Functional fitness is one of the biggest phrases right now in the fitness industry. It is defined differently by kettlebell users, CrossFit coaches, FMS trainers, and many other fitness professionals. I believe functional fitness comes down to two specific concepts, adaptability and putting your fitness into practice in a real application. It’s great to be gym fit, to be able to perform pull-ups, endless sit-ups, and deadlift 400 pounds. But what can you actually do with this fitness? Are you able to pick up a couch, run to catch a bus, climb on top of something, explore nature, or compete in a trail race? Better yet, can you drag a 100lb deer out of the wood for two miles over varied terrain?
It is easy to become comfortable in the indoor setting where it is predictable and safe. Every time you arrive at the gym your front desk staff will be the same, the bench will be in the same spot, and you know of what you are capable. Even if you train hard it tends to fall into a rut and doesn’t often push the envelope. When is the last time you were nervous before a workout, not sure if you were going to be able to complete it, or experienced the fear of learning a new skill? Learning is a skill itself. The more you learn physically or mentally the better you become at the act of learning. So, your next learning challenge is to take your fitness and apply it in some practical sense.
Transferability of fitness from the gym to the real world isn’t as easy as we would like to think. Pull-ups will strengthen your back, lats, and biceps. However, the strength doesn’t translate directly to climbing on top of a tree branch, doing a muscle up, or climbing rocks. The real world doesn’t occur in a single plane of motion. Rather, it is dynamic and ever changing. Picking up children, groceries, or furniture isn’t as easy as a barbell deadlift. Awkward angles can occur, the ground can be uneven, and you can’t always maintain straight arms and the perfect lumbar curve while lifting. Can you pick up an eighty-pound sand bag or fifty-pound bag of dog food that is going to shift weight and keep from injuring your back? Life constantly presents us with situations that can require technically improper form or, at minimum, slight compromises.
If you never train for the unexpected or the plethora of different situations that arise can you truly be prepared for life? In CrossFit almost all of the exercises occur in a single plane of motion. CrossFit trains people to be prepared for anything in life, yet the training variety can be quite restricted for your average box member. I believe that CrossFit is a truly valuable system, especially since I manage and operate a box, Jamerson YMCA CrossFit. It is one of the most well rounded systems in place, yet still we lack interaction with nature, uneven terrain, and varied situations. When we jump in a gym it is primarily onto a box. How about jumping to a target or over a potential hazard like a creek?
Your challenge this week is to get outside of your comfort zone and transfer your fitness. Your comfort zone is dynamic, and if you never push the limits it slowly shrinks. So if you are a runner, try getting out and lifting. Start with some lifts in the gym, get some core strength and stability, and then apply it to picking up a rock, the couch, or something different. If you normally just lift, get out on the trails and go for a hike or a short run. Is all of your strength helping you?
Find different situations where you can expand your limits and see if your fitness truly crosses over. Try out a local rock climbing gym, rent a kayak and go on a paddling trip, or see how far you can hike in a day. Pushing your mental limitations is just as important as your physical limitations. Something like learning a backflip into the water can challenge your coordination and mental fortitude while also being very rewarding. Success is contagious and once you begin to explore new skills and limitations you may want to set new goals.
Set a goal to achieve a challenge off this list: