Tennis training: dynamic warm-ups, training, hip rotation, and back pain

I had a great tennis lesson with a new instructor yesterday, and we chatted a bit before starting, and in particular noted that the warm-up I had been doing was not what tennis players typically do. I mentioned that I have a dynamic warm-up for tennis video that I would be happy to send to him. As the discussion ensued, I realized that I have a few references that would probably be of interest to tennis players, so I decided to organize them into one post.

Without further ado, this post includes the dynamic warm-up video, an article about training for tennis, a series of exercise videos aimed at improving your hip rotation, and an article about exercises for low back pain. I include the latter because three of my tennis player friends have been having back problems this month.

Dynamic warm-up for tennis

Try this while you’re waiting for the court. It only takes about 5 minutes.

Tennis training

This post covers concepts and some specific exercise videos in regards to strength, power, endurance, and mobility training for tennis. Click here to read the article.

Hip rotation training

These are actually videos I put together for training skiers, but I realized while watching a tennis player do a cross-over that this would also be very helpful for tennis players. As you watch it, every time I refer to turning the skis, pretend I said changing direction on the court and I suspect you’ll find it makes a lot of sense.

Note: In addition to the videos below, if you have a hip injury, or find that your hips bother you when (or after) you play, you may find my ebook about Training Around Hip Injuries very helpful. The ebook is only $9.99 now, but will go up to $24.99 on August 1st. Note that the currently available version is specifically for individuals with Femoro acetabular Impingement or FAI, but I have a new version coming out in September that is intended for a wide array of hip issues, including labral tears, arthritis and even hip resurfacing or replacements. If hat is more interesting to you, I suggest you add yourself to this list and I will send out an email when it is available.

Standing hip rotation:

Mini-band hip rotations:

Single-leg squat:

Reverse lunge with hip rotation:

Low back exercises

As noted above, several of my tennis player friends have been having back issues recently, and so I have sent my 6 Exercises for Low Back Health article out a lot. The challenge with tennis in regards to our backs is that a tennis swing involves a lot of rotation, and the serve will likely have rotation combined with extension, and potentially even rotation combined with flexion in the follow through. Ideally most of that movement happens in the hips and thoracic spine (upper back), but if mobility is limited there, then the low back will pick up the slack. Unfortunately the low back is not as well equipped to handle these movements. Click here to read the low back exercises article.

I hope this post is useful for some tennis players out there, and that some of it helps you to improve your performance and/or helps you stay healthy so you can enjoy this great (but sometimes frustrating) sport.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa Canada who works primarily with athletes and individuals returning to active lifestyles post-injury.

Interested in receiving regular (monthly-ish) training articles? Sign up below:

Sign up for my (non-spammy) newsletter

* indicates required

Email Format

How to fix your car when you know almost nothing about cars, spark plug edition

Last Friday evening my car wouldn’t start. Knowing that I wouldn’t have time to take it in on Monday and that I needed the car on Tuesday, I decided I would fix it myself on Saturday. This was a strange conclusion because I’ve never done any car repair before. Heck, I rarely even take it in for oil changes. Haha, so many people cringed at reading that. But it’s true. So lesson #1: if I’m selling a car, you probably don’t want to buy it. Even though it would have the appealing ad copy “one owner”. I decided to take photos and post commentaries on Facebook as I did the repair, and allegedly it was more than mildly entertaining. So I figured I’d pull those posts together into a single blog post here:

My car won’t start, which I have self-diagnosed as a spark plug problem (based on zero auto repair knowledge+being an engineer). Five minutes watching a (great) how to video and a trip to Canadian Tire and Sherwood Deli and I am ready for my first auto repair experience.


Spark plug replacement, steps 1 and 2: Open hood and eat sandwich.


Spark plug replacement steps 3 and 4: Take off manifold cover (is that what it’s called?) while experimenting with whether this can be done with one hand, as this is being done in parallel with step 2. Wash hand in case sandwich is messy enough that it requires a second hand (it is). Sandwich does not get put down at any point. Obviously.


Spark plug replacement steps 5 and 6: Open beer and contemplate that you have exhausted all of the easy steps.


Spark plug replacement step 7: notice that this looks to be broken and ponder what it is and whether that might be the real problem. Anyone know?


suddenly I experienced the true benefit of Facebook – instant answers to questions! Like these:

“Trim the end and reattach to the nipple. It is a vacuum hose. May not be the reason for the non start, but should be fixed.” A second comment confirmed that. Validation!

“That tin pot is a vacuum control on your fuel rail. That means your fuel rail is not controlled properly and you have a major vacuum leak. It could stop your car from working.”

Spark plug replacement steps 8 – 12: Realize that the ratchet set won’t work because it actually requires allan keys. While contemplating where your Allan keys are, check oil and realize you basically don’t have any. Add oil as your excellent neighbour Ken pulls up and offers his Allan key set. Remind yourself of the lefty-loosey righty-tighty mantra as you remove the bolts to get the manifold out of the way.


Spark plug replacement steps 13 – 16: Enjoy a moment of admiration at how easy it is to lift the manifold up and out of the way. Find appropriate jack to hold it up there, and then feel sweet accomplishment as you see how easy it is to use the spark plug wire tool to remove the wires. Then decide it is time to rewatch the video part about removing the actual spark plugs.


Spark plug replacement step 17 – 19: go back to the toll box for thw extended 5/8 ratchet noticing the SPK written on it, almost as though it was designed for spark plugs, then adopt a wow cool expression as the spark plug comes out with the ratchet. Just like in the video! Minor note: took way more than the 7 or 8 turns in the video. Ponder whether to open another beer or wait until the job is done.


Spark plug replacement steps almost last: feel sense of accomplishment as all plugs are in. Wonder if the car will actually start as you start to reattach the manifold. Then the cursing begins. Seriously VW? Allan f’ng screws to hold the fricken engine together? Thinking beer number two before starting this would have been wise. To be continued…


And it’s all back together minus one screw that is lost in the engine. I didn’t realize VW employed child labor, but I don’t see how some of these screws get installed without the help of tiny fingers. A bit worried that a lost screw in the engine is a bad idea but I’m going to do the test run anyhow. Oh and wasn’t able to reattach that vacuum hose as it’s too short now. It looks easy enough to replace though. Now the moment of truth…


And it works! Although isn’t exactly purring like a new car. Off to Canadian Tire for a hose…and hoping the car will still start when I try to leave there.

