:The rectus femoris is a little easier to get to with soft tissue work. Use a foam roller or stick on your quads every day and do the lunge wall stretch mentioned above. It’s one of those exercises that almost everyone needs and you almost can’t do too much of.

Problem #3: The athlete’s back knee juts out laterally.

From the front: Everything looks good except the athlete’s back knee isn’t in-line with his back toe. There is a noticeable lateral shift.

From the side: The athlete looks pretty good.

The problem: In this case, the athlete will have a tight TFL/ IT band in the back leg. If you remember back to the Thomas test once again, when the leg shifts laterally, the IT and TFL are short and/or tight.

The solution:Using a foam roller on the IT band should be in everyone’s workout routine by now. More of this will help with this issue, but make sure you work your way up to your TFL. To find this muscle, put your hand on your hip bone and then shift it about one inch laterally. When you get the foam roller on it, you’ll know it. Softballs work even better. Once you have rolled the IT and TFL, do some hip flexor stretching, which targets the TFL a little more. All you have to do is make the traditional lunge stretch either an in-line lunge stretch or a crossover lunge stretch. Always flex the glute of your back leg and try and push your hips forward and at an angle toward the back leg. You should feel a distinct difference between this and a regular lunge stretch.

We’ve taken a look at some of the issues athletes may have with the finishing position of the PVC lunge. Now let’s take a look at the actual reverse lunge movement. There is a lot we can get from actually watching someone take that lunge step backward.

A good reverse lunge:

From the front: The athlete’s chest remains tall throughout the movement while the front knee remains stable and doesn’t shift left to right. The athlete finishes in the “good finishing position” described above.

From the side: The PVC pipe remains close to perpendicular to the ground, and the gap between the PVC and the lumbar spine remains “neutral” throughout the movement. The athlete finishes in the “good finishing position” described above.

Problem #1: The PVC pipe falls forward as the athlete takes the reverse lunge step.

From the front: The athlete’s chest drops as he steps back.

From the side: The PVC pipe tilts forward as the athlete steps back. The athlete is able to achieve a good finishing position once the back foot hits the ground.

The problem: Because the athlete was able to reach the good finishing position, we’ll assume that the hip flexors are of good length. The problem that exists is one of two things. First, this could be as simple as coaching the athlete to stay tall while stepping back. However, it could also be a problem of achieving hip extension using the glutes and hamstrings. Instead of extending at the hip, the athlete simply leans forward, extends his leg, and then leans back again to create a lunge.

The solution: Try to coach it up better. If that doesn’t work, gluteal activation techniques have had some great success. Bent knee hip extension exercises teach the athlete how to use his glutes to extend his hips quite well.

Problem #2: The gap between the PVC and the lumbar spine increases as the athlete steps back.

From the front: The athlete looks good.

From the side: Everything looks good except the low back is hyper extended and the gap between the athlete’s back and PVC is increased as the athlete moves.

The problem: We discussed something similar to this in problem #1 when discussing the finishing position. I’m going to take a different look at this scenario. As the athlete attempts to extend his hips, he actually hyper extends his lumbar to create the illusion of hip extension. This is one of the most common problems you’ll see in any population. We already know that he may be tight in his illiopsoas or rectus femoris and that needs to be lengthened, but this time let’s look at the core’s job in this movement.

The core’s job is to not move at all or to be stable. If the core can’t hold the pelvis stable while the athlete attempts to extend his hips, the pelvis will rotate anteriorly and you’ll end up with an exaggerated lumbar curve. We have to train the core to resist this unwanted movement. Birddog progressions are great for this and are more difficult than you may think.

Below is an example of a good birddog and a bad birddog. Take a look at the similarities to the PVC lunge, especially in the bent knee versions. They are awesome exercises to help an athlete’s core remain stable while the hips extend.

A bad birddog—back collapses

A good birddog—back remains neutral

A bad bent knee birddog

A better bent knee birddog

Problem #3: The front knee is unstable during the movement.

From the front: The athlete’s front knee wobbles side to side when the back leg is going back.

From the side: The athlete looks pretty good.

The problem: In this case, you have an athlete with a single leg stability issue. The knee wobbling indicates a lack of femoral control at the hip when on one leg. This will lead to many possible knee problems ranging from ACL tears to simple tendinitis or patella tracking issues. Knee stability generally comes from the adductors and abductors controlling the femur while on one leg.

The solution: Hip activation techniques have been used with some great results. Isolate the glutes and adductors during your warm up and get them going. Most athletes, especially jump athletes, need a little more though. In the article, “The Strength Coach’s Guide to Sport General Training,” I wrote about the importance of single leg landings and femoral control. These types of exercises are awesome for teaching single leg stability.

As you can see, looking at this one movement can tell us a lot about what is going on at the athlete’s hips. At this point, we’re only two movements into our screening and we have a lot of notes that we can use to clean up our athlete. In part three, we’ll continue to work our way through the Mizzou functional movement screen so that we can get a total picture of what our athlete’s body needs.