What is your physical literacy IQ?

Tennis Player in athletic position

Dr. Kristal Nelson PT, DPT, SCS

As we head into the tennis “off-season” perhaps it’s time to improve our movement literacy to recover from our sport that drives us from February through October. Yes, there are winter leagues, but hopefully it is a time for no pressure tennis and gives us a chance to recover, prepare our bodies, and improve our skills for next year. Studies show four consecutive weeks of active rest is important for all athletes to give the body a break mentally and physically from the demands of a sport. Take it when you like …but just take it. During this time try to mix it up – go on hikes, meditate, ride your bike, swim, play volleyball… explore and open the mind and body to other experiences. Another goal for the off-season can be to improve your physical literacy – the topic of today’s blog.

Physical literacy – the ability to move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments.

Gaining physical literacy is mostly talked about with youth but as we mature, our bodies use certain patterns and forget others that we may have learned along the way. This is true for desk jockeys and athletes alike. Losing physical literacy puts us at risk of injury. It also makes us look and feel older than we are. So I am on a mission… Let’s learn how to move people!

Movement does not discriminate and we must have basic competency to do what humans are designed to do…locomotion and object manipulation. As a tennis player, I can assure you that if you can do all of the basic movement patterns, your chance of injury is greatly diminished. It’s important to point out anyone who plays tennis WILL develop movement imbalance. Movement experts say an athlete of any age that gets a perfect score on movement testing is usually not training hard enough. The goal with testing is this… finding the patterns that you lose over time are the ones you need to apply to your recovery routine to maintain good movement patterns. What recovery routine you say?? That’s a conversation for my next blog.

Much of this blog I credit to Grey Cook PT and author of the book Athletic Bodies in Balance. I bought this book in 2003 and it was a game changer for my professional and athletic life. As a sports physical therapist, the expanded version of the Functional Movement System (FMS and SFMA) allows me to assess athletes of all ages. It applies to the 65 year old active grandmother, an NFL player, and everyone in between. Cooke developed a self-screen video that allows you to take a look at your own physical literacy found below.

The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is a system developed by American physical therapist Gray Cook and Dr Lee Burton.
The FMS consists of 7 movement tests that allow the trainer/coach to determine whether their client has movement pattern deficiencies, left-right asymmetries or the onset of pain when performing different movements. When there is pain, a physical therapist uses the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) to find the underlying cause of the pain.
The FMS system has been used by some of the biggest organizations in the world including major league teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL, various US colleges and also organizations such as the US military, the secret service and US fire brigades.  Some of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the world have implemented the FMS into their practices to ensure that they are giving their athletes the best possible chance of success.


While you can go to a FMS or SFMA expert to get tested, there is also a self-assessment you can try on your own, an excellent way to see how you stack up. The self- movement screen is an abbreviated version (5 tests) and takes about 10 minutes using this video

It measures things like thoracic (mid-spine) rotation – a critical movement pattern for tennis players and when limited can cause things like shoulder, neck, and elbow pain. Three outcomes for each pattern – pass, fail, or painful. If you fail a pattern, use correctives and work it out. Keys to improve the pattern are in the video but you can also google it, there is a ton of free content online. If you had pain with a pattern, “consider what you are asking… you are trying to bring a fitness solution to a medical problem.” You need to get that checked out by a PT who is a movement expert, preferably one with training in the SFMA who uses evaluation skills for the entire body. Here is a link to a blog my colleague Dr. Sean Nixon wrote about the SFMA: What is the SFMA? .

Hopefully this self-assessment tool will give you some insight into your physical literacy. Move well. Move often. 


In everything we do, we believe that you deserve a PT that “gets you” and will be invested in your goals. You have our undivided attention. We have advanced training in the most cutting edge, evidenced based techniques. We are the human movement experts. The team at Back in Action PT.

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