What is functional exercise and why do I have to re function it?
Have you ever had a personal trainer, health guru or annoyingly upbeat gym bunny friend talk about how they are into ‘functional’ or ‘re functional’ exercise? It sounds a bit…special…doesn’t it?
I mean, exercise is exercise, and one imagines it has a function, and that it functions…as exercise. As for re functioning…is that the same as making something that works a certain way become something else? Like turning an old tea-pot into an alarm clock, perhaps?
As it turns out, functional and re functionable exercise is something we need to know more about as the years roll along.
There are seven motions the human body must be able to make in order for it to be considered mobile. These are the ability to lunge (we do this when we walk), hinge (think large joint movements and flexibility), rotate (sockets, fingers, ankles etc), gait (again walking), squat (hip control and balance), and push and pull.
This is not fancy stuff, these are the basic human movements that we use in order to feed ourselves, walk out of danger, wash ourselves, go to the toilet and get out of bed. With one or more of these 7 basic functions not working, we are immediately aware of how much we miss them.
A nasty fall that leads to a reduced gait or a limp, or the ability to use our wrist. The ability to get up out of a chair without using our arms for support. The inability to open a jar because our fingers no longer grip as they used to. This is what happens when we lose functional movement.
As jobs became more sedentary over the last two centuries, so did we. Days of back breaking labour in the fields became years of back stiffening torture in a chair. Functional movements our ancestors never really thought about have become something we have forgotten about, until it is too late.
Yes, running a marathon is great, and pumping iron makes you buff, cardio will improve your heart, but if getting your underwear on requires a wall to lean on, or a couple of minutes sitting on the end of the bed, you may be in trouble.
Sometimes, certain simple movements have gone to sleep. Remember when you used to throw a ball at a wall and catch it single handed while waiting for someone to join you? How long could you keep that up for now?
Maybe you have had a stroke, or an injury, and the muscle sets you used to use no longer accept the electrical messages your brain is sending? In that case, we may need to add a work around in order to re-function certain parts of the body to assist in movement.
If you want to juggle, just like when you were younger, you can actually do it, even with crappy hand eye coordination, you may just need to re-function a few of those long-forgotten motions joint and muscle combos you once totally took for granted.
And that is what functional, and re functional movement is. Ensuring that the 7 basic motionable skills you need for every day life are as good as they can be in order for you to live a good and happy life in comfort.
If you see a gym or health centre offering ‘functional exercise’, go and check it out. It’s not for old people, it’s for anyone who wants to see a penny and pick it up, rather than stare at it for a minute and think, “nah, that seems like a long way down.”