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Getting into Step - The Hurdle Step that is...

October 6, 2010 10:30 AM

Step one foot in front of the other. Walk. Run. Stepping is one of the most fundamental movements we perform. Our first steps were celebrated as a milestone in our development. However, it's not always a smooth journey after that. Not only are there the falls, bumps, scrapes and bruises from learning to step but after that we can get "out" of step for various reasons.

Sprain an ankle, break a toe or simply wear the wrong shoes for awhile and the most fundamental of activities can become a foreign adventure. Your body is great at compensating. If "Option A - your normal step mechanics" isn't available then your body will quickly adopt an alternate strategy. This "Option B" becomes your default step mechanics because it allows for you to keep stepping and moving regardless of the injury, pain or "issue" that changed your mechanics in the first place. And in our primitive past the ability to keep moving was tantamount to survival (a stationary or slow moving object was usually someone's lunch or dinner). Oh, and your body will not automatically "reset" to the original movement after the pain, injury or issue is resolved. It needs to be prompted to change back. Remember it took an insult of some sort to knock you out of your step pattern so it will take some "knocking" to set it back.

Since our body does this at a subconscious level (I mean really - no one asks to limp for the rest of their lives) we need to examine this fundamental movement pattern to be sure we still "own" it. Within the Functional Movement Screen there are 7 fundamental movement patterns screened that give us a picture of how you move. One of those screens is the Hurdle Step movement pattern. The Hurdle Step will ask you to place a dowel across the shoulders and step over a string set to your tibial height. Simple but not easy this step integrates several areas of the body.

The Hurdle Step includes: control and mobility at the ankle, knee, hip, and motor control of the pelvis, core and lower back. While we are paying attention to the leg stepping over the string don't forget about that stance leg because the stance leg has to maintain extension and control in presence of the stepping leg motion. Remember this is a movement pattern we are looking at not an isolated one leg test.

If you can step over the string with zero compensations (leg steps in a straight line, dowel parallel to hurdle and minimal to no lumbar movement) then you would get a score of 3 (the best score given). If you can't step over the string or "fall" out of balance during the step (meaning failure to complete the movement pattern) then you would receive a score of 1. If you have pain during the step(s) you receive a score of Zero and referral to the appropriate medical professional is warranted. Everything else would fall under the score of 2 (foot turns out, lumbar motion etc...). (You can download the scoring criteria and verbal instructions at and see them in Gray Cook's new book Movement - available at

What does it mean? Well first look at the scores. Was it a symmetrical 2 right and 2 left or was it an asymmetrical 3 right and 1 left? Or was it a 1 right and 1 left? Any asymmetry (3/2, 3/1, 2/1) will throw up a BIG red flag and will need to be examined after the entire movement screen has been completed.

The next common question is "why did I score X/X?" Well it can be any number of issues, such as: lack of active ankle dorsiflexion, lack or hip flexion or knee flexion, poor control of the pelvis and "core", poor motor control of the stance leg or the inability to maintain extension on the stance leg. Or some combination of these.
Is it a tight_____?? or a weak______?? Well, yes and no could be the answer.
(We are going to avoid the "blame game.")

Don't worry because while the Hurdle Step can show that you are out of step it is only one of the seven tests and there is a lot of additional information. For example the Hurdle Step could be looked at as an integrated example of the Active Straight Leg Raise, Rotary Stability and Trunk Stability Push-up movement screens. (Even the Shoulder Mobility screen could be added here) These more primitive movement patterns (from a developmental philosophy) come together to form the activity we call stepping. Typically but not always you will also see a reduced or asymmetrical score in those other screens and can a large percentage of the time resolve a Hurdle Step asymmetry by dealing with the issues in the other pattern. Then it looks like "magic"!

One of the common questions in regards to the Hurdle Step screen is the height of the string. It can seem "unfair" to ask someone to step over something that high. What you need to realize is that this tibial height is the height of your step during sprinting and represents a functional "reserve" for other daily activities. Also if you are not "out of step" then you will clear the string by a couple of inches and never go near it. So while you may not "use" that size of a step, that size of a step will reveal compensation and asymmetry and should be within our functional capacity.

This has been a brief glimpse inside the Functional Movement Systems and hopefully is has either answered some questions you had or provided questions you want an to answer. In Gray's new book Movement , you can dive deep into the concept of movement screening philosophy and practice.

Brett Jones is a Master RKC and co-creator of the CK-FMS program with Gray Cook and is on the Advisory Board for the Functional Movement Screen. Gray and Brett have co-authored multiple DVDs together including the 15 DVD CK-FMS