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Niko Kovac already taking preseason measures to prevent injuries

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From day 1 under their new coach, Bayern Munich’s players are undergoing a testing battery designed to help find potential injuries before they happen.

MUNICH, GERMANY - JULY 03: Sandro Wagner of Bayern Muenchen is seen during a performance diagnostic test at FC Bayern training ground on July 3, 2018 in Munich, Germany.
Sandro Wagner takes a diagnostic test at Säbener Straße, July 3, 2018.
Photo by M. Donato/Getty Images for FC Bayern

And we’re back and running…in the case of preseason fitness testing, back and quite literally running. As an aspect of these first few days of practice, Bayern Munich players underwent a series of physical testing protocols, assessments designed to give Bayern’s sports medicine team members vital information on a player’s physical abilities like agility, power, and aerobic fitness.

But while it is all fine and good to see the players’ agility and fitness being measured, any good Bayern fan can be excused for wondering what the team is doing to help address injury prevention. As has been well documented, the list of Bayern players laid low by injury the last few years is like that list of butts Maverick and Goose kissed to get into Top Gun — long and distinguished. It is significant to see in this video, then, players like Sandro Wagner participating in a testing protocol called the Functional Movement Screen.

The Functional Movement Screen: a key to injury prevention?

The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is an athlete evaluation tool developed by two sports medicine professionals in Virginia over twenty years ago. At its core, the FMS is composed of seven foundational movements, scored on a 0-3 scale; the athlete performs the movement, and his/her performance is graded according to standard criteria, with higher scores typically being “better” than lower scores. Over the last two decades, the FMS has gained popularity among sports performance professionals for its unique combination of giving high quality information about the assessed athlete while being easy, quick, and cheap to implement the testing protocol.

What exactly that information tells us about an athlete, however, is still being debated. In the US collegiate athletics system, the FMS has effectively been used to help determine which athletes are at a greater risk for injury: a 2015 study of 160 athletes found that athletes with an FMS score of under 14 were at a significantly higher risk of injury than athletes who had a higher score. Hence, according to this study, if a Bayern player achieved a “2” score on each of the 7 tests (for a total score of 14), he would be at a higher risk of injury than a player who posted a combined score higher than 14. Sounds simple enough, right?

The literature on the FMS, though, isn’t this simple. Other studies have questioned just how strong a link there is between FMS scores and injury rates. A 2017 study of 84 English Premier League youth academy players found no significant relationship between a player’s FMS score and his risk of non-contact soft-tissue injury. In this study, a lower score on the FMS didn’t necessarily show an increased risk of injury. That doesn’t mean the FMS isn’t a valuable tool; the authors emphasized that the FMS still gives essential information on how an athlete moves, but it may not be the injury prevention panacea we all hope it is.

What it means for Bayern Munich

What does all this mean for Bayern? Recently, Sport Bild noted on their report about the first day of training under Niko Kovac:

Before the first session on the pitch, the Bayern pros were asked to perform various exercises. Endurance, speed, and jumping tests were on the morning agenda, as were weigh-ins and blood and movement analyses. At the end of the performance diagnostic, balance, vision, and orthopedic tests were scheduled for Wednesday morning.

It seems, then, that the FMS was the “movement analyses” the players performed. If so, while the testing protocol still leaves coaches wanting more, right now, it is one of the best available. As Sport Bild also reported (via AZ), Kovac will additionally require the players to take a daily blood test to assess their performance, as he had previously done at Eintracht Frankfurt. The players’ creatine levels will also be measured to assess their performance capacity. When this type of daily analysis is combined with the type of information one can gather from the FMS, there is real optimism that Kovac and his sports performance staff are using established, credible processes to help minimize the risk of injury for Bayern players.

There still is a long season ahead, but, for now, it is exciting to see the new coaching staff take real action in the never-ending battle against injuries.