UnCovering & UnCooking the FMS Model: Primitive Patterns, Myths & Strategies

Last week we taught an FMS Level 1 and Level 2 (Advanced Corrective Exercise) combo course at Copeman Healthcare to a sold out room of 29 eager students, coaches, trainers and clinicians. Over 130,000 + health professionals have joined the legion of FMS certified coaches around the world, and I felt very proud to be one of the assistants to one of the few teachers in North America who teaches the level 2 course. Behnad Honarbakhsh is one of Vancouver’s leading physiotherapists who specializes in not only traditional physiotherapy, but also, acupuncture, IMS (intramuscular stimulation), NLP, energy work, and soon to be Osteopathy. People have coined his sessions as “miracles” or “voodoo,” and I would be agree being a patient, as well as an employee and friend.  There is a vast wealth of knowledge and experience in our team at Fit to Train Human Performance Systems.  Now, enough of tooting the FTT horn… onwards to the main component of this article.. Uncovering the FMS model: Primitive Patterns, Myths and Strategies for corrective movement.

As Fit to Train’s only Movement Coach, new FMS professionals come to me with questions to learn more about how to apply this new tool and the corrective exercises into their current scope of practice. Many of which are strength and conditioning coaches and personal trainers who find it overwhelming with all of the information to then make the transition from doctrine to strategy. My response is always the same: Keep.It.Simple.



Modern fitness and training science has bestowed upon us the ability to create strength and power in the presence of extremely poor dysfunction. This dysfunction means that fundamental movement patterns are limited, asymmetrical or barely present. Just because we can make people bigger, faster and stronger on top of this does not make it right. Seated, fixed-axis equipment perpetuates the illusion of fitness without enhancing functional performance. And what about “weak core” or “weak glute medius,” these are the two biggest myths in our industry. Number one, how can you tell it’s a weak core or weak glute med? How can you tell if a client is “firing” it. Answer – is you can’t. One muscle does not make the human body move properly. For active clients and even well trained athletes, it will be inhibition of sequential movement that results in poor tissue movement and tissue health. This falls into 3 categories (1) mobility (2) stability or (3) motor control, and most often because joints have a relationship with it’s neighbor and neighboring quadrant, you see all 3 scattered in different interactions between joints, tissue and posture positions.

Utilize all of your tools to uncover an individual’s dysfunction and then work to correct it. The result will be an individual who moves more efficiently, thereby creating a foundation for more effective strength, endurance and power training.

1.  THE TOOLS : The FMS Screens (which includes the FMS, SFMA for clinicians and the Y Balance) are all just screens to offer you a baseline on a clients strengths and compensatory movement.

2. THE SCORE: work on one asymmetry at a time, as you we see changes in them all. Use the breakout tiers  provided on the most asymmetrical score (ASLR, shoulder mobility, primitive patterns etc).

3. THE STRATEGY: Corrective movement exercises  are designed to “prep” the body for movement, any movement that the coach has prepared for that particular client. Your role in your warm up is to assess risk, remove negatives and prepare the client for the session.  If you are a trainer, corrective movement can be the first 10 mins of the hour. Like all else, what the client does on their own is part of the overall strategy of personal goal attainment. Ensure you offer them guidance and encourage them to perform their specific corrective exercises at home between your sessions.

The “Core” is the Foundation to Primitive Patterning: Gray Cook; Sequence of Core Firing Video: 


As a Movement Coach, I have the opportunity to spend an hour or more with each client and coach them on these fundamentals. Corrective movement is a modality within the health and wellness realm; which we like to call the “transition zone.” Corrective movement opens the door for coaches and professionals in the fitness industry to screen, assess and correct breakdowns in a client or athletes movement mechanics.

