“Functional movement patterns” or “Functional exercise” is all the rage these days which is great to see. Effectively researched and evidenced based exercises and drills are what a lot of us have been striving towards for many years now. Gone are the days of the archaic rituals and “Back and Bi’s” routines for many of us now as we realise that they aren’t entirely beneficial to us athletically or functionally.
The only issue now is, the fitness industry tends to have a rather nasty habit of jumping on the bandwagon and trending such important topics without any real in depth knowledge, know how or scientific rationale/evidence. Myths and then mistruths are then born and obscure the facts quite dramatically. That whole issue can wait for another day however.
The problem we at Tier 1 are now seeing is people rushing to perform highly technical, complex movements and exercises way too soon without previously having developed any solid foundations to work from. This is not to say that functional and complex activities are bad for you, they can be outstanding for you. The issue is you have to “earn the right” to perform them. We need to remember that the people that we often see that perform them well and look great doing them have usually put in some serious work to get to that level. We must remember that professional athletes are in the top 1% of the population and that the top amateurs have usually grafted for years to get to that status in their field. Many people unfortunately fall way outside of this category and have adopted lifestyles that have resulted in many chronic adaptive changes that need to be addressed before attempting such level of exercises. Think about that old story about the man who built his house on sand versus rocks!
Highly complex movements and exercises are great if people have developed good control, balanced strength and good body awareness in space and time. The human body however is unique in that it can compensate and that’s exactly what I see with a lot of my patients. They believe they are performing a movement well because they can complete sets and repetitions but the ugly truth is, they are not moving well or efficiently. What is happening is that their body is making negative compromises, adjustments and taking the path of least resistance into compensatory mechanisms. This is where injury potential significantly increases.
Think squat patterns, if you haven’t got adequate hip or ankle mobility, it doesn’t mean you can’t perform the action, your body simply compensates for lacking in these areas by altering the normal mechanics of other joints. One example being you move excessively into lumbar flexion (you bend your back). So what then happens? Well put simply, the injury potential within your lumbar spine rises dramatically.
Another example we see is people jumping the gun with performing what they believe to be functional shoulder exercises, often involving weighted, overhead movements. Again, these are great if you have the appropriate control, strength, awareness and form. Sadly, many of the people that we see who perform these exercises are missing one or all of the required components and either end up with pain or injury (or are at least headed down that pathway). The shoulder is a highly complex area and requires excellent dynamic stability to function overhead (not to mention a solid core and fully functioning spine and lower body).
So with this all in mind, what do we now think of all those middle aged persons who go straight into performing powerlifting, overhead movements and high intensity workouts after years of sedentary based lifestyles? Ticking time bomb to pain?
There’s a term I always use in clinic when dealing with faulty movement patterns or dysfunction: “Assess, Identify, Isolate then Integrate”. If strength and control are lacking in a complex movement, break the movement down, isolate the muscles that require strengthening, target the control issues individually and then start to piece them back together. Essentially re-build them and re-integrate the movement! There is still a huge place for isolated exercises in the world of fitness! It just seems that like many aspects of modern life, impatience rules and everything needs to be ready by “yesterday” so we jump right in at the deep end.
The biggest functional patterns to work with in our opinion are:
- Breathing, Airflow & Core
- Squat patterns
- Hip Hinge Patterns
- Push Patterns
- Pull Patterns
The take home message to all of this really just boils down to owning the basics and owning the above 5 patterns. The bottom line is if what you are doing looks terrible and feels terrible, it probably is terrible! So address it! The secrets to success unfortunately often don’t look sexy, they wouldn’t look good on YouTube and you certainly won’t gain a million likes on Facebook if you posted them. Perfect the basics though and we can guarantee you that your results will speak for themselves! Finally, the term “functional” is relative! Think about it!
Thank you for reading, Stu.
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