Hello again, everybody! This is the second part of a three-part series on the pillars of CrossFit. The first part was on “Constantly Varied”, which you can read HERE.
Fair warning, we are going to be talking about possibly the BUZZIEST of health and fitness buzzwords today. So there will be a bit of unpacking before we can dive into why functional movements are good for you and why you should do them.
First of all, we have to define what a functional movement is before we can talk about why it is beneficial. If you type “functional exercise” into Google, it comes up with 317,000,000 results. But if you type “Jacob Watts Kankakee Valley basketball legend” into Google, only one page even mentions me. Are you serious?? Did I mention that I was A LEGEND?? Oh well. On we go.
After browsing a few definitions and links about “functional exercise” there is definitely a theme. They almost all mention something about activities of daily living. Meaning, they are exercises that are supposed to improve one’s ability to complete daily tasks and take care of themselves with reduced risk of injury or need for assistance. There are MANY lists of “Top (whatever) functional exercises to add to your routine!” There is even something called the Functional Movement Screen, which uses seven different “functional movements” to test your movement ability and identify any deficits or asymmetries. Interesting side note, the creator of the FMS has publicly bashed CrossFit and claimed that not only is it certain to lead to injury, but that the cure for our plague of injuries is his system. How convenient is that?
What does CrossFit have to say about this? “Functional Movement” is one of its pillars, so Glassman must have thoughtvery carefully about his exercise selection. He defines it as “Movements that are categorically unique in their ability to express power.” In case you haven’t brushed up on your physics recently, Power = Force applied to an object x Distance the object was moved, divided by the time it took you to do it. Movements that are higher in power output are better at moving large loads, long distances, quickly. So the heavier you or the object are, the further you move it (or yourself), and the faster you do it, the more power you generate.
I appreciate Glassman’s definition because I like thinking about things from a physical and literal perspective. High power movements require relatively high levels of muscle recruitment. Not just fibers of an individual muscle, but multiple muscles working together. Take the squat vs the leg extension for example. Both recruit the quads heavily. But the squat recruits much more than the just the quads while the leg extension uses the quads exclusively. Is the squat better just because it uses more muscles? I would argue that the squat is better because it is a movement that a healthy human should be able to perform. A healthy human should be able to perform it because it’s a movement we’ve been doing for a very long time. And we’ve been doing it for a very long time BECAUSE we intuitively figured out that it’s the most efficient way to lower one’s center of gravity and raise it back up. So by this logic, the movements that we have naturally developed as the most efficient ones also happen to be the movements with the greatest potential for power output. This appears to be true across all types of movements. The most efficient way to put something overhead looks like a press, the most efficient way to pick something up off the ground looks like a deadlift, and the most efficient way to get your body from point A to point B looks like running and jumping.
I think the internet definitions got it mostly correct, even if they are lacking the detail that Glassman uses. Maintaining one’s independence is crucial to a higher quality of life. The majority of us are not in the stages of life yet where we have to worry about taking care of ourselves. But I guarantee you know somebody who is in that stage. Just picture yourself needing help with basic daily tasks like going up and down stairs, getting out of a chair, carrying anything over 10 pounds, or getting around the grocery store. Does that sound like a high quality life? And how about setting an example for young kids? Our society is getting easier and softer all the time. More and more people are perfectly fine with never facing a physical challenge the rest of their life. Do you want your kids believing that’s ok?
So, what are functional movements? They can really be whatever you want them to be. Now we need to have a discussion about goals. What do you want out of life? When you picture the best quality of life for you, what does it look like? Are you moving around? Are you physically capable of meeting the challenges of the day? If you slip and fall on ice, will you pop right back up and deal with some soreness for a couple days, or will you suffer a devastating injury from which you never fully recover? What type of person will your kids see as they grow up? That will influence what they think is acceptable.
If you place great value in quality of life for yourself and your loved ones, I think it is perfectly acceptable to say that your daily movement (or lack thereof) is a matter of life and death. That’s how important functional movement is.
Be on the lookout for the final installment of the three-part series on the pillars of CrossFit which we will finish off with the thing that makes CrossFit suck but also makes us love it at the same time… HIGH INTENSITY!!