Being Functional in Your Body & Your Life

It’s late June and the sun is hot; the rains have slowed down a bit and you have been stuck at home for the better part of the last 100 days (thanks Corona). Though it isn’t an ideal situation, you’ve decided to make the best of it and attend to some of your more common seasonal chores – but with a twist this year. Your typical early summer vacation spot isn’t a viable option this year given the travel restrictions, so you’ve taken it upon yourself to turn your homestead into something that more closely resembles an oasis. You’ve ordered 15 yards of mulch, bought a few new exotic plants and matching pots for the driveway, and decided to finally build that outdoor bar you’ve always wanted. It’s Saturday morning, the mulch just arrived, and you’ve already gathered all the lumber you’ll need to start on that beautiful mahogany bar you’ll entertain the neighbors with this summer. You just finished your coffee and you slip on those old, green New Balance sneakers, ready to tackle the yard before moving onto your little passion project to show off your carpentry skills. The gloves go on, shovel in hand, wheel barrel in place…and boom. You’ve thrown your back out. Stuck in the hunchback position, gripping your lower back and your sporting that Wil E Coyote painful face holding up the “Help” sign.

Well for one, we actually hope this has never happened to you, but unfortunately, it happens more often than not (OK, maybe not the exact same scenario but who wants to build their own bar anyway). That sudden and severe pain in your back could be caused by any number of things, including a muscle spasm, arthritis, a slipped disk. In rare cases, this can’t be avoided but for the majority of us, it most certainly can. It’s a question of how you choose to consciously move your body through space. Your body, that incredibly intricate vessel you travel through life in, is a complex piece of machinery that is programmed to move in certain ways. We call this Functional Movement Patterns, consisting of seven ways in which our human bodies are designed to move. They include squat, lunge, hinge, push, pull, rotate and gait. At any given time of movement throughout the day, you are performing at least one of these 7 movement patterns.

When is the last time you spent time perfecting these movements? Somewhere along the line, the bicep curl became one of the most popular performed exercises at a gym or at home. For those of you who are not familiar, a bicep curl is an isolation exercise in which you start by holding a weight in your hand with your arm dangling at your side and you slowly or explosively curl the weight up towards your shoulder before returning it to the starting position. It’s a fairly simple exercise, and if done properly with the right programmed approach, can result in a large and lean arm muscle. After 20 minutes of bicep curls, you towel down, dry off and realize your sleeves are little tighter than before, and perfect – you are one step stronger at lifting something from your side to your shoulder in your everyday life. Be honest, when was the last time you did anything like this outside of the gym without using any other muscle group in your body? Unfortunately, there are many gym goers who spend 3-5 days in the gym only focusing on these kinds of movements, while neglecting the rest of their body. Ever seen those memes that say “don’t skip leg day” with the picture of the bodybuilder with massive arms, repping SpongeBob’s legs? All jokes aside, it’s a real issue (functional muscle neglect, not SpongeBob). This short case study is really just a way of introducing a very important concept: train the way you function and live the way you perform. So, here is a term you should become familiar with: Functional Training.

Functional training essentially means training with purpose. Purpose meaning matching the way you train to how you use your body in everyday activity. This form of training focuses on compound, multi-joint exercises – meaning you are engaging multiple muscles at once and in multiple planes. An example is the squat or the deadlift. These exercises have you engaging your posterior chain, your back muscles, your leg muscles, shoulders and core all at once while you move up and down. The bicep curl we mentioned earlier is an isolation exercise, meaning its primarily only targeting one joint movement (elbow) and one muscle group (biceps). To get the most bang for your buck, your workout regimen should consist mainly of these compound, complex movements. So, stick to these three rules:

1. Focus on core exercises that strengthen your 7 movement patterns: squat, lunge, hinge, push, pull, rotate and gait.

2. Incorporate additional auxiliary exercises that will augment each individual movement pattern (yes, you can do the bicep curl).

3. Train with a purpose: match your training goals with common movement patterns in your life with special attention to weak areas.

By transitioning your training approach towards function, you’ll find yourself much happier and healthier. Performing compound exercises has a great many benefits:

  • Increased metabolic output during exercise

  • You’re targeting more muscle groups, which means your muscles are requiring more oxygen than they would in isolation, resulting in more calories burned.

  • Increased balance & stability

  • While recruiting multiple muscle groups, activating various joint movements, and moving through several planes of motion, you will inevitably build stronger stabilizers and overall coordination.

  • More efficient neuromuscular activation

  • The connection between your nervous system and your muscular system is what allows movement in the first place. Compound exercises are ideal at more efficiently establishing this connection.

  • Cardiovascular system benefits

  • Because this type of exercise raises your heart rate more than a simple isolation movement, you’ll be working that chest beater of yours as well.

To bring it all together, think of some of the activities you do on a day to day basis. Things like bending over when you dropped your keys, or squatting down to sit on the toilet, even turning around in the car when those toddlers of yours are arguing over who gets the last juice box in the back seat (they won’t understand the frustration until they’re older). From the time you get out of bed in the morning to the minute you lay back down this evening, you’re in constant motion, at least we hope you are. Paying close attention not only to how your body moves but how your body shouldn’t move is paramount to your overall health and longevity.

So, to be sure that the next time you plan on building that oasis in your backyard (and you should, you deserve it), remind yourself of how your body operates mechanically and start treating your body as an oasis. As a final note for all of you out there frequently doing a bicep curl – there is a time and place for isolation exercises. These types of movements aid in the development of your 7 functional movement patterns. BUT work up to and progress to these types of movements. Start with the fundamentals and incorporate these auxiliary exercises later. Here is a list of some functional exercises you should become familiar with and perfect over time:

  1. Squat

  2. Forward & Reverse Lunge

  3. Deadlift

  4. Push-Up

  5. Lateral Lunge

  6. Medicine Ball Rotation Throw

  7. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift Bonus: the Turkish Get-Up

Our 91-day Happy Brain – Healthy Body™ Program spends 6 weeks teaching you every functional movement exercise you could dream of. If you are interested in signing up for a program, NOW is the time to do it. With the fast approaching holiday and the current difficulties so many of us are facing today, we have decided to commit ourselves even more to our community and are now offering our 3-month program for just $15! Yes, $15 – typically $50 – that is less than 17 cents a day. Is your oasis body worth it!? You’re damn right it is. As always folks, stay happy, and stay healthy. We love y’all!

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