Saturday, August 17, 2013

Functional Fitness, Training and Movements

What do we mean when we talk about functional movements, or functional fitness?

See Also Wikipedia: Functional Training

Functional movements are those that most closely mimic the movements we do in our activities of everyday life.   For normal people they include the movements and activities of everyday life, being able to safely and effectively perform their everyday activities.  For the military, police or fire fighters the principles are still the same but the scope of everyday activities will be much larger.  For athletes with, specific goals, they include the movements that most closely mimic those they will be performing in their sports or events. Doing them in a gym setting allows allows us several advantages over doing the traditional machine based circuit training or steady state cardio typically found in most "Globo-Gyms".

Examples of functional movements include squats, dead lifts (simply pulling a weight off of the ground), pushing movements(bench press, standing press, push up, etc), pulling exercises such as seated row, pull up, pull down.  Functional movements also include walking, running, biking, rowing, jumping, etc.  Think of how a child runs around a play ground, picks things up, puts them down, hangs, pulls, pushes and generally how they interact with their physical environment.  That quality of movement is what we want to recapture as adults and improve on as athletes.

Possibly the most fundamental functional exercise is the squat. I see people day in and day out who are intimated buy the idea of a squat. We squat multiple times everyday in or normal lives.It is something everyone needs to be able to do safely and well without pain or discomfort. Every time you get up and down off of the toilet, every time you sit in a chair and at least partially the ability to get off of the floor involves a partial squat movement in at least one leg.  When we can no longer perform this basic motion the quality of life take a dramatic downward turn.  It's a matter of life safety to be able to get off of the floor.

The squat is one of the most natural motions your body was meant to do, but somehow very few people in many gyms today squat.  In many cultures the bottom position of the squat is the standard sitting position.  This is a most natural position, a child can do it with no problem.  As we become older and sit more we lose the hip mobility to get in this position and the fear of knee pain predominates.  The irony is that a properly executed squat is one of the best things you can do to avoid or eliminate knee pain.  I have people see me all of the time who tell me that they cannot squat, I ask them to show me a squat, and they show me something very different
than a proper squat.  No wonder the resulting knee pain.  I have worked with people who definitively told me they could not squat in most all cases, barring a physical/medical limitation they have been able to acheive a squat in 3-6 months max.

Movement Quality 

Your body develops motor patterns(adapts) to accommodate the movements that you perform in everyday life and those that you practice in the gym. The gym, with a good coach can be the laboratory to explore your current movement patterns and practice changes.  The best way to do that is to see how you move under applied stress.  In this case the applied stress is either load(weights, metabolic demand, motor control (coordination).

Using the squat as an example, often the first thing done is to look at the squat movement with no load, an "air squat".  Using this movement as a starting point a good coach can begin to suggest movement changes (Straight back, externally rotated knees. vertical shins, etc).  Once the air squat is mastered typically an appropriate load will be applied and poor movement patterns will again become evident.  To be continued in part two of this post.

We will also talk MUCH more about squats in upcoming posts, in the meantime if you want to get started take a look at:

Functional fitness is also perfectly suited to rehab(after an injury) and prehab(working to correct a movement pattern before injury occurs) - To be discussed in depth in a future post.

One final thought....

We Are All Athletes

In this blog I will use athletes to describe anyone who wants to improve their physical interaction with their environment.  In this context we are all athletes to varying degrees.  From the octogenarian who simply wants to improve his daily movement and mobility to the Olympian or NCAA athlete striving for a gold medal or National record.  We are all athletes to some degree and we should all train as athletes, within our ability. 

Upcoming: Differences between Functional Training and Machine Based Training

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