Customer service win! Went to Canadian Tire for a vacuum hose for my car and the guy spent a few minutes looking at the computer asked what diameter, I said I didn’t know, and he then said, “we don’t carry it”. My sense was he wasn’t sure and didn’t want to bother, but I could be wrong. Went to Parts Source and the guy said there were a couple of diameters so he would go get a couple and see which fit. Note the rain in the photo. Part cost less than a buck. Gotta love people that do their beat to help their customers. This is my new go to store for all things auto.


Spark plug replacement project epilogue:
1. Got some help in the search for the missing screw.

2. Apparently some people feel that driving around with less than the minimum recommended amount of oil is a bad idea.


3. I wasn’t allowed to leave until the world (aka my car’s oil level) was righted.


4. And now that all is well, I’m sure I can wait a few months before getting that oil change.


Next up: replacing the brake pads and rotors!

Elsbeth Vaino is an engineer turned personal trainer who for some strange reason felt that a post about replacing spark plugs belongs on her nutrition and exercise blog.

Top 13 benefits of a unique name

Several fun lists about the challenges of a unique name have made the rounds of the interwebs recently, which made me think it was time for a list of benefits.

And thus the following Top 13 benefits of a unique name list was born:

1. I got What’s your URL, Dave Smith?

2. Like Madonna, and Cher, last names are optional.

3. No chance of getting on a no-fly list because the authorities confused you with another person with the same name.

4. Similarly, security clearance applications take very little time due to the ease and quickness of the background check. I got my last one in the time it took to walk three blocks back to the office. My boss waited three months.

5. That blissful feeling when, after forty years of searching, you finally get an off-the-shelf mug with your name.

els mug

6. When someone mentions you in a story at a party, nobody asks “which Elsbeth?

7. Frequent Starbucks name blunders inevitably lead to adopting a superhero name for ordering which is surprisingly fun. If you can’t spell or pronounce Elsbeth, you may call me Elektra.

elektra coffee

8. If the barista spells your fake name wrong, you won’t mind because it’s not your name.

9. Long lost friends have no problem finding you. (Arguably this could go on the disadvantages list too. )

10. Slough off any responsibility for friending people on social media with a simple “It will be much easier for you to find me”.

11. You can do things like leaving notes on food in a communal fridge that say ‘property of Elsbeth’ without worrying that someone else will take it as an invitation. ()

12. If you are ever teaching or giving a presentation, it provides a great option to lighten things up. I like to use it as a way to decide who wins swag at seminars. “First person who pronounces my full name properly gets this suspension trainer”.

13. You have a very easy out with telemarketers: “May I speak with Elizabeth please?” “Sorry, there is no Elizabeth here.

Do you have a suggestion for my list? If so, please add it in a comment and if I like it, I’ll include it (with credit of course).

Elsbeth Vaino, aka Elizabeth Viano, aka Elsa Wino, aka Elvis Vanio, aka Lizbet Vain, aka Elektra is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada.

If you’re Canadian and food labelling is important to you…

Consider stepping up and being part of the solution. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has created a survey for consumers and industry about proposed changes in direction to the food labelling system in Canada. If you’re Canadian, and you have an interest in the direction we take in our food labelling, then please take the time to fill in this survey.

Unfortunately the survey is clunky and long, and I know it’s not easy to find time to fill in surveys like this. In fact the instructions say it will take about 45 minutes to fill in. I didn’t keep track of how long it took me, so I can’t confirm or refute that estimate, but it isn’t short. The upside is that you can save at the end of each section, so you don’t have to finish all at once. The other downside is that some of the questions are oddly worded. In fact they remind me of project meetings from back in my consulting days. My guess is the survey was designed in-house. Oh well. The upside is that there is a lot of room for comments, so if you have ideas do share them. Hopefully someone will be reading.

Also keep in mind that this is a survey for industry and consumers. My bet is that there will be no shortage of responses from industry. This means that if we the consumers don’t take the time to fill it in, the direction of our food labelling system will be (more?) skewed in favour of industry.

What if only industry representatives answered the following question (from the survey):

“Are you in favour of a model in which industry takes a more active role in the development and maintenance of policies on consumer values claims?”

This is my answer:

At the end of the day, industry is responsible to its shareholders, not to the public. By definition that means they have goals that are related to profit over health. They should of course be a stakeholder along with the Government, nutrition and health practitioners, and consumers. But the size of their role should be strongly scrutinized.

I have a friend who is in the frozen foods business, and he once told me that one of their key performance indicators was oil uptake. They try to adjust recipes to increase the relative quantity of oil because oil is their cheapest ingredient. My guess is that all manufacturers have their own version of that KPI, and it is very clear that that does not align with either the Government, health care, or consumer goals for food. This is why industry should not have a bigger stake.

Want to make sure interested Canadians have as much of a say as interested industry?

Here’s the link to the survey again: Canada Food Labelling Survey. Please fill it in if you have an interest in the future of the Canadian food labelling system. The deadline is June 30th, 2015. If you have an extra interest in food labelling, there is an email address for the initiative at the bottom of the first page of the survey.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who counts on effective labelling to help make healthy choices.

Want more articles? I send out a monthly (ish) newsletter with the top articles from that period. Sign up below:

Sign up for my (non-spammy) newsletter

* indicates required

Email Format

Pizza and beer for fat loss?

You know how sometimes people write crazy titles just to get your attention, and then it turns out the content is either completely unrelated or is only marginally related to the point that you lose all faith in that person? I’m excited to say that this is not one of those cases.

This is a two month follow up from the start of My Daily Pizza project. Admittedly calling it my daily pizza is a bit of an exaggeration. I have actually only been eating pizza three or four times each week. And for full disclosure: there was one week where I had no pizza. I know, shame on me. But it was only one week! I shared some of the details about how I managed to eat pizza that often without increasing my waistline in the above linked post as well as some observations about how it was going two weeks in.

So that’s the pizza part. I also mention beer in the title. Say it with me in your best Homer voice…mmm…beer…Indeed, beer consumption has occurred over the past two months. Real beer; not that low carb or light beer crap. Craft beers mostly. In particular I’m on an IPA kick, so lots of Flying Monkey, Muskoka Detour, and a few varieties of Beau’s.

