The buzz is out everybody, functional training is in. But what is functional training? Everybody seems to have a gimmick, in a moment I’m going to share my gimmick, but seriously, wtf is functional training? A lot of times, programs and trainers are going to angle their reason as to why something is functional. A yogi might tell you that having muscle length is functional for the muscle to optimally perform its duties. A weightlifter may tell you that doing compound movements will make groups of muscles strong, so that when you are presented with a physical challenge in real life, you’ll know how to handle it..and with good form!
So I can buy into these reasons…to a degree. Muscle length is important, and building strong kinetic chains is crucial. But I’m still left with, is it functional? Hyperflaccidity and gargantuan muscles (hypertonicity) don’t seem practical to me. They seem to describe the extreme opposites of the same spectrum. So it has become a passion of mine to figure out what is truly ‘functional’ for myself, my clients, and anybody else I work with. Ask yourself, does whatever exercise or program your teacher is spouting promote improved functionality day-to-day? It seems as if the health and wellness industry has taken two approaches towards applying ‘funcionality’. One is through selling stretching and mobilizing, and the other is through selling strength and ‘fitness’. Neither of which I think contribute to training patterns that truly optimize the way a human body moves.
Below I’ve outlined some ways in which you can come to the conclusion if your training is working for you. Because at the end of the day, what matters most if how you feel after you train. So run these questions by your trainer.
- Is this training going to be productive for me right now?
- Are the exercises or movements productive?
- Is the training a productive journey?
- Is the current phase producing results and does it feel good in my body?
- Is the program a productive use of time or can we cut some stuff out?
Once again we are in a position that all training could be considered productive for a certain individual or purpose, however we are looking at the context in a holistic manner and not simply identifying an exercise and calling it good or bad as is currently the case. Having said all this, the next section is much heftier and takes you a step further down the rabbit hole of movement and physical well-being. You don’t have to read it, but it is sort of like the red-blue pill debate from The Matrix. The above questions are like the blue pill, it keeps you surface level with you’re training, and will keep you sane..for the time being. The red pill, or the content below (and Functional Training blogs 2, 3, & 4), goes much deeper into the details of how the human organism works, and the why and how we can train for ‘functionality’.
The First Functional Training must is Training Your Breath. Lets put it this way. There is a blueprint to your body, meaning, there’s a map. The map is very intricate, with muscles, and fascia, and ligaments, and tendons, ands bones, and nerves, and so many things…oh and in addition to that its mostly governed by your nervous system. And your nervous system is the indicator of how well you ‘function’. Your nervous system is also the one thing that is both regulated by your breath and also regulates your breath. So if you have dysfunctional or abnormal breathing patterns, it is possible (and very likely) that your breathing will cause problems in your movement. Therefor, as somebody experiencing chronic pain, physical inhibition, fatigue, soreness, or limitation in body control, chances are your nervous system is whispering in your ear, “start searching for what makes you feel healthier, stop doing this shit that isn’t making you feel better.” Whether you hear that or not is up to you, but the reason I say this is that “functional” movement step number one requires you to do it with attention. And there’s no better way than building your attention to your body than feeling and observing your breathing mechanics. It is this awareness that is truly functional because it heightens your sense of where you are so that you can then progress forwards. If you’re not advancing your movement difficulty, or if you’re not increasing your ability to sustain simple loaded efforts, you’re probably not training the functional capacity of your breath. You can’t just move in some way and call it functional, especially if its disconnected from the reality of your breathing mechanism. Breath and movement must happen together, fluidly. “If you don’t own your breathing, you don’t own your movement.” I spend 5 minutes warming up my breathing everyday, and that to me is ‘functional’ because it helps create energy throughout my body, facilitating oxygen to more blood cells, and helping wake up my diaphragm. This is the first step towards functional training; correcting breathing and applying it to exercise.