A couple weeks ago I made mention in my periodization blog about how functional assessments are so important and that I would expand on it later. Well, later has come. I feel functional assessments are an essential part of program design. A functional assessment is basically an assessment of one’s movement quality. It will help the trainer identify the following:
Tight or Shortened Muscles– Muscles can become tight/short a many of ways. It can be a product of repetitive motion or non-motion. For instance, a person who sits all day for their job may have tight hip flexors and hamstrings because those muscles are rarely lengthened throughout the day. On the other hand, someone who is on their feet all day while they work may develop tight calves because they use those muscles so much. Either way, if a muscle is not able to lengthen properly it will affect a person’s ability to move.
Weak or Lengthened Muscles– Muscles general become weak/lengthened when they are underused or placed in an extended lengthened state. Those who work at a computer may have lengthened and weak muscles of the upper back because they are constantly rounding forward. This position underutilizes the muscles of the upper back, but also keeps them in a lengthened position. If a muscle is over lengthened and underutilized it will definitely affect movement.
Postural Dysfunctions– The combination of the above two issues will general result in postural issues. Posture includes the entire body. If some muscles are tight/short and some muscles are weak/long it will cause the body to look a certain way. For instance a tight chest and a weak upper back will have a person slouching forward in appearance. The more postural dysfunctions one has the more movement dysfunctions they will have.
Movement Dysfunctions– Movements are a product of the muscles that are responsible for the movement. When we move most all muscles are involved somehow, someway all the time. When there are muscles that are either tight/short or weak/long they are not operating properly. This generally means that movement patterns are not efficient. Forces are not able to be produced or absorbed properly. When this happens at the very least we are as effective in out movements and at the very worst we become injured.
Compensation Patterns– Many times, movement dysfunctions are caused because we have developed compensations patterns. That is to say, we have developed a way that we can make certain movements possible by not using the muscles that are supposed to make those movements possible. This becomes an issue because we start to over load the muscles being used and they can become damaged or dysfunctional.
Movement Ranges- There will be certain movement ranges that are possible without dysfunction or compensation, but as a movement moves past a certain point the body will compensate. A perfect example of this is a squat. Everyone can do a squat to a certain depth. Some can go hips to heels with no dysfunction, while others may only be able to get a slight hip drop before dysfunction occurs. There are ranges to still train a client that are safe while you continue to work on the dysfunctions themselves.
Functional assessments will give the trainer so much valuable information. The biggest thing is for the trainer to identify and deal with areas of restriction. Restrictions will hold back the client form truly becoming better. Without the assessment, it really is a guessing game.