How Could the Functional Movement Screen Fit with CrossFit?

Written by Gray Cook Wednesday, July 15, 2015 FMS Pod Casts

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Dr. Rusin: What are your thoughts on the current system in CrossFit for the initial athlete screenings to identify potential risk factors of movement that could possibly lead to injuries? 

Gray:  Well, to be honest, I don’t currently think CrossFit has a systematic tool for doing that but let’s be honest, John.  I don’t know if any one group has that systematic tool. 

I think some of the things that a lot of people criticize in CrossFit are simply endemic or actual problems that have always been in fitness for maybe even the last 30 years but CrossFit has accelerated everything.  They’ve accelerated exposure to new and innovative body weight in Olympic-type lifting techniques and kettlebells and stuff so a lot of people learned about old and new tools for fitness through CrossFit.

All I think we really saw is the evolution of modern fitness on fast forward so some of those problems rise to the surface but I don’t really think it’s a CrossFit problem.  I think that the average consumer of fitness may not know how best to consume that diet of fitness, meaning I think most of us who coach or teach or train, we give it to you in layers. 

We must establish health.  Then, we must establish movement integrity or movement literacy.  Now I’m worried about your physical capacity and lastly, now let’s talk about skill development and physical development in a particular direction.  If any one of those layers has a crack in it or a flaw in it, you may actually be trying to address a problem that goes far deeper than you think.

I think CrossFit has simply given us an opportunity to really discuss this in a model that I think could potentially, with a little bit of systemization, be the vehicle for how we actually change physical education in our country.  I’ve got nothing bad to say except when you get big and you get popular, install some systematic approaches so that everything you’re doing is sustainable.

Dr. Rusin: Is that something that you think a systemized movement screen of some sort could fit into eventually?

Gray:  I think if CrossFit would simply frame the whole movement screen as an intake strategy that will give you a competitive advantage. 

Now, a lot of us can say, "Well, you know, it might be used for injury prevention" but I would like to take a positive spin and say, listen. You give me 40 people with no fitness background whatsoever and I’ve got to get them ready to deliver fitness to consumers.  I think if there’s any one thing I think I can do probably better than my peers, it’s to take inexperienced fitness people and say, "Here’s a standard operating procedure.  Don’t go to Step 2 until you check all the boxes in Step 1.  If you can’t, kick it out of the system and process everybody else." 

Dr. Rusin: Since CrossFit is largely considered the king of all fitness sports in current day America and beyond - how could the FMS potentially fit into the CrossFit system?          

Gray:  I think the way it fits in is when you’re either intaking a new CrossFit consumer or you’re sort of reappraising the things that have occurred in a CrossFit box for this particular consumer. 

Obviously, we want to go to those physical performance metrics and see how big, fast or strong you’ve become but at the same time, if your cholesterol went up or your testosterone crashed or you developed an arrhythmia in your heart, then you would basically say, "Well, those gains actually might have interfered with my health."  The movement screen is simply a little gauge that we run in the background to see if your movement integrity dropped below a certain point. 

If you’re broken, if you can’t intake information or process information at least at an average level, then talking to you about technique will basically be me speaking Spanish if English is your only language.  You’re just not going to get much of what I’m doing.  Even though what I’m saying is right, you’re not going to get much of it.

If the organism cannot adequately process the information in a tight feedback loop, then the screen is designed to pick that up and say, "These mobility and stability problems are going to impede the teaching platform that you’re currently standing on.  If you will correct these or at least find out what’s causing these and in the same amount of time just not persist in loading these."

There are plenty of movement patterns you can load but the one that basically is considered dysfunctional in the screen, the best evidence says, ‘Don’t load it’.  First, yes, it could become injured but secondly, no good quick adaptation will occur here because positive physical adaptation is based on one thing that nobody tracks and that’s a positive physical response.

When we do a corrective exercise, if you don’t move better immediately after that corrective exercise and you did not get a positive response, we should not assume a positive adaptation wherein in the SAID principle, when we’re adding muscle tissue or hoping for greater bone density or tendon strength, we’ve got to wait for a while. 

We’ve got to wait three to six weeks for that to occur whereas when we correct a movement pattern, the feedback loop is quick.  Therefore, you know if it’s a mobility or stability problem and what to do but we should not assume superior adaptation if we cannot get an adequate or respectable response in a given movement situation.

The first thing the screen does is to say, ‘Do we just need to tighten the coaching-training environment?’  Do we need to create a different training environment or is this organism just going to respond slower in all environments because it can’t hear, it can’t see or it can’t feel dorsiflexion? 

Dr. Rusin: How does CrossFit minimize the potential damage caused by the environment of the daily WODs for most people participating in the sport and the consistent, competitive factors that go into nearly every session when you walk into a CrossFit box?

Gray:  Well, let me create a sidebar analogy and just let that run.  If we get off of exercise for a minute…because I think everybody in touch with this article is going to be very, very empowered and inspired by physical development.  Let’s get off of that for a minute and run a parallel and see if it clarifies our thinking.  

What if I had a website that was designed to expose you to food sources in combinations that you may have never seen before?  We call it the ‘meal of the day’.  Now, you actually have a chef at this kitchen that is directly in touch with the meal of the day that’s coming down from the grand kitchen and every day you get to stop by.  The whole intent of this meal of the day is not to tell you the portion size or force feed you anything. 

