Case Study: Why The Right Assessments Matter

Meet Tom, a former collegiate rugby player and all-around athlete who spent most of his life physically active and healthy. He endured injuries, aches, and pains along the way, as many of us do. Unfortunately, Tom was in a tragic car accident that left him with chronic hip and back pain.

Life hasn’t been the same since. For the last five years, Tom felt different. Doing daily tasks sometimes come with a physical burden that most of us take for granted.

Eventually, he was fed up from being achy and having limited mobility, so he searched for help. 

Tom was familiar with Functional Range Conditioning (FRC), so he reached out.

If You Don’t Test, You Guess.

No matter your goals, if you’re not setting baseline measurements of any kind, you’re just guessing as to whether you’re making progress. 

It really is that simple.

The Law of Specificity Applies to Assessments, Too.

In personal training, everything we do is supposed to be specific to the individual and their goals. In this case, if we just looked at Tom’s “functional” movements (e.g., squats), we would not get the whole story.

Instead, we assessed Tom’s motor control issues and programmed accordingly; the only way to effectively do that is to break things down into more thorough assessments.

At Motive, we use the Functional Range Assessment (FRA®) to evaluate how joints move independently and interdependently. 

We looked at how well Tom could use his hip muscles independently (i.e., we isolated his basic hip functions), and then how they worked interdependently with his pelvic girdle, spine, and knee.

Doing so allows us to better understand where Tom needs to spend more time training. If he can’t move his hip, then squatting won’t allow him to move his hip better. 

We need to train his hip to be able to squat, not the other way around.

improving joint pain

Using the FRA, we determined that Tom needed to improve most of his hip functions, but we focused on hip flexion and internal rotation because they were higher priority (extremely limited).

What you see in this picture is a 45-day difference between Tom’s hip flexion, where he was able to gain ~15 degrees more range of motion “cold” (i.e., he hasn’t warmed up his body at all).

Physical Assessments: A Personal Trainer’s Gray Area.

The personal training world doesn’t have a clearcut method for doing physical assessments. I’ve taken three separate but traditional personal trainer certifications, and all three of them have different protocols for performing assessments on new clients.

The general method for most personal trainers is to look at big movement patterns and go from there. For example, if Tom lacks mobility in his hips and spine, trainers might look at how well Tom can forward fold (i.e., touch his toes), squat, deadlift, or move/stabilize his trunk (e.g., planks, push-ups, etc.) Using that information, a trainer might draw up a plan to improve Tom’s movement function.

We’re personal trainers, not physical therapists.

I understand why most trainers default to looking at “functional” movements to determine how to program. Heck, I used to do the same thing when I started.

Editor’s Note: I am putting “functional” in quotations because all movement is functional, and how you use the toilet doesn’t coincide with how functional an exercise actually is.

We’re not taught to be movement detectives. We’re told to stay in our lane, to stick to what we know about exercise, and implement programs to help people move and feel better. 

If anyone has movement issues, they should see a doctor or specialist.

This is bogus.

If I can figure out how to assess someone’s hip with the right certifications and know-how, anyone can. And if it will lead to better outcomes for our clients, then we sure as hell should be doing better assessments. 

Does this mean we disregard “functional” movements altogether? Absolutely not, but we also don’t bank on them to make people feel and move better.


The problem isn’t that personal trainers aren’t capable of looking at their client’s limitations on a deeper level; the problem is that we’re not given the right education to do it.
motive training joint pain stretching

Sometimes, setting basic baseline measurements is all you need to do to track progress. If you’re trying to lose weight, maybe the right metric to look at is the scale. However, when it comes to movement, especially achy or painful movement, we often need to dig deeper.

The finish line to your goals might seem far away, but you’ll never know how far you have to go if you never measure the right starting line.

Don’t guess if you’re making progress with your body. Reach out and set up a consultation or Functional Range Assessment. We will take the guesswork out of your results, guaranteed.

Brian Murray, FRCms, FRA
Owner of Motive Training