Functional Fitness Part 2

We know by now that our body is one integrated unit, so repetitive movements that isolate it into sections cause disconnections throughout your kinetic chain. In our previous post Functional Fitness Part 1 we highlighted some exercise techniques that get a lot of hype, but don’t necessarily deliver the most bang for your buck. In this post we’ll explain why we believe there are better methods to ensure prolonged health and fitness for your body.

We know that the human body evolved to walk upright on both legs, so regressing your training to crawling movements won’t help your daily function. Yes, you’ll feel your muscles working and your brain will think you’re doing something good for your body, but since we don’t walk on our hands our shoulders need a different kind of support relative to our legs. So crawling movements won’t enhance or coincide with the functions of human movement discussed in our previous post- standing, walking, running, and throwing.

HIIT workouts are stressful on your body, and too much stress spikes cortisol and makes it hard to lose fat anyway (plus it’s cumbersome on your joints and hard to sustain for more than a few weeks without some form of pain or injury). So if you’re doing HIIT workouts to lose weight, do the longevity of your body a favor, and stop eating so much. Then just exercise to stimulate muscle tissue in a manner than mimics the way it functions in the real world, so you can sustain your fitness as you age.

Powerlifting can make you stronger but usually at the expense of hernias, stress fractures, disc herniations, torn tendons and ligaments, and compression on your spine. So it’s high risk, low reward because once you injure yourself it’s hard to recovery back to 100%. And in reality why do we need to lift such heavy objects? Humans have developed brains to work smarter not harder. We’ve developed pulley systems, levers, and machines to move objects and do the heavy lifting for us. Compared to other animals, like a silver back guerrilla, we are extremely weak. So the next time you need to move a piece of furniture use a friend to help, or on those rare occasions when you need to move a big rock or firewood, use a wheelbarrow. And get strong at what you do most, standing, walking, running, and throwing. This will help cultivate strength that you can use without damaging your joints.

We share these thoughts to spread relevant information about the human body and the repercussions of the way we treat it. If you like what you do and your body feels okay, keep doing it. But if not, we offer an alternative way to train and sustain your health and fitness.

*Hint; check out the picture from this post, and our last one. Compare how confined the squat pattern is, versus the running one. The bar on the back causes compression, and the running (assuming your joints are adequate- we can help with that) can engage the entire body through horizontal force distribution and create strength and mobility that you can use more often.

Reciprocity

What goes up, must come down, what goes left, goes right. Basic principles that can be used to train functions for the body, specifically with exercises that reinforce basic human movement patterns.

One pattern that accounts for moving your body is referred to as contralateral reciprocation. It’s primarily explained as your arms and legs working in uniform opposition- right arm swings forward as your left leg kicks back, and vice versa with the arm and leg on the other side of your body, to rhythmically propel yourself through space.

Watch any person walk or run (and even throw) and you’ll see reciprocal functions taking place throughout their body. Ipsilaterally and contralaterally. It’s a trait that the human body has developed as a result of its movement patterns.

Since the human body primarily operates through a series of reciprocal actions, you can use the principle of reciprocity and apply it to exercises in a way that replicates how the body moves in reality.

Realistically, walking is a, taken for granted, movement that your body does the most. If you want to get “strong” in a way that matters for the world you’re living in, get better at strengthening your body to master the mechanics behind walking, and running… (and throwing). That way you built your body to be resilient for what it endures on a daily basis, and to better withstand the damage from gravity and the force it places on your body.

Let’s reign this back in to, the title of this post: Reciprocity, and why it’s a piece of the puzzle to overall better movement.

If you study the patterns of human movement you’ll find that the body is constantly reciprocating, from basic examples like agonist and antagonist muscles- as one muscle contracts, the one opposite of it it, stretches. And the  timing of the inhale and exhale of your breathing mechanics. Then to the mechanics of contralateral reciprocation like walking, sprinting, kicking, punching, a golf swing, even a baseball pitch. And to more advanced reciprocation, like the micro sequences within oppositional motion. Like the Yin and the Yang, without one, you’d have too much of the other, and that would throw out the balance.

