Moving functionally has arguably become the biggest fitness craze of the last decade. Everyone has a different perception of the term ‘functional movement’, some ranging far from Oxford Dictionary’s original definition of ‘functional’. As with anything like this, I believe the best approach is one coming from experience, with applied scientific knowledge and logical reasoning. Naturally, this approach leads us to see ‘strength training’ as the answer to the great conundrum, ‘how to functionally move?’ Here at Lifters League, we asses functional movement as the process by which we can most efficiently and effectively squat, bench, deadlift and (insert other lift here). Functional movement definitely goes deeper than this, but this is how we assess how functional you are.
What is Functional?
Human movement is a function of our muscles. To create effective movements, we first need efficient, strong and balanced muscles. Any engineer knows that to create an efficient moving system, the individual parts need to be optimised. Remember what I said about science and logical reasoning? Rather than giving meaning to arbitrary fad exercises by classifying them as ‘functional’, we use applied anatomy and biomechanics to strip back the movement and optimise those parts by manipulating the three muscle principles mentioned above: muscle efficiency, muscle strength, and muscle balance around joints for the individual person. Just as the saying goes, you are only as strong as your weakest link- and without these fundamental components of movement optimised, movement cannot be functional.
Functional movement and sports performance
Consider that the goal of sport, any sport, is to move in such a way that allows us to win- in most cases the focus will be on bodily movement. Without a doubt, the most successful athletes in ANY sport are those with the most well balanced, strong, mobile physiques. Think of a friend you have who is a natural at any sport they try, often what separates these people from the rest is the fine tuning of their muscular system- their nervous system, postural muscles, muscle timing and coordination, reflexes, muscle balance- all mastered before they even attempt the sport. At Lifters League we coach all types of athletes to to improve their movement from the ground up and get them performing at their most efficient. A fundamental component of skill training, is a building block approach- attempting complex movements only when the individual sequences have been mastered. If your muscles are not strong or balanced enough to fire in the right sequences, attempting complex movements will be inefficient (read: non-functional). We train people so that their bodies are ready to move within compound strength movements, by identifying and fixing weaknesses and imbalances within their own physiques to fine tune their bodies. This training carries over to any sport. Strength training is our method.
Functional movement and injury prevention and management
Most injuries occur as a result of some type of muscle imbalance or weakness- regardless of how active a person is. Because of this, the goal of injury prevention and management should be to create strong, balanced, effectively working muscles around joints. Sound familiar? Another thought exercise for the reader; think of the most robust person you know- the Superman without a kryptonite, your very own Bear Grills. Picture strong joints, broad posture, practical strength, good reflexes. There is a good chance that they are the very person thought of above. The same traits that make a person naturally athletic will typically be ideal for injury and pain prevention. Now let me tell you, these traits of strong postural muscles, balanced physiques, well supported joints, efficient movement, good reflexes and body awareness are very common goals of any injury rehabilitation program. At Lifters League, we say why wait until you are injured? If these traits carry over to both sporting performance AND injury prevention, why are we not training to improve these athletic factors from the very beginning?
Why strength training?
If only there was a way to strip human movement back into its fundamental components and train each component in a controlled, measurable and progressive setting. To identify weak muscle groups or individual muscles, spot imbalances around joints, test the nervous system’s ability to deliver instructions to the muscles in the right sequence and at the right speed for well functioning movement. While it’s taken a while for the academic community to catch on to our secret, we’ve known the answer for years: strength training! Forget your cable crossover bosu lunge on the stairs, having strong, balanced, efficient muscles is the absolute, number one prerequisite for being functional; and weights training is the only measurable way to train all of these foundation factors. Once the muscles are strong and balanced, they can be applied to the functional movement. Until then, you’re simply not moving functionally.