The Rotary Stability screen in the FMS yields much attention based its unique demands and what seems like an impractical role and very low rate of scoring a 3.
It often is the subject of discussion, confusion, and leads many to stray away from the suggested protocol as per the FMS.
So I would like to write up some bullets that come to mind on this particular movement. Some points may be fairly basic to the experienced user, but certainly there are many users that are self-taught and struggling with context and reliability. Others I have a feeling you’ve never heard before.
I’ve saved as many e-mails as I’ve could to bundle into this article as well as adding some more context to what I think this screen is and also what it isn’t.
1. You score the moving arm in both the 3 and the 2 position. Report the score as Right X, Left X. In the corrective algorithm, use the lower of the 2 scores as the composite. It is the 3rd tie breaker when all moves are equal after ASLR and Shoulder Mobility.
2. It is basically impossible to perform the 3 position without mild shift. Mild I would define as a shift that still allows the horizontal of the spine to be parallel to the floor, and the contacts of the hand, knee, and big toe are all touching the board.
This shift is difficult to quantify verbally, but as Brett Jones often suggests, you will know a 3 when you see it. Much like a unicorn. You know what a unicorn is? It’s a small horse with a horn sticking out of its head. That’s a unicorn. That’s a 3 in the FMS. You just know.
3. The position of the hand can be described as natural. It isn’t anything particular, just where you would put your hand comfortably and easily.
The natural hand, knee, and dorsiflexed foot should be all be touching, but not crushing the board. Not touching = not a 2 or 3. Not dorsiflexed = not a 2 or 3.
4. For the 2 and 3 scores, the elbow touches the knee. It doesn’t touch the thigh, or the lower thigh. It touches the KNEE, not close to the knee. So not everybody gets a 2. Plenty of people can not touch their elbow to the knee. And the back is very much allowed to round to touch the knee. So to assume everyone is a 2 is a mistake especially if you are going to follow the corrective algorithm.
Lee talks about touching the elbow to knee in Episode 91 of the Strength Coach Podcast.
Always remember that anything Lee or Gray say trumps me or this article. They made the FMS up. I am just interpreting it.
5. I have heard several times that folks will start on the 2 position and then do the 3 position. There’s 2 things on this.
If the reason to start on the 2 position is concern about the individual feeling foolish or frustrated that they can’t do the movement, then I guess that’s defensible. But if a person ever feels humiliated or deflated about their FMS score, that is the fault of the Screener, not the Screenee. If you know that someone is going to perform so poorly that they will feel bad about him/herself, then I think best practice is to just skip the movement and give them a 1. A 1 by definition is unable to do the movement. You’ve lost an opportunity to screen for pain, but it will come out in the wash anyway when you start training.
The other thing is to me is odd. If you do the 2 first, and they get it, then you’re going to do the 3. So how are you saving any time?
So if you predict someone is going to score low on a cardiac evaluation, you don’t do an echo before you take BP. Just go in order, and you may find that some people can actually nail the 3.
6. The Rotary Stability screen is NOT the hardest to get a 3. It’s the Hurdle Step.
The cutpoints for 1, 2, and 3 are supported by the Medical College of Virginia, and in a completely heterogeneous and large enough population, in any of the 7 Screens, you should see 20 1′s, 60 2′s, and 20 3′s.
In the end, I suspect that there is much more of a reference point between the 2 and the 3 position in the Rotary Stability, so people easily “feel” and notice that they can’t do the 3 position. But because there so minimal difference between a 2 and 3 in the Hurdle Step, folks don’t realize they are not getting a 3. You may also add in that many Screeners are scoring the Hurdle Step generously to a 3, and then we don’t realize the Step is just as elusive or even more so than the Rotary Stability.
7. What makes the 3 in Rotary Stability so hard in the first place? I’m not sure there is a complete understanding as to what this position is reviewing in the first place. It is not some arbitrary difficult Cirque position, nor is it some more difficult version of a Birdog. And the 2 position is not a Birdog either.
Please keep in mind the ties to the neurodevelopmental perspective in that basically we can categorize all of our ground-based movements can be either ipsilateral, meaning we have support on the same side arm and leg, or contralateral, support on the opposite arm and leg.
I remember clearly texting Gray during my very first DNS class many years ago as we learned that rolling patterns via that methodology. And the very first time we roll, we land on the same side arm and leg just like the 3 position. I was thinking, “You SOB, now I know why the 3 position is what it is in the FMS.” I also remember Clare Frank being so proud that all of this was able to come together because she had questions as well.
So as the aim is to yield the absolute most discriminatory movement screening tool, if we look at Rotary Stability 3 and 2 positions, and in that order because we roll before we crawl, there is a level of screening very neurologically deep and discerning to see if indeed we have a very challenging display of the 2 foundations we need to move.
Ipsilateral = Rolling, Throwing, Leaning in most agility, some Sitting
Contralateral = Crawling, Running/Walking, Reaching Transitioning
Maybe a little more to the FMS and Rotary Stability than you might have known before……………..
I believe this ipsilateral/contralateral message is what makes Segmental Rolling so powerful. You can find Disc 5 of Training = Rehab where all of the Segmental Rolling patterns are shown as well as their RNT options.
8. Ah, but is Rotary Stability really rotary stability? Well, of course the 2 patterns above are rotation based around varying fixed points. And these patterns are largely stabilized with “soft core” patterns, meaning the bracing pattern is not hugely loaded. For example, we brace when we walk normally, but it’s not like we are bearing down with a breath to break the belt or cracking in to take a punch.
But in our fitness and training programs, we often train rotary stability and strength with many other tools like Chops/Lifts, Landmines, and frontal plane punches. All brilliant choices, but also choices that likely do not often immediately change a pattern. It’s not that they can’t, and it’s not that they are not hugely useful, but if we can tie semantics into the conversation yet again, there is a big difference between Rotary Stability as per the FMS and Anti-Rotation conditioning as per these excellent exercises that we use.
They are not the same.
Rotary Stability patterns employ the soft core, the inner core, the proper motor control of timing that allows us to move bodyweight very spider-like and effortless.
Anti-Rotation makes you savagely strong to move how you move faster and stronger.
From a practical standpoint though, I am not sure if a 1 in the Rotary Stability pattern = don’t do Anti-Rotation drills from a strength onto dysfunction standpoint.
I, for one, score a miserable 1 on Rotary Stability. First off, this is one reason to not assume everybody can just get a 2. I have fair t-spine but very limited GH external rotation, and my ego also leads me to report I have very short humerus and pec girth that makes getting across elbow to knee basically impossible for me.
But I do not find my pattern worsening with lot of heavy and hard landmines. They are clearly not helping my pattern. It leads me to believe that Anti-Rotation and Rotary Stability as per the FMS might be linked, but they are not the same.
I am not 100% sure that Anti-Rotation should be on lockdown on a 1. It should be on lockdown if there is asymmetry. Running and other longer duration locomotion should be on lockdown if there is a 1. And now I have my reason for struggling with a 8:00+ mile.