And not just once a week either. I’m consistently drinking beer or wine three or four times per week. That probably sounds like a lot, and no doubt some of you are getting your judgement faces on. That’s okay, I can take it. But before you finish putting your robes on, let me explain how I came to my four days of alcohol plan, along with the few other habit changes I’ve made, and then you can decide whether this makes sense.

As I noted above, I have finally worked out the details of the follow on to my Get Lean challenge, which I am tentatively calling the “Get Lean Lifelong Habit Challenge”. If you’re interested in the Get lean Challenge (which is free by the way, and people seem to really like it), head over here for details and a registration option.

The reason I mention this get lean challenge, is that following it is how I arrived at what I think is my own optimal lifestyle plan. The 8 week get lean challenge above is cool because it gets you thinking and trying a variety of habitual changes in the hopes that some either stick, or they help you to figure out what would stick. The follow-on that I’ve been crafting is where you get to work on customizing habits to your own life. The reality is that we have different goals, desires, expectations, and bodies. We also have big differences in how easy or hard certain changes are for us. It only makes sense that the optimal lifestyle plan for each of us is unique. This follow-on program is all about finding that unique path.

In my case, I knew that alcohol consumption was something I had to limit somehow as I had reached a point of having a glass of wine or two every day or almost every day. I also realized that I don’t always stop eating when I’m full, and I sometimes snack for reasons like “I’m bored”. Lastly, I know that I don’t get enough sleep and that getting at least 7 hours each night is very hard for me. I realized that my success in living well but also living healthily required finding a way to manage those elements. And so for me, the follow-on to the Get Lean challenge was figuring out how to address these. I took advantage of this new process to come up with the following plan:

  1. Sleep 6.75 hours per night
  2. Alcohol at most 4 times per week
  3. When reaching for food ask myself “Am I actually hungry?”, and if not, walk away
  4. When going to get seconds or something to finish of a meal, wait 15 minutes. If at that point, I still am hungry, then I have it.

I created a tracking sheet that I put on my fridge so that I can give myself credit when I meet my goals, and also created a plan that helps guide me as to when or whether I should replace or adjust one of my selected actions. My goal was 85% compliance. Using this goal setting and tracking sheet has been tremendously helpful to me as it forms a voice in the back of my head reminding me when I’m about to break one of these rules. But equally important was arriving at the right set of actions for me. If the actions are too hard, I would fail, and if they were too easy, I wouldn’t change. It was a process.


I spent the first four weeks trying to implement actions that weren’t quite right for me, and so I didn’t succeed enough, but then one month ago, I made some refinements to arrive at the plan above, and since then have met or exceeded my goals every week.

The result is that I’ve lost five pounds since starting this process. This is weight that I put on somewhere between one and two years ago, and had not been successful at dropping it again, until now. Granted I didn’t try very hard either. I wasn’t motivated to make drastic changes to my eating and exercise habits because, well, I just didn’t want to. I enjoy food and beverages, and I don’t want to exercise more than I already do. Life enjoyment is more important to me right now than losing five or ten pounds.

Interestingly, it was my desire to eat more pizza that led to my new plan that allowed me to lose weight. Bet not many people have claimed that before! While I was comfortable in my skin, I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of gaining weight. And I suspected that adding lots of pizza to my diet, if I wasn’t careful, would lead to weight gain. So as a means to bring more pizza into my life, I figured out how to balance the rest of my lifestyle habits to make room for pizza. As it turns out, I also figured out how to keep the calories down in the pizza itself (without sacrificing deliciousness). And the result was losing five pounds. Cool!

You’ll notice that there is no mention of limiting chocolate, ice cream, chips, or dessert in my list above. That’s because I love pizza and beer much more. When I have beer and pizza in my life, I rarely reach for other indulgences. Since it’s so rare, I chose to not put any limits on it. And that worked – I still rarely eat those things, and when I do, it’s okay. What’s particularly cool is not just that the foundation of my diet is beer and pizza, but that I’ve found a balance of lifestyle habits that has long term potential and allows me to be happy and healthy.

The aforementioned four habits seem to be the changes I needed to make to my lifestyle to reach the balance of happy and healthy, but my guess is yours will be different. Hopefully this process has triggered some of you to think differently about what habit changes make sense for you that can improve your health while not adversely affecting your happiness. My guess is that the traditional “eat less and exercise more” or “cut out sugar” will not cut it for most of you, but instead you’ll find more specific and relate-able changes.

Elsbeth Vaino is an engineer turned personal trainer who enjoys health, food, and exercise

Want more articles? I send out a monthly (ish) newsletter with the top articles from that period. Sign up below:

Sign up for my (non-spammy) newsletter

* indicates required

Email Format

Can the FMS predict sports injury?

I’ve been reading a lot about why the FMS is good and why it’s not recently. I’ve even co-written a point-counterpoint discussion with Bret Contreras about it.

I am a proponent of the FMS, but I have read some studies that have made me question it. I also attended a couple of very compelling presentations at a strength & conditioning conference at the University of Toronto recently that pointed out some shortcomings.

I have not read or heard enough (yet?) to change my mind about continuing to use the FMS for my clients, but I have just started to use a new assessment approach for my clients in addition to the FMS. For the next few months, I will use both approaches and will take notes about how well each one worked, both during the initial client consultation and over the first few training sessions.

I will also continue to read and listen. In fact I just read a study this morning that suggests the FMS is very beneficial in predicting injury. Here is a link to the study, titled ASSOCIATION BETWEEN THE FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT SCREEN AND INJURY DEVELOPMENT IN COLLEGE ATHLETES. Or more specifically, that an FMS score of less than 14 combined with previous history of injury equated to athletes (in the study group) being 15 times more likely to sustain an injury over the course of a season.

I didn’t love the study abstract and write up because it didn’t address the difference between the FMS, the previous injury, or the combination of the two. Thankfully one of the tables in the study did just that. And as you can see from the screenshot below, it would appear that the combination of previous injury and an FMS score of less than 14 is a strong predictor.

