Functional exercises have taken the spotlight in the last few years amongst the fitness industry. Kettlebells, battle ropes, steel maces and medicine balls have substituted cable machines and treadmills. Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics, powerlifting and other modalities are being practiced by everyday athletes looking to improve performance, but mostly importantly, their quality of life. How’s functional fitness been able to accomplish this?
First, we should define ‘Functional Fitness’.
Greg Glassman, CrossFit’s CEO, stated that ‘Functional Fitness’ is “work capacity across broad time and modal domain”. Okay… what does that mean?
Having ‘Functional Fitness’ means you can perform well, related to yourself and others (work capacity), in a multitude of sports, or activities (modal domains) that might last for a short or long period of time (broad time). That is why we rarely repeat workouts and why we are always trying to improve and learn new skills. The easier way of doing that is by performing ‘Functional Movements’.
‘Functional Movements’ are patterns seen in many, if not all, sports and activities. Squats, hinges, push, pull, jump, run, lunge and throw are a few examples of functional movements. If you improve these basic movement patterns you can improve in a multitude of sports at the same time. These movements are also seen in everyday life. Which is very different from sitting on a machine and doing triceps extension. You also get more bang for your buck. ‘Functional Movements’ require the entire body and tap into all 10 General Physical Skills.
“Functional Fitness train movements, not muscles.”
While isolated movements (bodybuilding style) are great for prehab and rehab, and to build strength, it does not teach you how to properly move. It does not teach you what muscles you need to activate when you squat, jump or throw. It builds muscle, but what good is it if when you go outside the gym and don’t know how to properly lift your couch when you have to move? Furthermore, that would be training in one modality (hypertrophy) and go against what ‘Functional Fitness’ is.
I lost count how many times I’ve heard “Why do we snatch?”, or “Do I have to split jerk? Can’t I just push press it?”, or “How on Earth is a Turkish Get Up functional?!”.
What people fail to understand is that we practice those movements not because snatches are cool (even though they really are) or Turkish Get Up’s are hard, but because they teach us how to move. How to position our bodies in space. How to utilize force in a specific way. When we snatch we position our body in the most efficient way to bring a weight overhead. We learn how to use our core and hips to stay tight and hold a position. That our legs are doing the work, not our arms or lower back. We work on mobility deficits and improve our power. On Turkish Get Ups we practice unilateral strength and stability. We improve our body awareness. And again, we learn to move efficiently.
Every movement and exercise is built on a foundation of movement pattern. Don’t work on toes to bar to get better at toes to bar, that might cause you trying to get them regardless of form or movement. Instead, work on toes to bar to improve the basic skills needed to do toes to bar well done.
If you have any questions on ‘Functional Fitness’ or the purpose of any movement, ask a Celebration CrossFit coach!
by Coach Matt