Case Study: Why The Right Assessments Matter

functional range assessment

Pain is no joke, and as you’ll see, it changed Tom’s life for good. Thankfully, we were able to help.

Meet Tom, a former collegiate rugby player and all-around athlete who spent most of his life physically active and healthy. Of course, he endured injuries, aches, and pain along the way, as many of us do, but he was healthy and thriving for many years.

Unfortunately, in Tom’s mid-’30s, he 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 with the burden of pain and having limited mobility, so he searched for help. 

Tom was familiar with Functional Range Conditioning (FRC), so he asked Motive Training Grand Rapids for help. 

He eventually came in for an assessment.

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. If we just looked at Tom’s “functional” movements (e.g., squats), we would not get the whole story.

Instead, we assessed Tom’s ability to articulate his joints one by one, and 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 essential hip functions) and then how they worked interdependently with his pelvic girdle, spine, and knee.

Doing so allows us to understand better where Tom needs to spend more time training. For example, 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 squat, not the other way around.

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.

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

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

This doesn’t seem like an improvement worth mentioning to most people, but this is life-changing to Tom. 

When Tom can move his joints through a more significant range of motion, it frees up potential areas that are tight or overused (e.g., his lower back). That’s precisely what happened.

Tom’s pain also subsided. Boom!

Physical Assessments: A Personal Trainer’s Gray Area.

The personal training world doesn’t have a clear-cut method for 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.) Then, 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 is.

We’re not taught to be movement detectives. Instead, we’re told to stay in our lane, stick to what we know about exercise, and implement programs to help people move and feel better. Furthermore, most personal trainer programs limit the scope of practice.

So 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 proper certifications and know-how, anyone can. And if it will lead to better outcomes for our clients (e.g., less pain, more mobility), 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 proper education to do it.

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

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 correct starting line.

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

Brian Murray, FRSC, FRA
Founder of Motive Training

Fight Pain. Gain Strength. Get Results.
Personal Training and Online Coaching in Grand Rapids, MI, and Austin, TX. 

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