Sunday 25 January 2015

Functional Fitness

‘Functional fitness’, ‘true functional fitness’ and of course ‘functionality training’ are the exercise community’s biggest buzzwords right now. Every PT focuses on it, every crossfit gym claims it and every parkour coach offers it. 

What does it mean and why it is important?

What does it mean?
Being ‘Functional’ is the ability to do a movement safely, efficiently and with a very low risk of injury. It allows us to function in our lives and adapt ourselves to any task asked of us. It makes us a ‘jack of all trades’. And also enables us to pick up new movements/skills quickly. It simply keeps us fit for life.

Many form of exercise offer some functional movement training.
  • Endurance- Is the ability to do a movement many times - like running
  • Strength- is the ability to complete a movement increased pressure like lifting or holding a plank.
  • Skill – the ability to perform a movement well and is practised by repetition – like football
  • Flexibility- the ability to perform movement through a very full (and often extreme) range of motion in e.g. gymnasts.

But none of these on their own can be classed as functional. A functional movement training program would have to improve our functional potential by that I mean our ability to learn or perform as wide a range of movements as possible. It would  increase our overall efficiency of dynamic - rather than specific or held - movement.

This sort of training must obviously be broad and encompass strength, mobility, coordination, agility and power. It would also be highly specific because it would also have to highlighting the weakness of each person and bring balance to that individual.

A functional athlete is therefore, almost by definition, in direct contrast to a specialised sports-person or athlete, who is training in a specific movement or subset of movements in an attempt to become the best at that activity. Some obvious examples of this would be rowers, swimmers or cyclists. These athletes, while hugely talented and at the peak of their physical fitness are not functional by this definition.

The  Goal is health
We spend a whole lot of our lives moving but only a small portion of it taking part in physical exercise. Everything you do is movement. Our functional athlete is therefore more likely to move through their day to day lives at much lower risk of physical injury from poor posture and muscular imbalances. 

This also impacts on their health. A functional body should be a healthy body. Joints work best when in proper alignment and are only likely to ‘wear out’ if exposed to unusual torsion or odd loading, and well-conditioned, mobile muscles are less likely to tear or snap than their tight, knotted alternatives.

Functional movement is natural. This of course brings me back to my old friend the barefoot or minimalist shoe which allows the feet to function dynamically and helps promote a natural gait using the musculature that is designed for movement. Dynamic balance is what it's all about.....