With so many different methodologies in fitness, how do you choose what’s best? At one time exercises were considered functional based on how well they mimicked daily movements like picking something up, squatting on a couch, etc. Then that progressed into whole programs that improved your body’s ability to function and perform, which was brought to the general population and fitness industry by CrossFit. Fitness taken too far, like HIIT style training will be problematic in the long run. We believe a functional fitness program needs to take in a multitude of things, one of them being optimal fitness levels verses maximal fitness levels. Let’s break it down…
WHAT IS FUNCTIONAL FITNESS?
Functional fitness is a common phrase used today to describe an exercise programs capacity, in essence, to increase your body’s ability to move better. That by participating in this or that functional fitness program, your body will be better able to do the things that you want it to do outside of the gym.
Some exercises are also considered functional. Deadlifting is like picking up your groceries. Squatting is what you do all day long when you get up and down from your couch, get into and out of your car, or get onto and off of your toilet (which seems funny when you’re 20, but when you’re 70 or 80 is not always a guaranteed occurrence). So, training functional movements or participating in a program that makes improving the overall function of your body a priority is a good thing. And a claim many fitness programs make. But how do you know if a program is actually doing that? And more importantly, if it is, how do you know if one program is better than another? Now before we get into that, a quick disclaimer…
This will not be an article that says what’s the best thing to do. In other words, don’t expect me to tell you what you need to do. That is not my style. I have been training people for over 20 years. If there is one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that telling people what to do rarely works long term. You might get someone to start making changes in the beginning, but without someone there to continue to tell them what to do, they will eventually stop and go backwards. The only thing that works is educating people. If someone can understand how something works and its purpose, then they can decide for themselves (and that’s the key point) if it’s something they want to do. So, this article will not tell you what’s the best thing for everyone to do. There is no best thing for everyone. All there is, is what’s your best option, at the point in time that you are, and with the goals that you want to work towards. So, this article will provide information to help you do that. Okay, let’s carry on.
CROSSFIT AND FUNCTIONAL FITNESS
The idea of functional fitness actually started with individual exercises first, then it expanded to the whole training programs ability to improve the function of the body. This idea, that a fitness program for the general population should improve body function, originated from CrossFit. Although this concept had been in play since the beginning of time to ready warriors for battle, and more recently to prepare athletes for sport, good functional fitness programs for the general population didn’t really exist. Sure there were exercise classes like step, spin, aerobics, etc., but they weren’t built on any of the scientifically proven principles of training: Marco/Meso/Micro cycles, linear progressions, periodization, etc., which were and still are the common and proven training methodologies used today. CrossFit doesn’t utilize these methods either in its basic philosophy, but they did have a method, and were showing improvements in the function of someone’s body. CrossFit essentially created a new method or concept in training- constantly varied, functional movements, performed at high intensity. Just keep in mind this is only one of many methods, and a relatively recent one at that.
CrossFit’s founder, Greg Glassman, pioneered the idea of a functional fitness program for the general population (people seeking fitness for health reasons) and brought it to the fitness industry in the early 2000’s. One of CrossFit’s main tenets was that a training program could do more for you than just burn calories and make you sweat. That exercise programs could and should focus on improving the capacity of someone’s body, and burning calories are just a byproduct of that. CrossFit eventually proved to the fitness industry, which reluctantly changed, that people actually would exercise to improve the function of their bodies. Only after that did it become something to do and a buzz word for marketing. Marketing up until that point in the fitness industry solely revolved around burning calories and weight loss. You might have heard the word “toning” in there as well, but most were seeking weight loss and calorie burn, so that’s what gyms, at home videos, and personal trainers were promoting at the time.
Side note: This is not a healthy way to look at exercise. The idea of burning calories with exercise and eating less as a weight loss strategy, when taken to an extreme, can be damaging to someone’s body. It is better to see exercise as a tool to improve the health and function of your body, and nutrition as a tool to support your activities and the lifestyle you want to live.
The mindset in the fitness industry today overall seems to be more is better. More strength, more running, more mobility. Bigger, faster, higher numbers are the goal. More and harder workouts are always better. That’s why you see HIIT style training “programs” popping up everywhere. High intensity and maximal fitness is not a good long term strategy. A more moderate approach is key if health, longevity, and sustainability are important to you. Piling a bunch of fitness into a small window with 6-week challenges or 90 day “transformations” can and most likely will lead to joint disfunction and burnout. More does not equal better. There is an optimal amount. This is a topic unto itself, so look for us to expand on this more in future articles.
We believe in order for a fitness program to be considered truly functional, it needs to optimize for health and longevity. Your fitness is more than what you can do today. It is what you can do today, taken into consideration with how many days you want to be able to do it. If your program is taking away from what you will be able to do when you’re 40 and beyond, it is not functional. A high capacity now, that results in dysfunction later, is a terrible trade off. I would prefer that the body I live in works great for as long as possible. Most of us just want to feel good, be able to enjoy our lives, and avoid disease for as long as possible.
So when determining if a program is functional, the two biggest questions to ask yourself are; Is it improving my body’s ability to do the things I need and want to do; And is this fitness program sustainable for my lifetime. If it doesn’t meet these two criteria, and health and longevity are important to you, then it’s time to look for another program.
In future articles we will talk about the various areas of health and fitness that you can adjust to optimize for health and longevity. And break down some of the current trends and how they may detract from this.
Thanks for reading,
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