Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Getting Outside the Box: The Definition of Functional Strength

The following is a guest post by Katie Chasey of RXBound.com:
How is strength defined and who defines it?
Kinesiologists study muscles and have various ways to gauge muscle contraction, length, tension, and force. Therefore, kinesiologists typically measure strength by these primary factors and neglect individual variations of strength as a subjective concept. Whether one can lift X number of pounds overhead is meaningless in the overall definition of functional strength. Functional strength is the strength that gets us through life and daily survival.
Lifting a heavy load overhead is a fantastic measure for Hercules or the competitive weightlifter but the history of manual labor has consisted of something very different. Manual labor typically involved walking, running, pushing, pulling, and grasping. Take a minute to think back to your history books and those photos of the grueling pushing and pulling of primitive mechanical devices and the relentless building of the pyramids, to name just a couple.
What is wrong with “strength” as defined by Olympic weightlifting?
Absolutely nothing. I love it. I train with it, I teach it, and I encourage it. There is no better feeling than watching my athletes hit personal records of lifting heavy loads. Weight lifting (Olympic or not) has military value and athletic value. It increases stamina and power output. The technical skill that goes with the training behind it (Olympic lifting in particular) is second to none. For the sake of this article, however, I am not referring to this definition of strength, but rather I am talking about daily functional strength and the movement involved with everyday people living their natural lives. So what is this definition of strength? It is not very exciting unfortunately, but equally as important as load-lifting strength.
What is functional strength?
Functional strength is the ability to run your load-joints (shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles) through a full range of motion without pain, stiffness, or restriction. This is also known as load-joint articulation.
What is the goal of functional strength?
Load-joints must be able to open and close in a full range of pain-free motion. How does this work in a couch-potato environment where we are no longer pushing primitive machines around? It comes through movement. In today’s undemanding environment, we get stuck in a “box” of doing the same motions over and over again. We are no longer spontaneously stimulated by our environment, as we once were. More and more people are replacing the days’ motions with “work” (computers and typing, talking on the phone, and driving) or “recreation” (watching TV or playing video games), so we need to find ways to alter our environment in order to keep our load-bearing structure active and healthy.

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