Screenshot 2015-05-14 11.05.15

What I would like to see (and maybe I just missed it in the presentation of the data) is what this number changes to with higher FMS scores. What was the injury rate among athletes in the group with a history of injury and an FMS score of 15? of 16? If there is a significant drop there, then that makes for a very compelling case for a combination of:

  1. using the FMS
  2. finding out about previous injury from your clients or athlets
  3. appropriate training as a means to in increase the FMS (and conveniently training is also a great option for performance improvement)
  4. re-FMS to see if the person has moved into a lesser risk range

I think this study does show that having a low FMS score and a history of previous injury makes one much more likely to sustain an injury. That is good information to have, but only if there is something we can do with it. If there is also a proven link that the risk is lower with a higher FMS score paired with a history of previous injury, and if there is a proven link that appropriate training is a tool to get us to the higher FMS score (which I believe there is, although I need to re-review the literature), then that would be a very compelling reason to use the FMS for athletic clients. While the study is not quite a home run, it definitely sits in the “pro” column for continuing to use the FMS.

Elsbeth Vaino is an engineer turned personal trainer who enjoys the science of training

Want more articles? I send out a monthly (ish) newsletter with the top articles from that period. Sign up below:

Sign up for my (non-spammy) newsletter

* indicates required

Email Format

The FMS: Awesome or Awful?

The FMS (Functional Movement Screen) is a divisive topic in the fitness world. Some people think it’s the cat’s pajamas, while other people think it’s utterly useless. In case you want to examine the science behind the FMS, THIS link will take you to a page by Chris Beardsley that summarizes all of the FMS research to date.

Unfortunately, discussions about the merits and shortcomings of the FMS tend to be very polarizing and emotional, with meaningful discussion taking a backseat. Bret Contreras and I decided to try to change that by taking a stab at an intelligent and respectful debate about it, so we came up with 5 questions that we both answered below.

1. Should personal trainers get FMS certified – will it help them gain clients, and will it help them be better trainers?

EV: I believe that FMS certification is an excellent option for all trainers, particularly new ones. I think the course will almost instantly make a new (or relatively new) trainer better, and for an experienced trainer, it can streamline the initial programming. Here’s why: it provides a simple and succinct method for identifying some movement strengths and weaknesses, as well as guidance as to what that can mean. This knowledge allows the trainer to set up a program that is appropriate for the individual, without exercises they are not ready for and with exercises that will help some of their movement limitations. Of course there are other ways to accomplish this, but I like the FMS as an option because it covers a lot in a little time and in a manner that seems to makes sense. For a new trainer in particular, having a well-defined guidance system will save them from fumbling around. For an experienced trainer, it is just a simple and efficient way to see a lot of what they will want to see anyhow. In addition to learning the system, a trainer will learn a lot about movement. Honestly, I would be very surprised if anyone who has taken the course has walked away thinking it was a waste of time.

I also think the FMS can be beneficial for gaining new clients, although not directly. I think in the past five years, I have had two clients seek me out because I do the FMS. Most people looking for a trainer don’t know or care about our certifications. But if a trainer wants to build up referrals from health care professionals, the FMS is an excellent certification to have. Some of the health care professionals who refer to me have said as much. I consider it a good way to open a dialog with them, but once the dialog starts; your ability as a trainer will be much more relevant than the FMS. I think the same is true for some sport coaches, but to a lesser degree. The other benefit is that there is a network of trainers who use and believe in the FMS, and in some cases they will have clients who move to your area, and will be looking for a trainer for them. In absence of knowing who the great trainers are in another city, many trainers who use the FMS, including myself, will suggest seeking out a trainer who also uses the FMS.

BC: My answer is: If the trainer wants to, then he or she should get FMS certified. I’m all for continuing education. I received my FMS certification several years ago and found it valuable at the time. Getting FMS certified cannot hurt a trainer, however, getting sucked into any system and exhibiting cult-like behaviour will definitely hurt a trainer by causing them to exhibit tunnel vision. People in the fitness industry seem to be highly skilled at spotting cult-like behaviour when it involves something that they’re not involved with, but they tend to be rather inept at spotting it when it involves something they’re engaged in. This applies to CrossFit, the RKC, the FMS, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and bodybuilding. Several years ago, Michael Boyle wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about the FMS titled, “Will the FMS Cure Most Communicable Diseases?” because at that time the majority of subscribers on the strength coach forums seemed to be parroting the same answer to every question about an athlete experiencing issues…”have you FMS’d them?” There’s much more to screening and exercise form than the FMS, which I believe that Gray and Lee would agree with – more on that later. However, although this behaviour is a turn-off, it shouldn’t influence a rationale individual’s opinion on the screen.

One important reason to get FMS certified is simply because it will help personal trainers obtain and retain clients. Here’s why. Clients love to feel special. When you take a new client and put them through an official screen that has it’s own tools and scoring system, they eat it up. People also love to be told that they’re dysfunctional. I think every client I’ve ever trained starts out by telling me something that they’ve heard from their chiropractor or physical therapist, such as, “my TVA isn’t firing,” “my glutes don’t activate,” “I have a massive leg length discrepancy,” “my SI joint is out,” or “I have tight hip flexors.” Nine times out of ten, I test these individuals and find that they’re fine; they’re just weak and uncoordinated. The practitioner incorrectly speculated out of ignorance and ended up doling the client a giant Nocebo effect, which can alter movement patterns and create pain. But I digress… if you FMS a client they will feel special, and if you tell them that they have weaknesses that you’re going to hone in on, then you’re already miles ahead of most trainers in their eyes because it shows that you adhere to some sort of system and don’t just wing everything. The clients will keep coming back and exhibit confidence in you, which makes your job easier, and they’ll refer their friends to you. It can also help with professional referrals. All things being equal, I’d refer someone to the FMS certified trainer over the non FMS certified trainer because it shows that they value continuing education and are aware of a systematic approach to screening.

EV: I agree fully with Mike Boyle’s perspective on that and in fact wrote my own tongue-in-cheek piece, The FMS for Cats.

Regarding people liking being told they are dysfunctional, I might put that differently, but you have a point. I wonder though about your note on people with issues noted by their health care professional. In my experience it is far from 9 out of 10 times that it’s just a matter of weakness, but I wonder if that is a reflection of us training different populations? The majority of my clients are high end recreational athletes in their 30s and older. Most are quite fit in the sense that they spend hours playing their sport each week, often without an off-season, and most don’t train for their sport other than actually playing their sport (or at least not until they started to train with me). Athletes also have a habit of not letting injuries heal properly before returning to play, which for an athlete’s mind and body, is an invitation for alternate movement patterns to develop. I just bring this up because to suggest that there are populations for which apparent movement dysfunction is not simply a factor of weakness, although there’s no question that sometimes it is. As someone who has a reverence for science and logic, I like to think that I’m not perpetuating a nocebo effect with my clients, but it is possible that I am.

