Monday, September 9, 2013

Functional Fitness for what?

That's a great question.  The point is that functional fitness IS for something.
Its not cosmetic. Its not for a number on a particular movement.
Skill, stamina and strength
"Strong people harder to kill and more useful in general"
- Mark Rippetoe
In order to be of use to others we first have to take care of ourselves.  

The ideal of functional fitness is the self sufficiency, ability and resiliency to do what needs to be done.  What needs to be done varies by your personal context, goals and ambition.  For a firefighter, police man or woman or the military the thing needing to be done might be extreme. For an athlete the thing right test the bounds of human capability.  For you and me it might be keeping up with the kids, improving our capability bit by bit. As we age it might be the ability to remain independent, the strength to get up and down the stairs, the ability to get off of the toilet by ourselves, get off of the floor under our own power after a fall or the ability to fun for help for an injured spouse or neighbor.

Ground to Overhead, knees out, very nicely done!

It knowing how to do something but also the strength, skill and stamina to do it.

Functional Strength
We're not talking about your max bench press here.  Were not talking about benching double or triple you bodyweight.  Those numbers are nice to talk about in the gym and can be meaningful goals for some of us. Maintaining muscle mass has inherent health benefits, especially for our older population.

Were talking about strength applied in the real world.
Learn to Deadlift Properly and you will always know how to lift something
safely.  NOT like this.
Take away the fancy machine, take away the implement (in this case a barbell and a nicely cushioned bench) and think about the real world.  Rarely are you going to be asked to lie down on a bench and lift and weight straight upward.  It doesn't happen like that.  You have to lift the laundry from the ground with your feet planted on the floor (closed chain movement).  For the athlete you may be called on to push a large lineman out of your way, again with feet planted on the ground, transferring force through you core, with a stable spine acting as an effective transmission of the power, pushing with your arms(again closed chain).

In the real world you will climb, pull as often as you push, run, jump.  Many of us are lacking the pull strength in relation to our pushing strength. 

Your core is the stabilizer and transmission of all of this power acting through your full kinetic chain to your extremities.  No amount of crunches will train this critical aspect of the core.

Here’s the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s take on it:
“All functional movement patterns involve deceleration, stabilisation and acceleration, which occur at every joint in the kinetic chain and in all three planes of motion.”
Primal Patterns
The movements we are talking about are something Paul Chek calls “Primal Patterns,” which are functional movements that our primal ancestors used in their daily lives to survive.

These seven movements are Squat, Lunge, Push, Pull, Bend, Twist and Gait.  (I omitted a few from my previous post Primal Exercises Everyone Should Do, primarily because I am terrible with lunges, but am working on them; but Chek is absolutely right).

Just think how many times a day you have performed these basic movements. Walking up the stairs: lunges. Sitting: squatting.  Gait: walking, running.

This is something Cross fit mostly gets right, in fact what it was founded on.  As Crossfit changes and becomes more marketable as "the Sport of Fitness" it may become more about skilled movements to narrow the field to 'elites' but I hope not. The more Crossfit moves toward 'party tricks' and away from functional movements, I fear the more it loses much of it's original attraction as a general conditioning program.

For example the double under(one of my goats), what next the triple under?

One of the more difficult movements, the Muscle Up, does have a functional purpose.  It the movement you need to get up and over an obstacle above you head from a dead hang.
"You’ll be able to surmount any object on which you can get a finger hold—if you can touch it you can get up on it.  The value here for survival, police, fire fighter, and military use is impossible to overstate."- Coach Greg Glassman
This need to be ready for anything, to survive, is the basis for much of the Crossfit philosophy.
“Our specialty,” according to Coach Glassman, “is not specializing.  Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.”

The true measure of physical strength is not some arbitrary number representing how much weight you can lift on an invented machine or implement, but how many Pull-ups, Push-ups, Squats, Dips and Lunges you can do and how well you move, run, jump and walk.  Functional fitness for readiness for events of or ordinary lives.  Not necessarily just preparing for the ordinary bu preparing for the extraordinary that we all may be called to do on occasion.  

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