The last time I was trying to hire a new awesome coach to join my team, one of my interview questions was “what does functional fitness mean to you, and why do you think it is important?” Unfortunately, I was blown away to learn that most of the qualified and experienced fitness professionals I interviewed didn’t even know what functional fitness is.
Functional fitness means training your body in natural movement patterns that your body is very likely to do in life. Great examples are squats (because we sit down and stand up over and over all day), burpees (because we lie down and stand up on the regular), deadlifts (because we pick things up all the time), lunges, running, situps… the list goes on. For the purpose of this article, I will be primarily focused on the squat as our example, but you can tell the same story about any functional movement.
Why are these movements important? They are a natural part of your activities of daily life. Learning to move correctly and getting stronger at these movement patterns will help you prevent injury, perform better at sports, help you live independently for longer into your life.
What’s really interesting is watching a toddler or preschooler move; they move perfectly. They do perfect squats to pick things up, crouch down on one knee in a perfect lunge — it’s really neat to watch! Usually by grade 1 kids are sitting enough at school that these movements are already starting to fall apart. By the time they’ve finished university, most have lost the ability to squat correctly. Unfortunately, this is very likely to lead to back pain and injury, knee pain and injury… Of course, pain is likely going to get in the way of sports and activities that keep us fit and this is a recipe for a huge decline in health/fitness. As pain increases and activities decrease, muscle mass decreases, fat mass rises. All those issues will get worse, not better.
The solution of course is to relearn to squat correctly. (Ask my clients – I am obsessed with perfecting squats.) The results of learning to move correctly (and do it all the time, not just in the gym) will be that daily activities become easier, you have a greater likelihood of taking part in recreational and fitness activities, increase your muscle mass, decrease in fat mass and overall be in less pain!
For an athlete, a good squat will help build strength and balance across the board. For a runner, it will help to balance the muscles in the legs and hips (and help them run faster). In a mother with young children, it will help her more easily get up and down and manage stairs while carrying one (let’s be honest, sometimes two) children. In a senior citizen, it will help with living more independently for longer. If you can’t sit down and stand up without help you will need help for the simplest things including going to the bathroom! In all people, it will help prevent wear-and-tear on joints created by bad movement patterns and help to prevent injuries.
Now the tricky part is that if you haven’t been moving right for the last 30, 40, 50+ years, it can be challenging to reprogram a movement pattern. In the first few weeks of trying to learn these things, little injuries might expose themselves. If a healthy movement pattern causes pain, the answer is not to put it on the never-do list. The answer is to figure out why and fix it.
While I have taken so many certifications and courses over the years (and I’m pretty good at this stuff) I like to enlist the help of amazing specialists to help remove fascial restrictions and figure out all the whys. I work hand-in-hand with an amazing crew to help my clients get to the other side of movement restrictions and learn how to function better.
I have walked this path (and it is a hard thing to work to the other side of injuries and restrictions) with so many clients over the years. My most favourite thing is when I get messages from my clients about how they were able to do something they didn’t think they could do. Like my wonderful client Judy who, in her 60s, is a super active grandma to her amazing and giant grandkids who needs to be lifted. She lives alone and proudly puts her tires away without having to ask her son-in-law to help. She also cycled 150km in one weekend last summer and was so happy and proud!
Or my awesome client Kristin who is a crazy fast long-distance runner who came to me because she was experiencing knee pain and knew that to continue running long-term she needed some help.
My clients Ari and Joanne (13 years we’ve been together) sent me pictures of themselves rock climbing, hiking Machu Pichu and some other awesome physically demanding adventures. They felt that all their training (and the style of training we do) is why they were able to do these things. They are fitter and faster in their mid-40s than they were in their 30s!
The moral of the story is that functional training should be a part of everyone’s program PERIOD.
I would highly recommend getting some help from a few professionals who know what they are doing to help you move as well as you can.
This blog post was written by Coach Kate Laird