BC: Sorry Elsbeth, I should have been clearer…what I meant was that I’ll test their core strength through various multiplanar tests of strength, or their glute firing through various supine, quadruped, and side lying drills, or their TVA function through abdominal hollowing, and I find that the chiropractor or physical therapist was flat out wrong with their assessment, I’m not suggesting that these dysfunctions do not exist; they do. What I am suggesting is that many practitioners throw these terms out too liberally.

2. Should personal trainers do pre-training assessments with their clients, and if so, what do you suggest?

EV:I do believe that pre-training assessments are a great idea for most clients, and I am a fan of the FMS for this purpose. I do acknowledge that there are some populations for whom the FMS is not an excellent choice. In particular, clients who will not be able to safely do a bodyweight squat or lunge, or who have difficulty with kneeling. If this describes most of the population you work with, then the FMS is probably not a great tool. Although even in that case, I still think the FMS is a good course for the quality knowledge you will pick up about movement and training.

I also have recently come to accept that some of the population will be intimidated by an assessment, and for them, just training and using that as your assessment may be a better option. This is definitely not an across the board issue, as my clients consistently note in customer satisfaction surveys that they loved that I did an assessment (unsolicited – I didn’t ask if they liked the assessment; I asked why they initially came to me).

BC: Yes, they should. Initially, most personal trainers are rather inept. They aren’t well versed in evaluating form. Go to any commercial gym and this will be painfully obvious. In New Zealand, the strength coaches utilize a variety of assessments, including functional movement assessments, tests that assess the athletes’ strength, power, reactive strength, and strength endurance, and numerous other tests. They use charts, graphs, and spider plots to depict multi-directional force-velocity profiles and strength and capabilities. The functional movement assessment is just one of many pre-training assessments.

Functional movement screens can help personal trainers identify glaring deficiencies and tailor their program design according to the individual. It helps them get better at noticing form degradation and predicting the restrictions responsible for those degradations. For example, an individual that can only raise his leg to 45 degrees during the active straight leg raise probably isn’t going to be able to perform a stiff leg deadlift with good technique due to insufficient straight leg hip flexion mobility.

The FMS is a great screen for this purpose, as is the MCS (Movement Competency Screen, developed by New Zealand strength coach Matt Kritz – the MCS is a nice alternative because it doesn’t cost any money, so it may be useful for coaches and trainers on a tight budget).

However, I don’t believe that many personal trainers need to be using the FMS, at least trainers working primarily with physique-based clients. I believe that it’s a bigger necessity for strength coaches since their athletes are performing greater amounts of exercise, and this exercise is associated with much higher momentums and impact forces.

I believe that over time, good trainers should realize that they’re likely going to be programming every major movement pattern, and they’ll simply place each client at the appropriate level on the continuum and progress accordingly. For example, all of my clients squat, deadlift, hip thrust, lunge, back extension, bench press, overhead press, chin, and row. Some of them have to start out at the easiest regressions such as bodyweight high box squats with counterbalance, but over time they will improve their competency (strength, stability, mobility, coordination, etc.), and eventually they’ll be performing barbell back squats (assuming they’re healthy and young) at least to parallel. I’m definitely not obsessive about any exercise and am not afraid to throw one out if it doesn’t fit the individual, but this rarely occurs with my clientele.

If something doesn’t look right, the trainer can break away and check joint ROMs or conduct other simple tests. It is important to understand that joint ROM can usually be improved, but there’s also a large genetic component to anatomical ranges of motion, so at the end of the day, exercise variations and the ranges of motions utilized in those exercises will have to be modified per the individual. This is where the art of personal training exists; learning how to modify stance or grip width, foot flare or grip position, ROM, and other nuances so the individual can best tolerate the exercise.

I no longer FMS my clients because it wouldn’t alter the exercise selection component to my program design, which I determine by watching the client perform each individual movement pattern and deciding where to start them (example for squat pattern: counterbalance squat, goblet squat, sumo parallel squat, high bar full squat, etc.). Moreover, resistance training in general has been shown to improve FMS sum scores, and corrective exercise doesn’t appear to expedite the process in the research (however, I believe that a skilled coach could fast-forward improvements in exercise technique with a sound knowledge of specialized mobility, stability, and coordination drills), so I can sleep well at night knowing that even though I don’t use the FMS, my clients’ FMS scores improve.

Speaking of my clients, HERE they are in action. This year, I’ve regularly trained around 20 clients and so far none have experienced a single injury and their strength has vastly improved. Clearly my approach works well, but a newbie trainer can’t expect to be able to duplicate my system as it took me years of training others and studying biomechanics and sports medicine to master my system.

EV:Great points, Bret, and I fully agree that a good trainer can use the movements they train as their screen, and continue to do so at every session. That’s great, but I am a fan of formality and systems; maybe it’s my engineering background. That’s what drew me to the FMS from the start, and I still find it useful. But that doesn’t mean it is the only input to my programming. Realistically it only impacts 10 to 20% of it. The rest is based on their goals, any injuries they have (I get a lot of therapist referrals where they are still under the care of a therapist while they start training with me), and the sport they play (if any). Most of my clients start with some variety of squat, deadlift, pushing and pulling, and anterior, posterior, and rotary core exercises, as well as possibly some agility, power and conditioning options. I use what I learn from their initial consultation (including FMS) to determine which variations to start with, but it certainly hasn’t been a 100% predictor of what is the right option. I often make changes once we start training based on what I see of how they do those exercises. I should point out that while I remain a proponent of the FMS, I am also on the lookout for options that can help me train my clients better. While I acknowledge there are more comprehensive screening options available, there is a downside in terms of usability, which I consider an important consideration. I have come across one new screening concept recently that I want to test out for a few months (alongside the FMS) to get a perspective on which I find better helps me train my clients, although I have to figure out some logistics first. I’ll be writing about it soon – it’s an interesting take.

BC:Agree on all points.

