By P.K. Daniel
The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is best known as a predictor of future injury in athletes, but a recent two-year study of elite track and field athletes now suggests a relationship between high scores, which indicate fewer deficits, and improved performance.
Researchers from Indiana University in Indianapolis assessed 121 elite track and field athletes, including Olympic medalists. Those with an FMS score greater than 14, or with no movement asymmetries, had a significantly greater performance improvement from 2010 to 2011 than those who scored 14 or less, or with at least one bilateral asymmetry. (Asymmetry is possible on five of the seven components of the screening test.) The findings were published in the March issue of the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.
This study did not assess the ability of FMS to predict injury risk. But athletes with higher scores may have been injured less often and therefore may have been better able to train and improve, said study coauthor Todd W. Arnold, MD, a sports medicine physician at St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis.
“However,” he added, “moving well and having no asymmetries may simply allow the athlete to gain more from each training session.”
The researchers divided the participants into different subgroups based on gender, discipline (sprints/hurdle, jumps, throws, multievent), and USA Track & Field (USATF) tier designation.
The athletes were screened between July 2010 and May 2011 (before the 2011 competitive season), and were injury-free when screened. They performed a series of seven movements to assess balance, proprioception, and strength. The athletes’ top marks in USATF-sanctioned events were examined for performance change between the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
“Athletes who move better have the potential to improve over athletes that have a movement screen that is poor or shows significant asymmetries,” said Arnold, who also is a performance scientist for USATF and a team physician for the Indianapolis Indians, USA Synchronized Swimming, and Carmel United Soccer Club.
Researcher Phil Plisky, PT, DSc, OCS, ATC, agreed.
“You might be a great sprinter, but your ability to improve might be restricted by those basic fundamental movement patterns that are limited,” said Plisky, who is an assistant professor and Sports Residency Program Director at the University of Evansville and a physical therapist at ProRehab, both in Evansville, IN.
Objective assessment of performance outcomes is difficult in many sports, but in track and field the results are quantifiable using precision electronic timing and measuring instruments. The disciplines within track and field differ from one another in terms of physiology and biomechanics; consequently, the findings may be generalizable to athletes in other sports, Arnold said.
“Track and field athletes and their results can be extrapolated to other athletes,” he said. “Since we did research on all forms of the sport, which include running both sprints and long distance, jumping athletes [long and high], and throwing athletes, it would generally apply to other sports.”
When the researchers looked at specific subgroups, including track and field disciplines, the difference in mean performance change between athletes with high and low FMS scores and between athletes with asymmetries versus no asymmetries was not always statistically significant. However, those differences do come close to or exceed the thresholds for smallest worthwhile change in track and field performance proposed in 1999 by Australian researchers. The authors of the Indiana study also point out that some of these subgroup comparisons suffered from low power due to a small sample size.
Plisky recognized the applicability of these results to lower-level track and field athletes. However, he questioned extrapolating the results to athletes in other sports.
“I’m not sure how generalizable it is,” he said. “I think the idea makes sense that if you have a good, solid movement foundation then your potential for improvement goes up. I think we can generalize results that way.”
Chapman RF, Laymon AS, Arnold T. Functional movement scores and longitudinal performance outcomes in elite track and field athletes. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2014;9(2):203-211.
Hopkins WG, Hawley JA, Burke LM. Design and analysis of research on sport performance enhancement. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1999;31(3):472-485.