Let’s circle that back to exercise and “training” the body. Training doesn’t always need to be referred to as physical. With the right kind of exercise you should be training your brain and body, and using stimuli to condition the desired response you want for your body, or brain. If you understand that mechanisms in the body work in reciprocation then you can use exercise as form of stimuli to condition more harmony within the body. Exercises that revolve around the principles within gait (walking, running, throwing) involve contralateral reciprocation patterns of movement that communicate to the brain, that the body is in harmony with its biology- how humans evolved to move.

Think about it this way- an upright chest press, with a step, is reinforcing movement patterns that align with human movement, and reconditioning the neuromuscular system to achieve a more rewarding response. Versus, squatting with a bar on your neck, and lifting the weight up and down, or using a dumbbell to pump out 20 reps of curls for big arms- with no regard to what’s going on with the rest of your body. Have you consider that because the body works in harmony and integrates muscles to work synergistically at once, that isolating one muscle to work one at a time, creates disconnections in your neuromuscular system. So, which form of exercise do you think would create more symbiosis versus division in the body? No more Yin and Yang together.

While there is still much more to account for in terms of exercising, training, principles, function, and reciprocity, this was written with the intent to create a different way to think about exercise. And the effects it has on your body, function, wellbeing, and longevity. As we learn more about the human body and how it operates, we can finally become more intelligent with the way we exercise. No longer for sport or ego, because those aren’t healthy for your body and more importantly you can’t sustain the behavior.  So you spend a few years looking good, maybe even feeling good without joint pain, but eventually it’ll catch up to you and you won’t be able to move, you’ll hurt, you’ll put on weight, turn to dysfunctional behavior for comfort, and enter the hard to get out cycle of self sabotage. What if you could use exercise to get healthier as you age? Not to look good like when you were younger but to feel youthful, energized, and functional like when you were younger! It’s a red pill to swallow but one that can be rewarding in terms of wellbeing as you age. All the fears and self fulfilling prophecies of hip replacements, back pain, and immobile joints can all be avoided, if you decide to train smarter instead of harder. Set yourself up for the long run. The world needs strong and capable humans!

Yours in Health,

Michael

Health- What Does It Mean To You?

The health and fitness industry can be overwhelming with all of the information- information that contradicts itself and information that is unpopular from the mainstream. You have to read all the sides and decide what is best suited to you- with all your health history and complex individual requirements. We think its helpful to consider what health means to you? Is it a 6 pack abs and big arms, is it good blood panels, is it being able to move without pain, is it eating nutritious food, is the ability to keep up with your kids, grandkids, and fur babies, is it NOT having to take prescription medicines, is it all of the above and then some?

We view health and fitness with the overall ability of the body to thrive. Physically, mentally, externally, internally, handle stress well, fuel your body with the right foods and environment, and have the ability to live life without being limited by pain, poor health, and other restrictions. We don’t view health and fitness as simply having a nice looking body. What looks good on the outside might be in turmoil on the inside- either from poor dietary habits, inability to cope well with stress, or too much emphasis on the physical and not enough on the mental, emotional, and internal needs of the body. All of those factors cumulate to make up health and fitness.

We want to be upfront that we aren’t your typical gym that just pushes a good looking body and doing whatever it takes to get there. Sure that is nice and a reflection of health but without all of the other aspects, no matter how toned and trim your body is, you can still be unhealthy or unfit.

So take a moment to reflect on what being healthy and fit means to you. If you’ve been hesitant about going to a gym because you’re concerned it’s all about what you look like, then look no further than SA Functional Fitness! Our gym is tailored to what your body can do, not what your body looks like. Come as you are, and as a byproduct of regaining and training function, your body composition will change along of the way. But remember, that shouldn’t be your sole focus because the way you look doesn’t always align with the way you feel and the way your body performs.

Fitness is defined as “an organisms ability to survive and reproduce in a particular  environment.” This is from a biological standpoint and not what popular opinion defines fitness as. So if you hold true to this definition, then are you fit? Are you able to navigate the daily demands and real world conditions of your environment, without turmoil, pain, anxiety, aches, and being overwhelmed, exhausted, and incapable?

Being fit determines your health, the more adaptable you and your body are to the environment you live in, the more strength you can use to handle the physical demands, the more focus you can exert to manage stressful situations without feeling like you need to cope with a drink or comfort food, the more energy you have to make it through the day without fueling yourself with caffeine just to have another restless night of sleep because your body and brain are too wired to rest, truly rest.

