Jessie Newell by Jessie Newell
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Functional assessments are one of the best ways to gain an understanding of what to address with a client’s resistance and flexibility-training program. Performing various assessments can help you identify any compensation that causes the client to deviate from proper postural or movement mechanics. If a client presents a deviation, there are likely muscular imbalances (tight or weak muscle or muscle group) present and you can use that information to select exercises that will address them. While some deviations stem from factors that cannot be corrected through training, it is still helpful to be aware of these deviations.

In this second installment of a four-part series examining the four main types of functional assessments, we take a closer look at the purpose and application of movement assessments and how you can use that information to design safe and effective programs for your clients.

With each assessment, the first thing to understand is the objective (purpose) of the assessment—what information can you gather from this assessment? Here are some general notes about four common movement assessments:

Bend and Lift Screen

The squatting motion is one of the five primary movement patterns, so it is essential to understand what a proper squat should look like and be able to identify if someone is deviating from that form. First, you will observe the client anteriorly (frontal view) to determine what’s going on at the foot and ankle, knees and symmetry of the body as it lowers down. Then you view from the side (sagittal view) to identify what’s going on at the feet, knee, hip, spine and head, and the overall relationship of the torso to the tibia (ideally, they should be parallel).

Hurdle Step Screen

This is an example of a single-leg motion, which is also one of the five primary movement patterns. For this assessment, you will have the client try to remain stable across the torso and hips as they lift one leg over a “hurdle.” First, you will observe from the frontal view to determine what is going on at the foot, knee, leg, hip and torso. Then you will move to the sagittal view to observe the pelvis and low back. You’ll notice many of the same compensations are relevant from the bend and lift screening.

Thoracic Spine Mobility Screen

Rotation (another basic movement pattern) in the torso should generally be isolated in the thoracic spine, as the surrounding joints (scapulothoracic joint and lumbar spine) should remain stable. You’re basically looking to see if the client can achieve 45 degrees of rotation on each side while keeping the shoulders and hips stable.

Shoulder Push Stabilization Screen

For this assessment, you’re observing the scapulothoracic joint (where the scapulae articulate with the spine) and the spine from the sagittal view to determine the presence of scapular winging or hyperextension in the low back. (Pushing is another basic movement pattern.)

Exam candidates often feel confused or overwhelmed by how to determine whether a muscle should be stretched or strengthened. Just remember that if a muscle is tight, it should be stretched, and if it’s weak, it should be strengthened. Here are some study tips to help you better understand the relationship between tight and weak muscles:

1. Get familiar with anatomy

Look at each assessment's result charts (e.g., Table 7-6 Bend and Lift Screen) and have Chapter 1 of your Exercise Science Manual opened right next to you. As you look at the muscles suspected to be responsible for the compensation, look at where those muscles are on the body. Take note of the origin, insertion and action points and try to picture what the muscle being chronically shortened (tight) would look like on the body. Picture what it would look like if it were chronically lengthened (weak).

2. Review anatomy during posture/movement

Posture is always a result of muscles pushing or pulling the body in a certain direction. When we have good posture, there is an equal force between opposing forces to keep you in neutral alignment. When one of those opposing forces is overpowering the other or when one is not as strong as the other, the body gets pulled out of neutral alignment. Return to those assessment result charts and you'll notice that almost every compensation is made up of a tight (hyperactive) agonist paired with a weak (underactive) antagonist.

3. Practice

After reviewing the anatomy using the two approaches described above, it is time to start applying that information. Go through these assessments with each of these compensations and see if you can feel what is going on in the body. During the Bend and Lift Screen, for example, you'll see that the tight muscles are going to be in a position of contraction (e.g., knees moving in (adduction) because the leg adductor muscles are tight) and the opposing force was weak (the gluteal muscles). Try observing this happening in your own body.

Assessments are important tools to determine the best programs for your clients. If you need further assistance in understanding how to use movement assessments—or on any other topic that comes up as you prepare for your exam—contact our study coaches at 800-825-3636, Ext. 796 or resource@acefitness.org.