Written by Pete Shaw
Functional movement is the single most useful tool you have in your fitness tool box. It is practical, strength building, promotes flexibility and mobility, and is rehabilitative. It is possible that a non-functional movement can also be these things, but it is my contention that functional movements do it better.
First we must define functional movement. A functional movement is a movement that has a unique ability to move large loads long distances quickly. It is defined by its unique ability to produce power.
Average power = (force x distance) / time
Functional movements move heavier loads (greater force, power increases), travel further distances (greater distance, power increases), and do so in a short period of time (time decreases, power increases).
Functional Movement Is Practical
Functional movement is practical in the sense that you can perform it anywhere and it can teach you skills that transfer into your daily life.
To perform a functional movement, at its most basic level, all you need is a 6'x6' area of empty space and your own body! There are plenty of bodyweight movements that can be performed anywhere anytime to create workouts that pack a punch. Using push-ups, air squats, sit-ups, pistols, lunges, burpees, etc., everybody has the ability to create great workouts on the fly.
The skills you learn with functional movements will make your daily life easier and safer. Learning how to deadlift teaches you the safe and sound approach by which ANY OBJECT should be picked up off the floor. Have you learned how to squat? Great! You can safely, efficiently, and effectively sit down and stand up. What about burpees? The best technique for picking your ass up off the ground.
Functional Movement Is Strength Building
When we increase the load for a given functional movement, it elicits a physiological response that leads to greater total body strength.
It is true that loading any type of movement can increase strength. However, the unique aspect of functional movement is that loading these movements (as well as performing more reps in a shorter period of time) produces a neuroendocrine response that leads to muscle building ALL OVER THE BODY! Imagine getting stronger shoulders from doing squats. Imagine getting stronger legs from doing pull-ups.
Functional Movement Is A Stretch
Functional movements, when performed in their full range of motion, take joints to their anatomical end ranges.
Why is this important if I can do the same with a yoga pose?
This is important because when you use functional movement to increase flexibility, you are also increasing your control in your new found range of motion. Too often athletes stretch their muscles by doing long holds or poses hoping to gain flexibility, only to find out that they have no control in these new positions. What good is a position if you can't use it?!
Functional movements demand that your antagonistic muscles, joints, and ligaments work together to access new positions. Fighting for position using functional movements will allow you to find new range of motion as well as the ability to control it once you are there.
Functional Movement Is Rehabilitative
Functional movement has the ability to rehabilitate an individual who is recovering from an injury.
Practicing these movements allow us to program and re-wire our nervous system to teach our body how to move correctly so the proper muscles are doing the proper things. Are you quad dominant and it's giving you knee pain? Learn how to squat by sending your hips back and putting your weight in your heels. Tennis elbow from an early pull in your clean? Learn how to sumo deadlift high pull without violating the core to extremity movement principal.
Your body is not wired to contract single muscle groups to perform tasks. Your time is wasted thinking that isolating a small muscle will lead to long term pain free range of motion. Functional movements will teach muscles to work together and sequence their firing appropriately. The balanced and appropriate contraction of many muscle groups working together to move your body in a safe and sound manner is the most rehabilitative thing you can do – this is functional movement.
Why would you do anything else?