Hey everyone! I haven’t been able to blog in some time but it has been for good reason. I just got confirmation last week that I am officially a certified Medical Exercise Specialist! It took a year and a half of intense learning, shadowing physical therapists/chiropractors, and studying to get this and I couldn’t have done it without the amazing support of everyone around me. So I had to take the last 4 months off to study as much as I could for my test and now I have been in the process of having my website redone. I went with my client Sterling Snead company Coretopia which offers high end luxury IT services. The website is almost finished but is looking so amazing! I’ll have more on what the new site has to offer once it gets completed but I wanted to get a blog out there in the mean time now that I have finished my certification.
Now onto what I want to discuss with this first blog which is the notion of function in regards to training. I know functional training is the new buzz word in the fitness industry but when you ask a trainer or coach to define it the meaning seems to change from person to person. I think one thing every trainer agrees on is that these are not isolated movements like dumbbell curls but rather complex movements with either multiple planes of movement and/or multiple joints involved. One of the best examples I like to use is functional training is doing movements which translate to your everyday life. Now that still has more explaining which needs to be done but the sentence can wrap up the term nicely. The one problem with this sentence is it leaves to much up to interpretation so that people begin to say “well I curl my drink up to my mouth so that’s functional training when I do curls” or they end up doing weird complex movement patterns which may look fancy but the persona doesn’t do that movement in life outside of exercise. Sure parts of a complex movement may be used in real life but some movements are done more so because people want to push their body to see what they can do which is completely fine its just not practical for everyone in the use of the term functional training.
For me personally I consider functional training more of the basic movement patters but I don’t completely exclude complex ones. Crawling, running, walking, twisting, squatting, getting up off the floor with no hands, climbing, vaulting, pull-ups, deadlifts, carrying, rowing, the list could go on and on but the main idea is that we would do this movements out in nature at some point. Think about indigenous people for a second, they do all of these movements at some point in their natural environment for a host of reasons including; hunting and gathering, building shelter, resting (seated squat), traversing their terrain, etc. The weird part is that we go to a facility to mimic these movement patterns in isolation or out of context because we know it is good for our body to exercise but we seem forget their true function sometimes. My favorite example is how don’t need to teach a baby how to crawl they just learn because it is a functional movement pattern for them.
Which leads me to something natural movement trainer Ido Portal said in an interview which is “body building is reverse engineering a muscle.” What he means by that is that in bodybuilding a person takes one or several muscles and trains them with mostly isolated movements. Think about a tricep pushdown, chest fly, calve raise, etc. and you realize these are done in as much isolation as possible to just stimulate and grow that one muscle. Now I love bodybuilding and have been a huge fan since I was a teenager and I don’t want to diminish their hard work ethic or physiques, all I’m saying is work on some of the functional movement patterns along the way to make sure you are more functional later in life.
I personally use the flat footed squat test to figure out what problem areas a person has and I love that movement because it shows so many things. Say for instance your hips are really tight, like mine, then with this movements and you get to the very bottom your back will round to compensate for the tightness in your hips. If you try to straighten you back you will fall backwards. Now this is a highly functional movement pattern as we see from people around the world who don’t sit at a desk job. They rest in this position, go to the bathroom, and can gather food in this position. Yet most Americans lack the ability to do this very important functional movement. The function here ties into the purpose of the movement i.e. to rest or go to the bathroom. So for my clients I want them to be functional in this sense and work not only on the crawling, lifting, pushing, and pulling movement patterns, but also address underlying issues which limit their ability to perform these movements safe and effectively.
I don’t think there is a one size fits all model of fitness rather an overlapping approach to achieving healthy movements. I incorporate a variety of training styles with my clients but in order for each to be effective they have to have good basic functional movement patterns. Along the way we do some hypertrophy (bodybuilding) style workouts, strength training, medical exercise, conditioning, etc. but we also make sure they are moving well and in order to do that you must do some functional movements.
If you are looking for great sources of information I recommend Kelly Starrett and his mobility website MWOD, Ido Portal, Erwan Le Corre owner of MovNat, and Kate Bowman who created the Restorative Exercise Institute.