It’s to simply expose you to things you’re very familiar with and should probably try in these portions, in this way, in these combinations or things that you may be completely unfamiliar with.  If you don’t know that you have food allergies, little bites might be the best way to start.  If you know that you do have a peanut allergy and the meal of the day involves peanuts, I think you’re okay picking a peanut substitute.    

Now if we’re back over in exercise and you know for a fact that your squatting form is horrible, you’ve basically had an ankle problem for years and nobody has been able to solve it, whenever I say ‘squat’, you hear ‘deadlift’ because you can deadlift with a stiff ankle but you can’t squat with a stiff ankle.

So, if we simply, simply quit bantering back and forth about the workout of the day and realize that the workout of the day is, first and foremost, to expose you to opportunities in exercise that you may not have considered – first, new exercises and, secondly, new and innovative combinations.  If we simply take that away and then say, "Okay, how much of this fits with my personal goal of what I want to do today?" 

If I simply take it as a challenge, then I’m playing.  I’m playing the mobility WOD today, and I’m going to try to compete against something hopefully with an adequate amount of training but if my whole goal at the end of this summer is to run a 10k, then what I’m going to do with the workout of the day is to look at everything I could do to participate in this tribe I’m in but that’s also going to leverage maybe the endurance and speed components.  I may get lighter weights.  I may modify. 

I think if we were sending down the meal of the day, every one of us would know enough about ourselves where we could modify that meal so we wouldn’t feel stuffed or unsatisfied or so that we wouldn’t eat a food substance that we already know might create a dilemma. 

Why can’t we do that with exercise?  Why can’t we basically know enough about ourselves to modify the workout of the day so that it allows us to still be part of the tribe and yet consume it in a way that we know is sustainable?  

Dr. Rusin:  Is keeping the key athletes healthy and minimizing the controllable risk factors of training really centered around progressions and regressions of higher level movements within those WODS?

Gray:  The one question I like to ask the people who really embrace CrossFit is just remember this.  Is the workout of the day to expose you to new exercises and new combinations or is it to make you follow sets and rep packages to the letter or to the volume even if you may not be prepared? 

I think most of the intuitive spirits that really embrace CrossFit and feel that it’s a vehicle to maybe change the physical landscape of this country would definitely take one - if you could only choose one. Our job is to expose you to new exercises and new combinations – not necessarily to force feed numeric packages that may not be appropriate for your skillset or conditioning level. 

It’s logical.  It’s absolutely logical.  If we’re looking at CrossFit as simply another vehicle for physical education – adult physical education – then the most important thing is exactly what ‘play’ does for us when we’re teaching ourselves how to move as babies.  The first thing we need is engagement.  ‘I want to be interested in what you’re doing’ but most kids play at their own pace.  Nobody forces kids onto play packages.  The minute you start doing that, they quit playing. 

That exposure to something new or a new combination of something old is the brilliance in a workout of the day coming down the line.  Then, the reason there are boxes - the reason there’s somebody who knows your first and last name and knows what your health history is - they help you modify that so that you can participate but at a pace that allows you to be independent and to sustain it for tomorrow.

Dr. Rusin:  There’s got to be a big difference between going in and figuring out in one WOD that, ‘Hey, I don’t have the movement capacity to overhead squat today, especially under high metabolic fatigue’ and doing that same faulty movement pattern over and over, week after week, month after month until something breaks down.

Gray:  Sure.  Listen, we hate tests. 

Now, an ACL hurts real bad but an ‘F’ - or a ‘0’ or a ‘1’ on my FMS lunge - it doesn’t hurt anybody.  It just simply injures my pride but it’s not even for that.  It’s to alert you that, listen, a test basically says, ‘If you progress further in this environment, you’re going to have so many failures that you won’t be able to turn it into success.’  The feedback loop of failure will be so burdensome that you won’t learn anything from it. 

When we come out with the FMS and we do something that a lot of people have never done in exercise, ‘If you can’t pass this test, don’t do that move’, people are a little bit hurt and offended because they think we’re saying ‘never’.

Do you know how many runners have come through my clinic?  I’m like, ‘You can’t run for two weeks’.  What they heard me say was, ‘You’ve got to sit in a chair for two weeks’.  I didn’t say you couldn’t bike.  I didn’t say you couldn’t tread water.  I didn’t say you couldn’t do core or upper body.  I said, ‘Impact is basically going to keep your problem alive for two weeks’.

The temporary dis-loading of a bad pattern that I think has become some of the things that we say in FMS has gotten blown up into, ‘These people don’t even want you exercising or lifting or going heavy’. 

You know, I’m one of the few physical therapists that actually went through the early RKC and stood in front of Pavel and the guys and did my snatch test.  I love going heavy.  I love hitting it hard.  I love badass forms of a demonstration of superior physical development. 

I’m basically saying that I love the CrossFit games but the path to get to that is a lot smarter path.  The people who make it to that level, they’ve got good strategy.  They’re playing it smart.  They don’t train on a day when their physical systems are shot.  They know just as much about rest and regeneration as they do about lifting techniques and metabolic packages.  It’s that smart play that gets you to the next level.

This clip was originally recorded as part of an interview with Dr. John Rusin for For more on Dr. Rusin's programs and methodology visit


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