For a long time, the fitness world has been strongly influenced by cultural esthetic ideals.
However, as we age, we realize that we not only want to look good, we want to have high quality of life and we want to maintain that quality of life for years to come. Training time must bridge the gap between a person’s workout and their quality of life.
‘Functional fitness’ is one of the most popular buzzwords in the gym. The idea is to create real-life fitness, to imitate movements that are useful in day-to-day life. It works for many reasons. First, it tends to include a lot of full-body movements where many muscles work together to achieve the end result. This tends to produce great esthetic results. Second, it is fun. You will often see functional fitness athletes climbing ropes, flipping tires and jumping around like children.
The one caveat is there is a huge gap between average fitness levels and true functional fitness.
Let’s face it, as a population, we are deathly out of shape. For many, it’s been decades since we had any proper physical activity, let alone full-body functional exercise. As our culture lulls people into more sedentary patterns, our challenge is to unravel these bad habits by training for life. This is not an easy task.
Functional exercise often means coordinating several complex movement patterns.
These exercises can require a great deal of skill, the ability to maintain joint integrity, and can place high demand on the proprioceptors and neuromuscular system for smooth co-ordination. Therefore, the ability to perform challenging exercises safely depends on the exerciser’s specific experience and overall fitness level.
What if a person doesn’t have the skills or experience to approach the full expression of a movement?
It seems reasonable to approach this with a specific order of operations in mind. In yoga, we call this ‘krama’, or ‘wise progression.'
In functional fitness, progressions can be implemented in the movements themselves, creating a safer functional training environment.
For example, let’s say you want to be able to do a handstand. There are several prerequisites, including range of motion, stability, strength, proprioception and ability to safely come out of the handstand.
As a progression, we might start with some mobility and stability work in the shoulders, then we might practise getting upside while allowing the feet to remain on the ground. We might then do some upper body and core strengthening work. We might then go to partner-assisted or wall-assisted handstands, along with working on cartwheels and somersaults until, eventually, we are ready for freestanding handstands.
Progressions are the difference between steady progress and injurious stagnation in an exercise program. Don’t try to run until you can walk, and don’t try to walk until you an crawl.
Tania Tetrault Vrga is owner and head trainer at CrossFit Winnipeg. Send questions to her at www.crossfitwinnipeg.com.