Most of us use functional movements in our strength programming. Most of us know that squatting is important, deadlifts are a good thing, and pull ups are pretty cool. Still, when we go to the gym, the majority of what people are doing are isolation movements and exercises. Whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, or simply move around better throughout the day, functional movements will help you get farther faster.
What is functional movement?
As weird as it sounds, we're primed to begin lifting weights from the time we could walk. In fact, if we could move like we did when we were 1-year-old, we would be far stronger, healthier, and at a lower risk of injury.
Babies have perfect form in the main movements: squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, pushes, and pulls. When you think of a baby deadlifting you may have a silly image of an infant pulling on a barbell come to mind, but in reality every time a young child picks a toy up off the floor, they are deadlifting perfectly. Every time they plop down on the floor they are squatting perfectly.
Functional movements are ingrained in us, and we use them every day. By the time we become adults we have spent thousands of hours statically (sitting unnaturally on chairs, couches…) and our mobility is limited because of it. Our path of movement changes to accommodate injury, muscle contusions, and poor posture, and our formerly perfect deadlifts turn into an awkward twist and turn and bend to pick up something that fell on the floor.
The Paleo of Exercise
We all talk about eating “paleo”, or how we suppose paleolithic people did. Functional movements are the “paleo” of fitness. They are the most common movements that we do every single day, and that our ancestors have done for many thousands of years.
The majority of CrossFit is derived from functional movements, so much falls within these realms, however there are plenty of movements added into CrossFit workouts that are not things we would have seen our great-great grandparents doing (I may be wrong, but I don’t think handstand push ups were an everyday event for cave people).
Functional Movement, Strength, and Size
The single most important concept that is overlooked in the fitness industry is that functional movements are the single best way to get big and strong. If my client tells me that they want to get strong, I don’t prescribe a hundred dumbbell curls a day. I prescribe heavy bench press, push ups, pull ups, chin ups, dips, and if they are more advanced lifters I will use a variety of functional accessories involving pushes and pulls that more specifically target the biceps and triceps.
Both for muscle growth as well as strength, there is a necessary hormonal response that is typically only naturally seen from doing functional movements.
Functional Movement and Weight Loss
The same can be said about weight loss. The most effective weight loss exercises come with a huge hormonal response. Things like growth hormone, testosterone, and lactic acid are all naturally produced during functional strength training, and they all contribute to fat loss, and the overall improvement of body composition.
“Toning” is essentially the hopes of improving the body composition in one particular area. Those who are looking to “tone” their arms tend to do exercises like bicep curls and triceps kickbacks, but in reality functional movements like the bench press and pulling movements will help reach the goal of building muscle and reducing body fat in a fraction of the time.
So while you spend hours working your arms in the hopes of getting large and lean, I will be laughing at the fact that my biceps are half the width of my waist without ever wasting my time doing a “bi” or “tri” workout.
In conclusion, the next time you need a workout, try throwing in some functional fitness workouts and see how you feel. I have a feeling you're going to like what you feel and in the end, over time, you'll love what you see too. You'll be one step closer to living a functionally fit life.
Andi Singer works as a writer for an HMR diet company called IHM Online, and as a strength and weight loss coach. Over the last five years she has lost more than 60lbs and found a love for Thai fighting, powerlifting, and all things mobility. You can contact her via Twitter, Google+, or Instagram.