A Strength Coach's Perspective: FMS, SFMA, and TPI

Written by Jason Glass BHK, CSCS, TPI SFMA

I get asked all the time “Are you an FMS guy? Do you use the SFMA? Which one is better? I thought you were a TPI guy why would you use the FMS?” The answer to these questions is YES! I use the FMS, SFMA and TPI screens, as well as a ton of other screens that I have learned over the years, with each and every client I see. Which one do I use most? The one that will give me the information I am looking for at that time to help me make a positive change in the performance of my client.

When is it appropriate to use the SFMA, FMS and when do I know when it’s time to take my client through the TPI Level 1 Screen? This article will walk you through how I use these screening and assessment tools and how they have helped me be a better fitness professional. 

My first introduction into screening came from the book Athletic Body in Balance by Gray Cook. That was the first book I read that said before performing this exercise make sure the athlete can perform the following movements. Genius! I followed that methodology for a few years, which led me to the "bible of movement" textbook Musculoskeletal Interventions by Mike Voight and Barb Hoogenboom. The depth of anatomy, physiology, corrective exercises and interventions made me realize that my Bachelors in Human Kinetics was just the beginning and I needed to continue learning.

The first certification I took after graduating from the University of British Columbia in 1998 was the FMS. The FMS courses gave me a good understanding about the basic function of the athlete. It is a great system for uncovering asymmetries and finding gross dysfunctional movement patterns. The FMS Level 2 then teaches you corrective exercises to remove the dysfunction and prepare the athlete for conditioning.

There wasn’t an athlete within 100 miles of me that didn’t get subjected to this screening process. This is an important part of becoming a good screener. You need to see as many athletes and members of the general public as possible. This helps you flush out the little idiosyncrasies and see details that go unnoticed by a novice screener.

The SFMA (Selective Functional Movement Assessment) comes into play when pain is present. The pain site is quite often not the cause of the issue. The SFMA helps you pin point the cause of the pain so you stop chasing after the symptom and you instead get to the root of the problem. Dr. Greg Rose describes the SFMA practitioner as a “Gold Miner" searching for gold, which in this analogy is pain. When you enter the mine you know there is gold somewhere in the mine but you don’t know where. The mine has seven tunnels (7 Top Tier Tests) and the SFMA tells you which tunnels you need to look in. The SFMA teases out which pattern to attack and which patterns to stay away from. (This has been taken from my exclusive interview with Dr. Rose from Episode 98 on the Coach Glass Podcast) 

I cannot express the impact that the SFMA has had on my coaching. I was introduced to the SFMA through Dr. Greg Rose and Dr. Mike Voight in the TPI Medical Track. It took my screening techniques and understanding of how the human body is meant to move to another level. I was able follow the flowcharts and get to the root of the problem. Instead of just saying you pass or fail, I now knew why! I have integrated the SFMA Top Tier into my dynamic warm up that my clients perform at the start of every session, which gives me and the athlete a look into how they are moving, TODAY and an awareness of how they flex, extend, rotate and move through each segment of the body during a warm up. For more information about my dynamic warm up you can contact me at info@jasonglassperformancelab.com.

I have been a lead instructor for TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) teaching Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 classes internationally for the past four years. But my first introduction to the TPI system came at a time in my career when I was developing my rotational training techniques. It was a game changer for me to be introduced to a system that would qualitatively and quantifiably measure my athletes’ ability to perform a sport specific task and correlate it directly to their technique. At first the TPI screening process was used almost exclusively by golf fitness trainers, medical practitioners and golf pros, but now it has spread into all facets of rotational sports including MLB, MLS, NHL, NFL, MMA, pro tennis and extreme sports. If your athlete rotates in their sport the TPI screen will give you an abundance of information about why they move the way they move.  

I am so tired of coaches trying to predict who the best athlete on their team is by their FMS score. As Dr. Rose shares in my interview with him “Researchers say that the FMS cannot predict athletic performance…That’s not what the FMS is for…That would be like using the bench press to predict who the better quarterback is!” [Link: Dr. Greg Rose & Jason Glass]

So how do you integrate all these systems? Where do you start?

I let the athlete’s body dictate where the assessment goes. What is my athlete looking for? Pain reduction, better movement, more power, better work capacity? Each of these elements requires a different screen. Saying that, regardless of what my client thinks they need there are some basic elements that any functional athlete should possess. My starting point is usually the top tier of the SFMA. I love the gross movement patterns to get a feel for the athlete's general freedom of movement or lack thereof. If I find a flexion problem for instance in the forward bend or toe touch screen, I start to break that pattern out which could lead to an active straight leg raise, passive straight leg raise comparison and a sacral angle measurement. While I’m there I may stay on the lower body, which may lead to prone hip extension, Glute Bridge and any other screen that can be performed on the ground. I liken it to the rabbit hole analogy. Once you dive in, it could lead you in many different directions. You may just end up in Albuquerque “What’s up Doc?” I like to link the screens together and try to connect the dots to get down to the root of the problem. For instance an upper body fail on the Full Overhead Deep Squat may lead to a Lat Length test, 90/90, Scapular Stability test, T-spine Rotation, and end with Cervical Rotation.

All of these elements are interrelated and a limitation in one will have a cascade effect on the adjacent segment. After zooming in on the problem I then like to step back and see how the isolated issue affects the movement pattern again. It would be like using Google maps to find the best route from LAX to the Rose Bowl. You will get a general overview of the total trip but you won’t know the exact highway exit or street intersection until you zoom right in. Before you start your journey it’s a good Idea to zoom back out  and see the entire scope of the journey.

If the initial screen indicates that there is good function in a particular pattern we will dive deeper into the performance tests found in our TPI Fitness Track. I like to start with power tests as these are the ultimate expression of human performance. If I see a deficiency in power output we need to decide if a strength issue or a speed issue causes it. When you can pin point the problem it will dictate the direction of your programming and saves you a ton of time. Depending on the athlete and where they are in their YTP (Yearly Training Plan) we could have corrective exercises in one pattern while performing strength and speed drills in another pattern. As long as one doesn’t negatively affect the other we can train the two patterns in the same session. 

The purpose of screening is to give us a snapshot of where our athlete is, where they need to go and what we should focus on to get the most out of their time with you. The more screening and assessment tools you have in your tool box, the faster and more efficiently you will get to the athlete’s priority, making your training sessions more effective.

I hope this helps clear up the differences between all these great screening and assessment tools and helps you further understand how and when to apply each approach.

Jason Glass is an international lecturer, strength coach, and lead speaker for TPI and Perform Better. Jason consults for athletes and teams in the NFL, NHL, MLB, LPGA and PGA Tour. Jason is the host of the Coach Glass Podcast, which is available on iTunes and at jasonglasslab.com


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    Joel Fernandes 7/5/2016 1:37:42 PM

    Love the article