Don’t Tell People They’re Broken Because of Your Movement Screen

Coaches will often get excited about the possibilities of detailed movement assessments.
Wouldn’t it be great to go down the rabbit hole and find all of the potential dysfunctions with a client – then fix them one by one?
Every stone would be overturned for elite athletes, and all of those 1% gains in efficiency from having perfect movement would certainly aggregate to a massive improvement in performance! Wasn’t there something about a British cycling team winning the Tour de France based upon creating these small improvements? (Oh yeah, and – how could we forget – doping.)
New clients would start with a totally clean slate, and they’d be able to build perfect technique on top of a pristine movement foundation!
However, we can also easily spend a lot of time and energy chasing phantoms of dysfunction and ending up empty-handed.
And, the impacts of chasing dysfunction where it doesn’t exist aren’t just limited to wasting our time. We can easily make our clients feel fragile and broken by convincing them that they have all kinds of movement issues that require excessive foam-rolling and special breathing exercises before every training session.
But, there has to be some sort of value in screening for movement issues, right? We still run all new clients through the SFMA top tier at South Loop Strength & Conditioning. We just have to find the balance between screening for major issues, giving clients helpful tips for minor issues, and not over-optimizing for a screen.
Ideally, we all have an understanding of what the “base rate” is of clients having a movement dysfunction that causes them an actual problem – either injury or significant movement restriction that limits their training.
In other words, what percentage of people coming into the gym have some sort of significant movement issue?
From that base rate, we can make adjustments of the likelihood that a client will experience issues based upon their movement screening results, whether or not they have pain with certain movements, and how they move when performing actual exercise (not just screening protocols). If we want to think of this in terms of a Bayesian prior, that may be helpful.
This stepwise process of thinking through how likely someone is to have an issue gives a more complete picture of a risk profile, and also gives a framework for thinking about the amount of time and energy that should be spent on “correcting” a pattern that is dysfunctional on a screen.
There’s an opportunity cost to everything we do in the gym, and – by getting too far into the weeds on tracking down every “dysfunction” – we are potentially wasting our time and our clients’ time.
And, we also need to make sure we are not overloading clients with unhelpful information that will overwhelm, confuse and scare them.
So, don’t stop screening people for movement issues. Just be careful with how you communicate those issues, and develop a framework for your own reasoning so that you can understand when a movement issue “matters” and when it’s a red herring.

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