3. Should coaches rely heavily on FMS data for assessing injury risk?

EV:First, thank you for not asking if the FMS should be used for predicting performance as many research studies erroneously do.

I think the question should be reworded to “should coaches take the FMS data into consideration for assessing injury risk” without the “rely heavily” part. The reason I didn’t just change the question, is that I think this is one of the myths of the FMS that is worth mentioning. There appears to be a perspective that those of us who use it, base everything we do on it, and spend most of our training time doing corrective exercise and assessments instead of actually getting our clients strong. This is just not the case. Or at least it is not the case for most of us. For the majority of our training, we rely on sound training principles. We just augment that with what we learned from the FMS to help us apply those principles.

To my re-worded question: yes, I do think coaches should take FMS data into consideration when assessing injury risk. An athlete client struggling significantly with any aspect of the FMS should raise an eyebrow. For example, if a sprinter struggled with the in line lunge, I would be concerned. Similarly when I see field sport athletes struggle with pelvic stability in the hurdle step, I wonder how much rotation their lumbar spine endures when they run. The FMS provides us some very valuable information!

The last consideration I’d like to raise and it is something I believe the FMS encourages very effectively, is that painful movement should be referred to a healthcare professional. This means that if you are implementing the FMS properly, you are referring your clients to health care practitioners when they have painful scores in the FMS. Now your client has the benefit of an assessment by a health care practitioner, which I believe is instrumental in assessing injury risk.

BC:It is certainly one component to consider. However, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you believe that functional movement patterns are the sole key to injury prevention, then you’re going to be missing out on a lot of important alternative information. As Spanish physical therapist and researcher Jurdan Mendiguchia and New Zealand sports scientist Matt Brughelli discussed in their classic hamstrings paper titled, “Hamstring strain injuries: are we heading in the right direction?” (click HERE for the full text pdf), it is the interrelationship between at least 6 factors that determines injury risk to the hamstrings, which include:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Strength
  3. Core Stability
  4. Architecture
  5. Fatigue, and
  6. Previous Injury

Their article was in reference to the hamstrings, so in reality each individual type of injury will have it’s own separate risk factors. However, the point is that an individual can have a stellar FMS score and still experience injury. For example, sticking with our hamstring example, let’s say that an individual scored a 3 on the active straight leg test, indicating that he has good hamstring flexibility, he could still tear a hammy due to weak hamstrings, poor pelvic control which could place greater strain on the hammies, fatigue and subsequent altered motor patterns, a prior injury that yielded inferior scar tissue upon healing, poor glute activation and strength as a synergist, and more. I know that Gray and Lee know this, but sometimes the zealots who champion the FMS fail to see the big picture with regards to injury prevention strategies in sports performance.

EV:Absolutely, and great point.

4. What are the three primary strengths and weaknesses of the FMS?

EV:EV: I’ll take the strengths then…


  1. It is a complete system that can be implemented in very little time and requires little equipment and space, and is easily communicated.
  2. It provides quality input to program creation by identifying areas needing work. The FMS system also has a corrective strategy tied to the tests, which further assists in exercise selection for the individual.
  3. It also identifies movements where the quality is such that loaded training of a specific exercise may not be advisable initially.

BC:The three main strengths are:

  1. It’s a simple system that can easily be taught to personal trainers, strength coaches, and physical therapists
  2. It has a high intra-rater and inter-rater reliability
  3. It will help from a business-standpoint by improving client retention and referrals

The three main weaknesses are:

  1. It measures just one of several important factors for assessing injury risk
  2. No 7-tests, no matter how well chosen, can comprehensively summarize an individual’s functional movement capacity
  3. It has low validity (this includes all types of validity, see HERE for more information)

5. Could the FMS be improved, and if so, how?

EV:The biggest thing I’d like to see is an improvement in the way hip and pelvic stability is addressed. Currently I think it is a bit lacking, and in fact I have all of my clients perform a single leg squat test (to a bench) as an add-on to the FMS. I find it gives me clues as to stability, left to right differences, as well as basic strength – some people just can’t do it.

BC:I think so, but I confess to not being privy to much of the current dialogue and material involving the FMS. It is very possible that Gray and Lee have addressed and thought of most of the things I’ve listed below. Nevertheless, some of the ideas that I believe that FMS advocates should consider in order to improve the FMS over time include:

  1. Better explain the role of anthropometry/body segment proportions on the FMS. To list just one example, how does femur length influence the deep squat score?
  2. Better explain the role of anatomy on the FMS. For example, how do variances in hip anatomy affect deep squat and hurdle step scores?
  3. Better explain in their material how functional movement integrates into the broader scope of injury risk, relying not just on theory but also on evidence from peer-reviewed published studies.
  4. Better explain some of the rationale for exercise test performance. For example, is posterior pelvic tilt accounted for in the deep squat and active straight leg tests, and what is the rationale behind this approach?
  5. Is there a better test that could measure whole body rotary stability, maybe one that didn’t require the kit? For example, instead of utilizing the rotary stability test included in the FMS, would it be better for a trainer to just see how well his client performs during a cable anti-rotation hold to determine how well they can stabilize the body when placed under axial twist torques?

EV:You raise some good points, in particular the parts about anthropometry and hip anatomy. For instance, the need for both feet to point straight forward in the deep squat never really sat well with me. In my opinion, that aspect of the test only makes sense if you are operating under the premise that all hips have the same structural neutral, which we know is not the case.

BC:Yes, another great point. It actually hurts my knees and hips when I squat with feet straight ahead. Several of my powerlifting friends have noted the same thing, and this is probably due to differences in anatomy.

Final Word

EV:The FMS is not a perfect tool, but I still see the combined benefits of program guidance and usability outweigh the shortcomings.

BC:The inventors of the FMS did a great job in coming up with a simple 7-screen test to help practitioners identify potentially problematic and/or inefficient movement patterns and asymmetries in their clients and athletes, however, the FMS should not be thought of as a comprehensive tool for predicting injury or athletic ability, nor should advanced trainers who don’t utilize the FMS but are well-versed in exercise form and proper regressions be labeled as morons by some of the hard core FMS proponents.

