When we set fitness goals for ourselves, we tend to focus or hone in on specific areas of our bodies. Sometimes, we make the mistake of forgetting how each of our body systems and structures are connected and linked in specific ways that make isolating one part or another detrimental to our overall goals. Functional training exercises and training programs like CrossFit, ever-growing in popularity, can help us to use multiple body systems in dynamic and challenging ways in order to get us to new levels of fitness.
Bryant Cedric, author of “101 Frequently Asked Questions about Health and Fitness and Nutrition and Weight Control,” (Sagamore Publishing, 1999) describes functional training as a “movement continuum.” He defines functional movement as “performing work against resistance in such a manner that the improvements in strength directly enhance the performance of movements, [making] an individual’s activities of daily living easier to perform.”
If we can perform our daily living activities with ease and without pain, then we can accomplish so much more. In a “functional” workout, one uses basic movements that are challenged in the various lists of exercises that program participants strive to achieve during each session. Each subsequent workout then builds on the last in a more integrated, progressive way, with all body systems engaged.
According to Cedric, by training in a functional way, the performance of the neuromuscular system is affected. It is the execution of specific, coordinated movements that is key to success since the brain, which controls muscular movement, thinks in terms of whole motions and not individual muscles.
Exercisers who take on the functional training challenge or CrossFit training, are challenging multiple systems and improving neuromuscular strength and coordination, as well as overall cardiovascular fitness. With those gains, one hopes to also enhance the other activities they do daily.
According to Greg Glassman, CrossFit founder and CEO, the CrossFit program has similar goals: “The CrossFit Program was developed to enhance an individual’s competency at all physical tasks. Our athletes are trained to perform successfully at multiple, diverse and randomized physical challenges.”
Glassman adds that CrossFit targets 10 recognized fitness domains: “Cardiovascular, respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy.”
If individuals can further develop those fitness domains, one could assume they would be functionally more able to complete the tasks required in their daily lives at a much higher level.
Do you think you are ready for functional training? Prior to participating in such a program, it’s a good idea to identify any weak links you may have in terms of flexibility, mobility and with the coordination of various body movements. You can check out the Functional Movement Screen, developed by Gray Cook, which details the specific ways to test your current movement abilities at www.advanced-fitness-concepts.com/fms.pdf.
As functional training and CrossFit become more popular as ways to challenge current levels of fitness, we may find ourselves being able to live with more resilience, more stamina and with a new outlook on what we thought we could achieve. Commit to be fit!
Elliot is a physical therapist and soon-to-be business owner of Georgia Game Changers Running Company in Richmond Hill. She enjoys making a difference in the lives of others by sharing information on living better and committing to be fit, healthy and strong.