In my practice I use this style o f training to (a) pre screen a client who may need to see a physiotherapist or medical professional or (b) the client has been referred by a physiotherapist or medical professional and thus, my role is to “transition” the client from the clinical to the coaching again. This work compliments the work of most trainers and coaches, as it allows them to maximize their role with an athlete or client. There is no competition between myself and other trainers or coaches, because what I mainly teach is the technique and how cleaning the slate, removing negatives etc, applies to all areas of the athlete or clients life; while at the same time reinforcing the coaches strategy. An integrated team approach.

Even in the strength and conditioning realm, I have the opportunity to teach or in some cases re teach the fundamentals of lifting and transitioning. As the body becomes more efficient in mobilization, stabilization,  and neuromuscular adaptation they will ultimately be stronger and more fluid in movement. With this comes a risk of injury if we, as coaches, do not properly teach those new fundamentals the athlete or client are experiencing.

Video: Asymmetry in Movement (DVD Key Functional Exercises You Should Know): 


The following video selections are favorite videos I have chosen from the FMS library for you to be become more familiar with Corrective Movement, common mistakes and myths in the industry and the written portions of the article is direct excerpts from Gray Cook’s website and movement book.

Movement Competency: The ability to employ fundamental movement patterns like single-leg balance, squatting, reflex core stabilization and symmetrical limb movement.  This can also include basic coordination with reciprocal movement patterns like crawling and lunging. The central goal is not to assess physical prowess or fitness, but to establish a fundamental blueprint and baseline of quality not quantity.

Physical Capacity: The ability to produce work, propel the body or perform skills that can be quantified to establish an objective level of performance. If movement competency is present at or above a minimum acceptable level of quality, deficits in physical capacity can be addressed with work targeting performance. If movement competency is not adequate, it would be incorrect to assume that a physical capacity deficiency could be addressed by working only on physical capacity.

Growth and development follow the path of competency to capacity, but how many fitness and athletic programs  parallel this time-honored gold standard of motor development? If screens and standards for movement competency are not employed, we are programming on a guess. Furthermore, if our testing does not clearly separate movement competency tests and physical capacity tests, we exchange a guess for an assumption.

 VIDEO: Applying the FMS Model (6 min from the DVD Set “Key Functional Exercises You Should Know”):


Exercise professionals too often overlook the fundamental movements because highly active individuals can often perform many high level movements without easily observable deficits. The Functional Movement Screen was first introduced to give us greater relative insight into primitive patterns by identifying limitations and asymmetries. The FMS screen is a way of taking it back to the basics and recognizing that these patterns are fundamental; a key factor is that they are common during the growth and developmental sequence, and thus taking it back to primitive movement, we may be able to overcome some of these common compensations.

 VIDEO: Gray Cook:  Common Mistakes Made in Corrective Movement vs Strength Movement 


Consideration of primitive patterns can help make you a more intuitive, and intelligent exercise professional. Very often we become experts in exercise without considering growth and development, which is where the fundamentals of movement were first established. As explained in this video, these fundamental movements include rolling, pushing up, quadruped, and crawling. This foundation is often neglected in the approaches we take to enhance function and/or performance through exercise programming.

The first rule of functional performance is not forgetting fundamentals. In order to progress to movement we first learned to reflexively stabilize the spine, in order to control movement more distally in the extremities, this happened naturally during growth and development. However, many individuals lose the ability to naturally stabilize as they age due to asymmetries, injuries, poor training or daily activities. The individuals who do this develop compensatory movements, which then create inefficiencies and asymmetries in fundamental movements.

VIDEO 2: Gray Cook and Lee Burton: Secrets of Primitive Patterns:


About the Author: Sarah Jamieson

Sarah Jamieson has written 155 posts on this site.

Sarah is the owner and head movement coach at Moveolution; a Vancouver based consulting company focused on the integration of movement and recovery science. Bridging the gaps between the clinical and performance fields Sarah’s passion stems from lifelong passion of Yoga, Jujitsu, and Qi Gong; which she integrates into her coaching practice. She is a full time social change maker, a ‘run-a-muker’ of everything outdoors and repeatedly engages in random acts of compassion.

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