As all of the layers of health and fitness work with each other, the better your body is at existing in reality. Instead of forcing your body to workout and eat a nutritious diet because you know it’s good for you, your body will start to want these things because it feels good when you treat yourself right.

So stop working out and dieting solely for “looks” when you know health and fitness goes deeper than the superficial vanity you see on commercials, movies, advertisements, and peer pressure from all sides. Fueling your brain and body that way is exhausting and it’s why we don’t truly have health. The rat race of beating your body up and extreme dietary deprivation places the body in a stressed state and then it doesn’t have the means to heal itself so your hormones become out of whack- and then you’re working against your weight loss goals and so you start working out even more to lose those last few stubborn pounds that just won’t come off. But if you take a step back it’s because your health habits aren’t really that healthy.

The calorie restriction and daily cardio and strength training, stresses your physiology out and your body goes into survival mode to keep from losing more weight, and then when you try to workout harder, you still don’t lose weight because biologically your body is working to stay at homeostasis. True health and fitness is a mind shift from what you’ve been told and seen most of your life and learning to encompass physical, mental, emotional, and physiological aspects of health to truly thrive as a human being.

So, rethink your definition of health and fitness. Does it align with where you see yourself in 10, 20, 30 years. Is it sustainable or are you pushing the extremes to look good now, without regard for what’s going on inside of your body and how that impacts your future health and fitness?

“Live intentionally and not habitually.” – Naudi Aguilar

 

 

Muscle Power

A muscle will produce more force when it is used in integration with the other muscles in its fascially connected chain/sling.

To add to that, if you focus solely on “lifting heavy” weights on a limited range of motion exercise like the bench press (as evident by the picture), you’re packing on unfunctional muscle that can’t reach its full length potential when you need it to, away from the gym.

This can alter the tension relationships between your muscles and cause postural imbalances and injuries/pain further down the road.

It’s important that muscles function as they’re designed to and that exercise respects and enhances those functions.

We’re less about exercising and more about functioning. If you work to enhance the function of a muscle then as a byproduct you’re exercising, because if your muscle doesn’t function the way it should, then the simple act of trying to teach the muscle to perform that function will be a challenge on your muscular and nervous system, and produce the same benefit as exercise but with the added benefit of enhancing your muscle function.

The exercise pictured, the bench press, is not an exercise that you can learn or even relearn function for the pecs because it doesn’t allow the pec muscles to function the way they need to. It only isolates the pec muscles in one plane of motion, and with a limited range of motion that they rarely ever go through in the real world. Think about it, how often when you’re walking down the street or running when you play sports do you drop down to the floor, lie on your back and push weight off your chest? Or even drop to the ground and do a pushup for that matter? The answer is obviously, never! So this is an example of an arbitrary exercise that really doesn’t serve a functional purpose. Maybe for an offensive lineman on a professional football team, but even then they are standing upright when they are pushing someone off of them so the context of the bench press lift doesn’t carry over as much as we think it does.

The bench press lift itself is fairly limited and doesn’t train the rest of the fascial chain/sling that the pec muscle is a part of, so it’s not going to produce as much force or power because it’s just the pec muscle activating by itself.

Try this. Tap your index finger on your desk and feel/listen to the sound it makes when it contacts your desk. Now use your other hand to pull your index finger back (essentially winding it up) and then let your index finger slam down on the desk. It should produce a louder sound and feel more powerful than just tapping by itself. This example is showcasing how weak the muscle is when it works in isolation, but by pulling it back with your other hand you are involving more of the nearby muscles and stretching the fascia that houses it so when you let go it’s ready to produce more force because of more muscle recruitment achieved from a fuller range of motion.

So when you train your pecs, absent of their fascial connections, you’re missing out on the nearby muscles that the pecs attach to resulting in less power output. Additionally you aren’t getting a full range of motion (like your finger pulling back more) to get the pec fibers to stretch more, so that you can get a deeper contraction after the stretch. Although we’ve focused on the pecs as the example, the same can be said of every muscle on your body. The more muscles you can connect with a movement, and completing a larger range of motion will allow better force production and power from that muscle, resulting in overall better function.

