I truly hope you had a wonderful holiday! I always hope people see a time to balance their lives and let fitness be a part of making the core of their lives better. Of course after the holidays also becomes a great time where people start eyeing being more “serious” about their training. I find that all good and want to help inspire you not to just train harder, but to train much smarter. A lot of that has to go with understanding what functional training is and why we use it to get better results.
Why do I say better? After all, we live in a culture now where everything is good, just depends who you are, right? I like to use this analogy, if I told you that you could make 5 million dollars but you don’t get any time with your family, no health benefits, and nothing other than your 5 million dollars you MIGHT say sweet! However, if I approach you with 4.5 million dollars, but you get to spend time with your family, you get full health and retirement benefits, you might actually consider the slightly lesser money option as the better overall life option right? You are getting more even though at first glance you are getting slightly less.
My analogy is really functional training versus bodybuilding. Listen, you aren’t a bad person or anything if you decide to bodybuild. I do believe that many who are using bodybuilding don’t know any other way. They see functional training for the circus tricks and “not serious” exercises. One of my personal favorites is when people say, “that’s too functional.” I use to scratch my head on what that meant, but then I realized it wasn’t a compliment.
Such statements go back to functional training failing to really help people understand the intent of the term. I’ve said many times, it just means improving how your body functions. That may sound oversimplified but it is far from. Mostly because people have NO IDEA how our body functions. In fact, I find it interesting that even physical therapists and other health practitioners that have been following us for years, JUST don’t get it. It isn’t their fault!
School still teaches “dead person anatomy” as strength coach, Mike Boyle, calls it. That means we have a cadaver on a table, yank on a muscle and see what happens. From that, we determine the “function” of the muscle. As much as we like to think this gives us great insights it does very little. A cadaver doesn’t have an operating nervous system, nor are we seeing the body controlling its own complex movement to see what muscles actually do.
That makes functional training a breeding ground for lots of debates. However, if we step back and look at the work that modern science is showing us, we start to see that what I said about understanding how the body functions is really coming into a greater understanding. Here are a few examples.
The Spiral Line
Only a couple of years ago I posted about the spiral line and social media BLEW UP at me calling it b.s. and a host of even nastier names. My first instinct was to become defensive but then I understood people just didn’t understand how the body worked so functional training could really never be accomplished. Fitness has been so defined by what an individual muscle does, if we can’t see it and make sense of it quickly then we write it off. However, as you see the spiral line is a VERY real thing!
I know, you never thought about how your peroneus longus tendon could impact your hamstring, your low back, your shoulders, and even your neck! Most probably didn’t know such a tendon existed. What’s my point though? We talk all the time in DVRT why the foot is so important! That now you can see if you don’t create deliberate use of your feet you won’t use your glutes, your core muscles, or even your upper body to its full potential. Not only use it, but if we don’t use functional training we can build dysfunctional patterns in our body. So you can look great, but feel horrible!
Just showing this one fascial line (fascia is connective tissue that helps these muscles to “communicate” to one another). What can we learn about functional training and why it is so important to our training?
-Force comes from the ground up and our body responds to how stable of a foundation we create.
Physical therapist, Jessica Bento, shows how understanding functional training gives us the ability to create better solutions.
-Our body doesn’t work in separate parts (no glutes, biceps, pecs, lats, NONE of it works by itself), but as an integrated system with specific chains that are made to work with one another.
Understanding that the glutes work with other muscles to perform movement in real life makes us wonder why people try to isolate them? These hip bridge progressions show how we use chains along with the spiral line to build better progressions that truly build strong glutes.
-The body works in opposites! Now you can see why we say a shoulder issue can be a core issue, a hip issue, even a lower leg issue. As physical therapist Diane Lee says, “the criminals never scream as loud as the victims”. We can’t just do “shoulder exercises” to fix the shoulder.
You see this reflected in the way we load the body and the movement patterns we use. We want the opposite shoulder and hip to be engaged as much as possible. Lunges, half kneeling, and sprinter stance positions are just some of the body positions we can use to really emphasize this concept.
-Everything responds to what happens above and below. Your serratus anterior not working is probably more of a function of the neck, the core, and the hips. What is happening above and below the muscle and joint, muscles just don’t “forget” to work.
Jessica shows again how we take this into consideration in how we use the Ultimate Sandbag and other tools to not just create load, but to develop this integration. We look for opportunities to allow the body to move in the way it was designed and to create specific challenges with this in mind!
-Many of the biggest and strongest muscles in our body are diagonal in nature meaning they perform multiple jobs at once. Often combining stabilizing (by resisting motion) and developing strength (in producing force).
When you see drills like the one’s above, it would be easy to say they are “too functional” however when you put them in context of how the body performs then it makes so much sense why these are more advanced functional training strategies.
These topics can be really complex, but I hope as a teacher and a community we do a good job in breaking them down into the most important parts that are relevant to fitness training. Our understanding of the body is growing and that means our fitness has to adapt. I should say it doesn’t have to, but it should! Especially when it comes to delivering people more than a “muscle pump”.
I’ll admit, if you just want to get a singular big muscle, then isolating it makes sense, there is your 5 million dollars. However, if you want that muscle to be strong in and out of the gym, if you want that muscle to function correctly when you need it, if you want to be strong AND stable/mobile then maybe we have to sacrifice a bit of that money. However, we are going to overcompensate it delivering you WAY more in terms of how it will benefit your life!
Functional training isn’t replicating what we do in life, however it does make what we do in life better if we understand how our body functions!
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