We went skiing in Austria over Easter. It was lots of fun. The first time for the boys, and I haven’t been for 18 years. Skiing made me think about the importance of strength, coordination and being able to move well, both for sport and for everyday life.
Skiing is all about core and leg strength, And MECHANICS of movement – how we use our body weight and gravity to navigate the slopes. The tiny children are amazing on the slopes as they ski with apparent ease.. A low centre of gravity and lack of fear helps!!
That said, small children are brilliant at using their bodies as we were designed to use it Skills that many people lose as they get older
I love this picture of ‘The Perfect Squat‘
A very natural position that many adults have lost the ability to adopt
and a great demonstration of Functional fitness in action!!
So here is a question for you – why do you go to the gym?
I would say that my top 4 answers would be:
1. To lose weight/fat/tone up
2. To burn off extra calories
3. Because it makes me feel good when I am on an exercise program
4. To get stronger/increase lean muscle mass
Now these are all great answers, so let’s look at each one individually.
1. Will you actually lose weight, tone up or lose fat once you start exercising?
The answer is MAYBE! For the most part you will as long as two things are combined with the exercise,
a) you have your nutrition under control and
b) you are doing exercise that is progressively harder then last month, or last week.
2. Yes exercise burns calories but is ‘burning calories’ going to get you closer to your goals?
Most people who exercise to burn calories are exercising to “lose weight, lose fat, or tone up”. So lets look at how many calories exercise actually burns.
All of these figures are per hour of activity.
Weight Lifting- 204cal
Jogging 8km- 544cal
Spin Class- 637cal
Light activity (office job)- 98cal
As you can see sitting around doing nothing (light activity) you are burning almost 100 calories per hour. That means your average bout of exercise only burns an extra 100 to 537 calories per workout. Bear with me while we do some calculations….
If you want to lose just 1 pound of fat per week you would have to burn 3500 calories more then you intake.
Lets say the average workout burns 400 calories that means you must do about 9 one hour workouts each week to achieve 1 pound fat loss.
That’s right 9 HOURS OF EXERCISE!
So if you want to lose weight by just burning calories….
3. Exercising because it makes you feel good is obviously important
Exercising should make you feel good and should not make you so sore that you can’t perform daily functions. Exercise should make you move better, in other words, more flexibility, less aches and pains, better balance, and stronger.
Don’t think that you need to do Yoga or hours of stretching to get flexible, any well designed exercise program should accomplish all of the above. The main reason we lose flexibility these days is all the sitting we do. We teach our bodies to perform many tasks from a seated position, when it was never meant to do so.
When we do this we shut off the ‘mover’ muscles we are supposed to use in everyday life and start using the ‘mover’ muscles for things we are not suppose to use them for. Then you start exercising or adding load to your body again and the mover muscles don’t work properly and it usually results in pain, discomfort, or muscle tightness.
4. If you are stronger everything is better.
Why do men lose weight quicker than women in most cases? Because they usually carry around more lean muscle mass then women.
It is said that each pound of lean mass on your body burns 50 extra calories per day. That means when you are not exercising you burn more calories. It also means that after a strength training session you will burn more calories in the 24 to 72 hours after a workout while the body recovers.
The final two points are getting to why I think its important to exercise.
Our lifestyle in the 21st Century does not lead us to use our bodies like we were designed to. Our bodies are designed to move, lift, carry, push and pull. Nowadays we hardly need to do any of those things.
We drive and don’t walk..
We get our shopping delivered to our door (OK so the Tesco driver is lifting..)..
We have machines that do all the heavy duty tasks our ancestors did ..
We increasingly engage in sedentary activities.
Sedentary activities include sitting, reading, watching television, playing video games, and computer use for much of the day with little or no vigorous physical exercise.
Lack of activity causes muscle atrophy i.e. shrinking and weakening of the muscles and accordingly increases susceptibility to physical injury. Additionally, physical fitness is correlated with immune system function; a reduction in physical fitness is generally accompanied by a weakening of the immune system.
Look at this great video which shows us what makes muscles grow (hint – it’s not calories….)
So in summary and to answer my initial question..
The point of functional fitness is first and foremost to develop basic movement capabilities.
- We should have the shoulder mobility to wash our entire back during a bath or shower, if you don’t have that then you haven’t earned the right to strengthen your shoulders.
- We should have the hip mobility to lie on our back and lift each leg separately to at least a 60 degree angle from the ground. If you don’t have that then get it, before you start strengthening your hips.
- We should have the ability to touch our toes with our legs completely locked out straight. If you don’t have that then you should not be squatting with weight.
Functional fitness is being able to perform everyday activities such as climbing stairs, open and closing jars, getting up and down from a seated position, carrying groceries, and tying your shoes.
All these activities need our muscles to work effectively and efficiently.
A well designed exercise programme will use a variety of movement patterns to increase strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance by using exercises that mimic real life movement patterns.
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