When you have been used to a certain way of training and exercising your entire life, whether from high school athletics, body building magazines, commercial gym culture, or YouTube videos it can be hard to grasp the concepts of what real functional training aims to do. So if all of this doesn’t make complete sense, don’t fret, this is on the cutting edge of where the fitness industry is shifting and it challenges the brain and body at the same time. We’re here to help provide clarity and direction for those wanting to workout to enhance their function in life outside of the gym. This approach is different from general exercise to just get a workout in, versus exercising to improve the function of a muscle and a muscle chain/sling as described above. The latter will have the body in a healthier state and improve the overall fitness of the body, as opposed to becoming better at exercises we’re teaching your body how to become better at functions so it can perform in any given scenario.

For more visual examples demonstrating this concept, be sure to follow us on social media, @safunctionalfitness, to see exercise videos showcasing how we train entire muscle chains through entire ranges of motion.

How To Tell If Your Workouts Are Paying Off

No it’s not just that your losing weight (that’s mostly diet anyway), or that you’re lifting more weight, or you can touch your toes. All of that should come along for the ride, but what if all of that happens at the expense of your well-being, and you can lift more weight but you blow out your knee joints, or shoulder joints, or you’re losing weight by beating your body up with chronic fast paced interval workouts that you won’t be able to sustain when your body finally crashes (hence why dietary habits are more important for sustainable weight loss), or you’re more flexible but touching your toes is over stretching your hamstrings and now you can’t contract them like you should and they no longer support your body.

The way our trainers educate our clients to know if their workouts are actually yielding a return on their investment is if they’re able to move without guarding or restriction, they no longer have chronic pain when they exercise or move about in the real world, and they can function the way they need and want to without having to avoid certain activities. Of course all of this is a process and not an overnight event, but those are the goals our trainers have for all of our clients, our intentions behind every workout is to build muscle and strength that carries over to life away from the gym. After all, the gym shouldn’t be where you spend hours a day but instead get in, do your work, and get out to enjoy other activities that our gym has prepared your body for!

We are a unique boutique fitness studio that focuses on human biomechanics and our niche does’t entertain all the fluff in the fitness industry because we’ve been there and we’ve done that, and we finally realized that it was ego driven and unsustainable. We beat our bodies up at the expense of looking good, and we realized that if we continued on that path, we’d be right where the rest of gym goers were, wearing knee braces, avoiding certain lifts because it hurt, working around problems, on the path to knee replacements and back surgeries, and eventually blaming old age on a problem that was created years prior from bad fitness habits. We realize not everyone is about longevity and sustainability but for those of you who want something different, and something that will last, we’re here for you!

Once we can undo the damage done to your body from past exercise habits and old injuries, then the fun can start and you can obtain that rush of endorphins and the higher intensity cardiovascular workouts but you won’t injure yourself because your body will have been primed for advanced movements. And if it’s not, your body will tell you and we’ll stop and correct what needs correcting before blindly proceeding with an exercise that you might need more coaching on. The difference is by that point you and your body will know what feels right and what is going to produce damage, because we like to educate you along the way so that you learn the purpose of an exercise and how it should carry over to your overall function- inside and outside of the gym.

We spend time in the beginning learning foundational concepts to apply to basic exercises that involve structures like your pelvis and ribcage, that effect other structures like your arms, shoulders, and neck, as well as your legs, knees, ankles, and feet. When you learn the functions of these structures and how to move them to contract muscles and then what those muscle contractions should feel like, then we can go on to the next level. We don’t like to get ahead of ourselves or rush your progress, but we do want to push you to get your body functioning the way it needs to be. How ever long it takes, we have patience to safely progress you and ensure we aren’t going to force you into exercises your body isn’t ready for. As we keep moving you through the levels, that’s when efficiency starts to manifest and we are able to make the most of your time in the gym. Rather than keeping you in a routine that works on stretching first, then strength training, then cardiovascular exercises, then core strengthening, then mobility, then endurance and time under tension, we are able to do all of that at once. Not in one workout but in one exercise! Then not only does your time become efficient but so does your body and the way it moves.

Efficiency is key because in the real world your brain and body don’t have time to think of how to move, it just happens automatically. So the idea of mentally “squeezing” a muscle breaks down at some point and your body needs to learn how to contract a muscle by positioning your bones at the correct angles. Don’t worry, we teach you this. And we take it a step further by matching those angles to the angles that replicate basic human movements like standing, walking, running, bending over, and even throwing, so when you go to perform these movements, you don’t have to think because your muscles already know how to contract during those functions. Again, all of this takes time, depending on how dysfunctional your body has become from improper exercise habits, arbitrary workout classes, old injuries, chronic pains, and whatever else we have to fix to start retraining the brain and body to connect better.

If you’re local to San Antonio and the surrounding areas, we’re your future gym. Not to toot our own horn (because we’re humbled everyday by unique cases like scoliosis clients, clients with chronic pain that hasn’t been helped by physical therapy so they turn to us as their last ditch effort, and other problems that the fitness industry prefers to avoid or work around), but we’re the only place that trains this way. Sure other gyms might claim to do this or have the same intentions, but chances are they are not providing the same service and techniques. The human biomechanics field is a very small, up and coming one, and the Functional Patterns institute that teaches these techniques doesn’t promote weekend or online training seminars, but instead we spend weeks learning these methods to ensure that first, we get them right, so we can properly teach our clients.

So, stop getting stuck in the stretch, lift, cardio, stretch routine and start learning how to become more efficient with exercise, to become more efficient in the real world. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation/ evaluation and learn what your body does well so we can build off of that, and also what it doesn’t do well so we can correct that! You have your entire life ahead of you, are you going to spend it in pain and unable to move like you used to (what your doctor says is just old age) or are you going to do something about it? It’s time to regain your freedom to move and take control of your lifestyle and the way the human body was meant to move, no matter your age! This gym exists for that reason! Come find out what we do differently from the rest of the fitness world, and why we do it!

Neuromuscular Exercise

Your brain naturally defaults to the neural pathway that represents what you’ve done before. These pathways are created based on habits and behaviors, ei; how you move, what muscles you use to move, what your muscles are doing when you’re not moving, etc.

The brain prefers the path of least resistance- the easiest route to avoid working hard. Since the brain (nervous system) controls our physical actions (muscular system), our function is at the mercy of this path. The way we move is determined on how hard the brain wants to work to coordinate the movement, dictating correct biomechanics versus dysfunctional mechanics based on how your brain is wired.

If your habits and behaviors wire in neural pathways that reinforce the easier path, then your body systems won’t work optimally and over time this becomes normal, and you aren’t even aware of the dysfunction. Using movement as an example… your daily habit of leaning on one leg and popping your hip out to one side when you stand creates a neural pathway, that your brain thinks is normal. Now when you go for a walk, this pathway that was created from your repeated behavior starts to manifest. Every step you take, your hip pops out to the same side as it does when you stand but you aren’t aware of it because your brain has wired this pathway as “normal.” Just because something is normal doesn’t make it right, because a hip that shifts asymmetrically when you walk creates a chain reaction that leads to compensations elsewhere in your kinetic chain. Causing force to pound into your hip joint leading to a hip replacement, unstable hips lead to an unstable spine and overworked knee joints, leading to neck and ankle problems, etc. Think about what else happens during other movements if all this is happening just when you walk.

This is why we prioritize the “mind muscle connection” during training because your body becomes blind to how it’s moving, when your brain has been controlling it a certain way for so long. Our trainers work to uncover if your movement patterns are serving your body for sustainable function or wrecking your body and expediting the aging process.

Contact us if you want to evolve your training to achieve a more practical outcome, instead of just exercising through that path of least resistance.

Heavy Lifting

Relying on heavy weights to produce muscle activity is like cheating on an exam, you pass but you don’t learn anything for real life.

Your muscles should be capable of producing maximal tension with optimal positioning of your bones. Skeletal movement engages muscle automatically.

The way your skeleton aligns when you move determines how effectively your muscles engage to support your movement. Whether you’re exercising or moving through real world conditions.

Cheating on an exam creates dependency on a cheat sheet, much like needing heavy weight to feel a muscle working creates muscles that don’t work well in their natural environment. (Reality, not a gym).