Want more articles? I send out a monthly (ish) newsletter with the top articles from that period. Sign up below:

Sign up for my (non-spammy) newsletter

* indicates required

Email Format

My Daily Pizza: Observations from the first two weeks

Somehow a decision to try making my own pizza from scratch last weekend evolved into a nutrition lifestyle experiment involving eating pizza every day. It was an acknowledgement of my love of pizza, my enjoyment of cooking, and my amazement at how easy it was to make pizza. As I made the pizza, I also started to rethink it. Is it really a “junk food”? How can it be when the ingredients are flour, yeast, salt, olive oil, a very small touch of sugar, tomatoes, basil, garlic, pepper, cheese and toppings. This is not unhealthy stuff.

Topping selection certainly can affect healthfulness, but if you make it yourself, you can control that. The other challenge with pizza is that it is calorically very dense. Dough is dense; as is cheese. And if you use things like sausage and olives as toppings, it doesn’t take a large pizza to deliver a large meal.

As I pondered the ingredients, I wondered: Was it possible to eat pizza every day without affecting my physical goals? I don’t have any aspirations for six pack abs and am quite content with a bit of “padding”, so long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to enjoy playing my favourite sports or affect my confidence in how I look.

I realized it would be fun to find out, so I embarked on this “research project”. The response from Facebook suggests that I am not alone in wishing for the freedom to eat pizza daily.

I am now halfway into my second week of the project and already there have been some interesting observations:

  1. My new pizza serving size is smaller than my normal pizza serving size. It would seem that knowing there will be another one tomorrow reduces any need to get what I can now. Or maybe it’s that making it myself means I’m only putting the appropriate serving size in front of me. I’ve never been one of those people who only eats half of some delicious meal and saves the other half for another meal. If it’s delicious and it’s in front of me, it won’t be there for long. But home-made means I can make a normal sized serving.
  2. I tend to snack when I’m bored, or when I have something I’m trying to avoid (yes, I do that). So far, I have done none of that. No unnecessary snacking, and no desires for junk foods. Because I know I’m having pizza later, I feel a desire to eat extra well the rest of the time.
  3. If I’m going to succeed with this, I have to be careful about my topping choices. Realistically, this means limiting meat and olives. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with either, but both pack a lot of calories, which will likely put me over the edge.
  4. I'd like to hang out more often chorizo; but I think it's best if we spend some time apart
    I’d like to hang out more often chorizo; but I think it’s best if we spend some time apart

  5. I’m going to limit toppings to no more than three, preferably two (not including cheese and sauce). I think this just makes sense from a love it, don’t smother it perspective. I think it’s going to take a while to figure out what combinations are the best from an I love this! and a this is still healthy perspective. More research!
  6. I need to keep an eye on the cheese quantity. Not “no self-respecting pizza-lover would make this” low – the point is delicious and healthy pizza, not ruining pizza. I think the key will be following the concept of Minimum Effective Dose, or in this case, Minimum Delicious Cheese. I think experimenting with different types of cheese may lead to great things here. Not all cheese is created equal.
  7. I am trying to sort out what is an appropriate serving size. I know it has to fit in with my overall daily nutrition, but I’m not sure how just yet. It will take me some time to figure out what portion of my daily menu should be taken up by the pizza, both from an enjoyment and a satiety perspective. I started using a nutrition tracker to help sort that out, and will continue to do so until I have a better idea. So far my pizza servings have stuck between 420 and 585 calories, and a macronutrient breakdown in the range of 50-60% carbohydrate, 17-22% protein, and 18-27% fat. Not bad!
  8. Artichoke hearts, mushrooms, pesto, mozzarella, and goat cheese. 420 calories, 60% carbohydrate, 22% protein, and 18% fat.
    Artichoke hearts, mushrooms, pesto, mozzarella, and goat cheese. 420 calories, 60% carbohydrate, 22% protein, and 18% fat.

  9. I bought a digital kitchen scale to help with this. It’s too hard to eyeball the portion of the package to get an idea of how much cheese I’m using and my analog scale is very hard to read accurately.
  10. I’ve had a side serving of vegetables with each pizza this week, because veggies are amazing. I have decided to make this a mandatory accessory.
  11. Even though I’m calling it My Daily Pizza project (I even bought the url. Not even joking. Nothing there yet, but maybe soon.), I’m not going to literally have pizza every day. Not because I worry it won’t be healthy, but because I don’t want pizza-making to feel like a chore, and as it turns out I do actually like other foods. Last week I had pizza five days, and this week looks like it will be four of five days of pizza.
  12. Once the dough and sauce are made, it is actually remarkably quick to make the pizza. And making the sauce and dough on Sunday is really not that much work either. I’m still a bit surprised at how easy it is.
  13. I think my body is doing well from this challenge, but it’s too soon to tell. I haven’t actually weighed myself in months, and I don’t really have an interest in starting. I’m generally happier when I don’t weigh myself regularly. Molly Galbraith of Girls Gone Strong had a great line in a presentation at the Women’s Fitness Summit last year (might be slightly paraphrased): “Should you weigh yourself? Does weighing yourself make you a crazy person? If yes, then no.” It turns out I am closer to the yes than the no end of that spectrum. Instead I’m keeping track of my results based more on observations: how well my clothes fit, how I look in the regular exercise videos I record, and how well I perform at the gym and on the ski slopes, ultimate field, and tennis court. So far so good, but it has been less than two weeks. Once again – more research!

I’ll report back in another week or so. In the meantime, have any pizza options you’d like to suggest?

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer at Custom Strength in Ottawa, Canada and a believer that it is possible to eat food that is both delicious and healthy.

Our next (free) 8 week Get Lean Challenge starts Monday April 6th. Interested? Details and registration here. Unfortunately daily pizza is not part of the program – not until I finish my research.

How to eat the foods you love without consequence

I have uncovered the secret to enjoying the foods you love without negative consequences: Stop eating the things you don’t love.

It sounds ridiculous, but read on and I think you’ll agree.

This post stems from a my mission to be able to eat pizza everyday without any negative effect on my body. I adopted this mission on the weekend after making a delicious pizza from scratch. I have always loved pizza, but I don’t have it as often as I want because I know it will soften me up and that will have negative consequences on my performance in sport and in my job (I’m a personal trainer). But making the pizza from scratch was like a light bulb turning on. It was so easy, the ingredients were so basic, and the friend I cooked for brought over a salad so we had pizza on half the plate and vegetables on the other. Huh. Does that still merit being categorized as an occasional treat, or could I adjust the ingredients and serving size such that it actually becomes a healthy meal?


That research is joyfully on-going (pizza 3 days in a row and counting!) and I will report the results once I have more data.

A couple of hours after enjoying last night’s experiment (half plate of olive, mushroom, mozzarella pizza with a side of steamed baby bok choy) I headed to the kitchen for a small handful of chocolate chips when my inside voice stopped me in my tracks: “If you add chocolate snacks to your week, it might make your daily pizza experiment results look bad.” Whoa. That is not an acceptable exchange. I am excited about the possibilities my daily pizza experiment holds, and there is no way I’m going to let a snack I don’t really care about contribute to it’s failure.

I smiled as I returned to the living room empty handed. I wasn’t actually hungry, so I didn’t feel deprived for leaving the chocolate in the cupboard. The smile was because I had just schooled myself in one of the key habits I encourage in the get lean program I created: When making food decisions, taste is an important consideration. As part of that program, I encourage those taking it to make two lists:

The A List: 3 not-so healthy foods you love
The B List: 3 not-so healthy foods you don’t really care about

Here is the sample I provide in one of the program emails:

My A List:

  1. chips
  2. red wine
  3. molasses cookies

My B List:

  1. Pie
  2. Store-bought cookies
  3. Most restaurant French fries (don’t get me wrong – I love good fries. In fact good fries would make top 5 on my A List. But fries at most restaurants are very disappointing)

After making the lists, they are then tasked with referring to those lists often, and any time they reach for an item on their B List, they are to ask themselves if they are really sure, and to remind themselves that they would probably be happier if they either chose something healthier or held out for something better.

Last night I skipped the chocolate chips because I was holding out for more pizza tonight. It’s remarkably easy to say no to junky foods you don’t really love, when you put it in that perspective.

What is on your A List and B?

Once you’ve made your lists, try this strategy out for a while. If the experience of the participants in my get lean challenge is any indication, you’ll find this a very effective strategy for healthier and happier eating.

Intrigued about this 8 week get lean challenge?
Then you’ll be even more intrigued to find out the ebook version is coming out very soon. Sign up below to get notified when it becomes available. You’ll also receive our low-spam monthly exercise and nutrition newsletter. Want to know more about the program? Scroll down for details…

Please let me know when the ebook is available

* indicates required

What is the Get Lean 8 Week Challenge?

It is an attainable and successful nutrition and lifestyle program based on changing just one habit at a time. Simple and easy. It’s true that this isn’t the fastest weight loss approach. But how did that last rapid weight loss program work out? I hope that didn’t sound antagonistic because that isn’t my goal. The thing is, weight loss and healthy living is a lifelong process. There’s no hurry!

Here’s the deal:
1. The book is split into 8 sections, representing the habits that you’ll implement at the beginning of each week. Yes, just one habit each week. You will be amazed at how much of an impact a handful of simple changes over 8 weeks can make. Seriously – it’s pretty cool!

2. Each habit section then has a daily entry with tips, insights, motivation, or information related to the weekly habit.

3. You’ll also receive a link to a tracking form that you can print and use to track how well you are sticking to your habit changes. This adds accountability for you to help you stick with the program. For those of you who enjoy a competition, there’s a scoring element. For those who hate that sort of thing, you it is very easy to ignore that part.

4. There is also an option to take measurements – nothing complicated and it is mindful of your comfort. A measuring stick is a good thing, but if you hate the idea of measurements, then just don’t do it. It’s that easy.

5. At the end of the 8 weeks, you will give yourself a high-five for doing such a great job. Then you’ll continue to ponder which of the changes you will continue to implement. For some, this has yielded lasting change, which makes me so happy.

Still have questions? Get in touch via the contact form.

And here’s that form again so you can get notified when the ebook comes out.

Please let me know when the ebook is available

* indicates required

Principles to consider for your team fitness program

March is a great month, isn’t it? The weather is getting nice, the days are getting longer, and if you’re a field sport athlete, you’re starting to look forward to the upcoming season. If you’re involved in coaching or managing the team, you’re probably starting to plan out things like try-outs and pre-season fitness.

For those of you involved in designing your team’s fitness programming and testing, Please read and consider the following three concepts:

1. Fitness must be build progressively
Often coaches go heavy on fitness testing and conditioning early in the season as a means to motivate their athletes to have done their fitness in the off-season. It’s a good thought on one hand – we want to push our athletes, and we need them to be fit. The problem is that if the players didn’t do enough off-season training, this approach can contribute to season-long overuse injuries that will either limit their performance or keep them off the field. You have a long season ahead of you. Consider cutting out the high volume fitness testing and instead program progressive fitness training into your season practice plan. In addition to reducing the overuse injuries, this can also serve as a great team building opportunity.

2. Build balanced bodies
This includes aiming for left to right, front to back, and remembering that the core is more than just the abs and hip flexors. Almost all athletes have a preferred side for cutting, accelerating, and direction change. Making them go both ways in practice will help them develop more options on the field, and will reduce overuse injury potential. For strengthening, think about balancing movements that are quad-focussed with movements that are glute-focussed, and balancing pushing movements with pulling movements. The front to back balance can be a challenge for on-field strengthening as there are many more bodyweight strengthening options that work the quad-dominant and pushing movements than their are ones that work glute-dominant and pulling. But it is possible! Lastly, remember that v-sits, crunches and planks all work the anterior (front) core muscles. Try to have a balance of front, side, and rear core exercises in your core fitness regimen.

3. More is not better; better is better
This is true for virtually all aspects of fitness, but I want to specifically address plyometrics and intervals. To get the most out of your athletes without breaking them, focus on quality in plyometrics, and intensity with intervals, instead of increasing volume. Think less but harder. In addition to risking injury, when we add volume as a means to increase the challenge, we run the risk of our athletes adapting an I’m saving some for the next sprint mentality. If we can get rid of that mentality in practice, it can carry over onto the field.

If you are involved in your team’s fitness training program, then you may be interested in my free ebook, Creating Sport-Specific Dynamic Warm-ups. All you need to do to get this free ebook is sign-up for my Sports Performance Newsletter:

Sports Performance Newsletter and Dynamic Warm-Ups ebook

* indicates required

Email Format

Exercise and nutrition for healthy living and sports performance