Prevent Running Injuries: Inefficient Movement Patterns and the FMS

by Jason Fitzgerald

Runners are always looking for the newest way to prevent running injuries and help them train smarter. From compression socks, foam rollers, and even full leg compression sleeves (ridiculous, aren’t they?).

Most of the products that you buy help you recover from hard training or treat running injuries. But I had an opportunity recently to diagnose my personal movement inefficiencies, inflexibilities, and weaknesses to prevent injuries from happening in the first place. Who needs to recover if you’re not that beat up from training in the first place?

Last week I went to the Maryland Sports Injury Center to receive a Functional Movement Screen, which identifies muscle strength and flexibility limitations. I’m a firm believer that the majority of running injuries can be prevented by not pushing the body to do too much, too soon, and by consistently incorporating strength and flexibility exercises in your training.

Since about April of 2009, I’ve been free of any major injury and ran the most I ever have in 2010 (a bit over 3,000 miles). So, I think I’m doing most things right with my training. I know I have some limitations – everybody does – but I was curious to see what an expert could learn from studying my own movements and what it can teach you.

I met with Jason Schrieber, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a USA Weightlifting Club Coach, and HKC Kettlebell Instructor. He has a BS in Kinesiology, competed in mixed martial arts and powerlifting, and has taught Anatomy and Physiology, Health and Exercise Science, and Physical Education.

It was important to me to meet with someone who was not a runner but who’s had experience with runners. I wanted brutal honesty about my physical imbalances. I’ll see a different professional for my mental imbalances.

The Functional Movement Screen

We got down to business quickly and started the FMS, which is a series of 7 exercises and 3 simple movements to test for pain. They include:

  • Deep Squat
  • In-Line Lunge
  • Shoulder Mobility
  • Impingement Clearing Test
  • Active Straight Leg Raise (ASLR)
  • Trunk Stability Push Up
  • Press Up Clearing Test
  • Rotary Stability
  • Posterior Rocking Clearing Test

Each exercises is scored on a scale of 0-3, with 3 being perfect and 0 being a complete fail. The three movements to test pain are a simple pass/fail and include the impingement clearing test, press up clearing test, and posterior rocking clearing test. Most of the exercises are detailed in the video below.

As I went through each exercises, I became more and more confident that the numerous strength and core routines that I do on a regular basis have helped me become a better athlete. While each movement was different than what I routinely do after my training runs, they were similar enough that none of them were particularly difficult.

Now I want to go through and briefly describe each exercise, how I performed, and its importance to runners. I’ll stick to the actual exercises and leave out the three pain tests.

The deep squat is performed with a light bar held above your head. A perfect score is given if you can keep the bar above your head without it moving toward the front of your body and you can lower your thighs beyond parallel. I scored a 2 out of 3 in this exercise because the bar moved in front of me slightly. This is probably due to shoulder instability.

It’s important for runners to be able to go through a proper squat movement. If that movement is impossible, your hips and hamstrings are very tight and your stride mechanics are likely inefficient. I consider this exercise to be one of the most important and most predictive of running injuries.

The in-line lunge is essentially a split lunge with both feet pointing forward along one straight line. You hold a bar behind your back to keep your torso in line. You need to have great balance and leg strength to be able to do this movement without falling over. Lacking the coordination to do a simple lunge is problematic when you consider running is a series of one legged hops. I scored a 3 on this exercise.

Prevent Running Injuries - FMS Evaluation

Fitz's FMS Evaluation

The shoulder mobility exercise was done by putting your arms out to your sides and then twisting them behind you in opposite directions to have them touch between your shoulder blades. While I scored a 3 on this exercise, it was evident my right shoulder is tighter than my left – probably from spending too much time at a computer. This exercise is not as specific to running as the others.

Next was the active straight leg raise. This was a simple hamstring flexibility exercise where I laid on the floor and kept my left leg still while I raised my right. I fared poorly on this test and scored a meager 1 – my lowest score of the day. I’ve had minor hamstring issues in the past, but never anything serious. A score of 1 isn’t good though, so I’ll be working on increasing my hamstring flexibility.

The trunk stability pushup was the hardest exercise in the set. It was essentially a standard pushup except your hands are planted well in front of your shoulders. It requires a lot of core activation and stability to not let your stomach sag below your shoulders and knees. I scored a 3 on this exercise, but I think Jason was being lenient on me.

Finally, the rotary stability exercise tested balance and stability in the shoulder. It’s essentially a bird dog exercise and is featured prominently in the video above. You raise one arm in front of you while lifting the opposite leg behind you and then bring your knee to your elbow underneath your torso.

The only way you can score a 3 is if you can do this exercise with your leg and arm on the same side. I tried a few times and fell over each time. It wasn’t pretty, so I scored a 2. Jason said that he’s only seen one person ever score a 3 so I felt a little better about myself.

FMS Lessons on How to Prevent Running Injuries

The test was fun but more importantly, it gave me some actionable lessons that I can use in my training help prevent running injuries. First and foremost is my lack of hamstring flexibility. My long runs before the New York Marathon were 16 miles and then another 6 on the track at sub-6 minute pace. Remembering back on those workouts, my hamstrings failed first.

I learned several new active stretches to do for my hamstrings, which I’ll hopefully detail in a future video.

There’s also a clear tightness in my right side as opposed to my left. Again, this is probably because I spend too much time in front of a computer. I learned a great shoulder stretch to use and I need to be more aware of my posture while typing. These are good lessons for anyone and things I knew before heading in for the FMS. But seeing the results of poor posture in limited movement patterns really wakes you up to making change in your day to day life.

The FMS is something I’d recommend to any runner who’s curious about their imbalances, inefficiencies, inflexibilities, and poor movement patterns. My one criticism is that it’s not entirely specific to running. I’d love to see a running-specific FMS developed to evaluate the running stride and movement of runners (something a bit less involved and costly than Jay Dicharry’s sports lab).

I want to thank Jason for his help, guidance, and expertise during my time at the Maryland Sports Injury Center. He was very thorough going over each exercise and never once made fun of my running shorts. I came away from the Functional Movement Screen knowing more about my body’s limitations and imbalances – knowledge that I know will help me become a better runner. If you live in the greater DC area, definitely check them out.

Congrats to Steve T. for guessing my biggest inflexibility! I’ll think of a cool prize and get back to you.

Full disclosure: the FMS was complimentary in exchange for a review.

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