The FMS is a fantastic tool kit for any trainer, and when used in conjunction with RKC methods can provide a quick way to resolve almost any issue a client may have. But it can also be incredibly daunting once you start to peel back the layers of the systems and see everything that there is.
One of the best ways to use both systems together is to start to look at the framework that both provide and distil them down to their barest elements. In the case of the RKC drills our purpose is to lead a client in only a single direction, to an “a-ha” moment. A smart drill leaves them with only one direction to go in – the correct one, allowing them to instantly get the feeling or movement they were previously unable to connect with.
While there are many corrective exercises also within the FMS, and this is perhaps what it is best known for, people often forget that the purpose of the FMS is to not only screen for and correct asymmetries, but also to give us a path to follow once we go back to strength work. A simple framework that can be followed is that each movement has four steps –
No load, pattern assistance.
No load, no pattern assistance.
Load, with pattern assistance.
Load, with no pattern assistance.
Looking at how we teach the swing at the RKC you can see that this format is followed closely. We begin by teaching the hinge. This is often assisted in a variety of ways – either using the blades of the hands in the hips to help find the hip crease, pushing the butt back towards a wall, or using a dowel to teach how to keep neutral spine.
And here is where the “a-ha” drills fit in – we can go back and forth between the first and second steps as needed to reinforce the pattern. Our intent is to remove the pattern assistance and have the person do it unloaded but perfectly on their own. If form breaks down we can get them to return to the pattern assistance method (dowel, wall, etc.) until it becomes ingrained.
From there we can move to kettlebell deadlifts with the partner “reminding” the student how to keep the body tight via some tough love. Many people struggle to activate the right muscles to begin with and providing a cue that allows them to feel what muscles need to be switched is valuable. The final step in this process is to finish with deadlifting without any form of pattern assistance.
You can follow the same step for the swing itself. Begin with the hip hinge reinforced with a dowel. Move to hinging without any form of pattern assistance. Then onto the swing where we can assist in any number of ways from using a towel to teach timing, hip drive and straight arms, to putting the toes on a slight raise to teach people to avoid scooping, to having a target behind the student to have them hike the bell more, to spiked swings to reinforce the loading phase of the swing. Finally, once we have cleared all problems with our “a-ha” drills we can swing without pattern assistance.
The FMS also have a logical system of progression for loading and uses four postures that follow a developmental sequence. They start with lying, progress to quadruped, then onto kneeling and finally standing. If you look closely you’ll see that this sequence is the get up. That kind of symmetry between the two systems isn’t a mistake as both are about movement and strength.
But how can we apply our FMC framework to a skill like kettlebell pressing, using the postures too?
One of the issues people often have with pressing is an inability to stay tight through their midsection during the press putting their lower back at risk. If we begin lying supine (face up) we can do the backpressure crunch drill. To perform this have your partner place a rolled up towel under your lower back and lie down on it. Bring your knees to your chest and push your lower back into the ground while your partner tries to take the towel away as you extend your legs. This will teach how to stay tight through the midsection while keeping neutral spine. Retest with your press and see if it has improved.
The next step is to be in quadruped. For this drill we’re going to do bird dogs using a Cook band. Our single kettlebell press is fired on a diagonal and this drill will teach you to stay tight while your arm is moving. (To regress this drill slightly stay in the same position, but use a foam roller on the lower back to teach how to keep the natural curve of the spine). Retest again with your press and see if it has improved.
From here we can choose to press from kneeling and use either the tall kneeling or half kneeling postures. I would pick which one to use based on whether my client had asymmetries in their Inline Lunge or Hurdle Step tests (half kneeling in this case). If they were symmetrical then we could progress to tall kneeling. For pattern assistance we could do a core activation drill and press the kettlebell bottoms up. Again, perform the drill then retest your press to see what has improved. (Kneeling and bottoms up presses are taught and discussed at RKCII so if in doubt please see an RKCII for further information).
The final step is a standing single bell press without any assistance. At any point if the movement degrades there is the choice of regressing the posture used, or going back into the matrix and deciding if we need pattern assistance. Both answers can be right, depending on the person’s unique history.
Keep these simple rules in mind when training and you’ll find a lot of the confusion melts away. The takeaways are that the RKC uses “a-ha” drills to give a client only a single solution to their problem. If the drill you’ve picked doesn’t lead to the right answer then you picked the wrong drill. The FMS uses a simple four by four matrix to figure where training needs to be at any time. Follow the process and you’ll see that the system is very logical, and make sure to use the system.
Tying the two together leads to quick gains for your students and can often shine a light on the right path to take when someone just seems stalled in training.
About Andrew Read, Master RKC, Dragon Door Australia: Andrew Read, Master RKC, is head of Dragon Door Australia and Read Performance Training. Recognized as Australia’s leading functional strength trainer he is a regular contributor to Blitz, Inside MMA, International Kickboxer, Oxygen, Ultrafit and Breaking Muscle. His coaching background spans nearly twenty years having worked with many Olympic and world championship level athletes.