The world has gotten busy. So busy, yet somehow so still. American’s for example, are among the most productive people on Earth and yet so incredibly unhealthy. Finding a balance that allows productivity and good health is not easy. For the inherently sedentary, it’s even more difficult. It doesn’t have to be, if the desire is there.
This article gives some thoughts on how exercise can be derived from play. Specifically, functional training as a style of training. The content below explains a little bit about what functional training is, why it is important to the body, and how play is one of the best ways to get this highly beneficial training that both balances and connects people with their own bodies.
What is Functional Training?
Functional training is physical training that focuses on natural movement to help improve the body’s ability to do typical daily activities.
In 2010, almost nobody had heard of functional training. It’s just as fair to assume functional medicine was also not too well known. Functional training is a form of physical training that focuses on the baseline structural health of the human body. In other words, functional training keeps your muscles and joints happy! The idea is that as people use their bodies, some muscles get used more than others. This has a profound effect on the muscles and nervous system over time. The changes that take place begin to cause dysfunction around those areas of the body. The body protects itself by adapting, but pain and less than optimal movement patterns still occur if strength and functionality are not trained and balanced throughout the human anatomy.
Functional training is a new(ish) physical training methodology created in response to humans having abandoned a constant variety of physical activity in their daily lives.
Throughout the evolutionary development of human, the human body adapted to the environment. This environment, for much of human existence, was not cozy or stable. The variety in movements needed to help people survive, created the body we see today. The challenges humans overcame for all that time became part of survival. In other words, physical challenges are so ingrained in our existence that people who exercise and put reasonable amounts of stress on the body, live longer.
Yoga is an old, well known form of functional training.
Yoga is an ancient form of functional training. It just wasn’t defined like that. For many, yoga has a spiritual aspect to exercise the mind as much as the body. What is different in modern times, is how yoga is viewed by the population of people who enjoy this form of exercise. Because modern life has such a terrible impact on the body, it is easier to feel the changes that a few yoga sessions bring about. Regardless of how people approach yoga as a practice, it is nearly a perfect way to balance the strength of muscles that cross each specific joint in the body.
Why Would I Need Functional Training?
Constant repetitive movements have negative effects on the musculoskeletal system.
Meet someone who has turned a wrench everyday of their life and they are likely to have a visible physical symptom of that activity. Know a handful of desk jockeys that sit at a computer all day? Ask them how their neck or wrists feel. While one of these behaviors is a repetitive motion, the other is a constant stagnation. Both can be considered repetitive because the muscles maintain some pattern for hours a day for many days in a row for many years. The human body is not made for this. While a young body can tolerate it, the pure act of having to tolerate something insinuates that it isn’t optimal for one reason or another.
The lack of enough movement in daily life is terrible for health and hard on the human body.
Research shows nothing that the general public doesn’t already know. Sedentary lifestyles are worse than smoking and poor diet alone. Of course, the combination of all three doesn’t need introduction either. Sitting all day is one of the worse things the human body can endure. As it relates to physical structure, sitting at a desk, weakens the glutes, or butt, and hunches the upper back. Weak glutes are a major cause of low back dysfunction and pain. These changes can become permanent over significant amounts of time. Fortunately, most people do have the capability to make drastic improvements to structure. It just becomes harder to achieve the longer life keeps going by while people are sitting in their chairs.
The body isn’t perfect.
Well, it isn’t. In many ways the body isn’t perfect, but incredible enough to make up for it. Any creature’s body needs to be in fair enough condition just long enough for reproduction. After that, it can all go down-hill and the survival of the species won’t know the difference. Just ask a praying mantis. Fortunately, or unfortunately, people have a certain amount of control over the speed of their health’s degradation. Functional training can help reduce the rate of breakdown of joint tissue over time by balancing the muscles around that joint.
Humans are smart enough to do things with their bodies that they shouldn’t.
Humans don’t just operate out of necessity. People have evolved and modernized survival. The movement required to find food today is minimal in comparison to 200 years ago in comparison to 10,000 years ago in comparison to 100,000 years ago. We are so smart that hunting for food has become only as annoying as driving up the street.
Hunting for food is relevant since before 10,000 years ago, that was what humans did most of the time. Build some shelter, hunt for food, and chill out on hot days. Simplified, but that is where most of people’s time went so long ago. Two of those three activities required physical exertion and used the body in ways most people today don’t experience. Today the human physiology is not getting the exercise and variations in movement required for optimal physical health.
As industry and technology evolves, we use our bodies less, but we cannot adapt quick enough to these changes.
Thousands of years of evolution is thrown into a tailspin upon walking into a school building or the office for work. Physiologically, humans are engineered by the natural world and the body is expecting to endure challenges and reap benefits of being outside. Notably, industry has evolved, but biology doesn’t work that fast. Unless the living creature is a virus or bacteria, meaningful adaptations that are going to be handed down and improved over generations is going to take a while. Simple organisms evolve fast and humans are anything but. What this means is people need to do the activities that the human body was designed for in order to maintain some balance and health or hope for the best for 10 or more generations down the familial timeline.
How Does Play Translate into Functional Training?
Life over the course of human evolution required variety in physical movement.
Fitness facilities all over the country are filled with machines intended to isolate a specific muscle or muscle group. This is quite clever and requires no small amount of engineering to ensure the machine can in fact isolate a muscle group while maintaining safety. Despite the brilliance behind gym equipment, there are two small problems. Most of these machines allow movement in one plane of motion. This restriction on the body does not allow for variances in movement that help train supporting muscle groups. The same restriction keeps the body from moving naturally to that individuals’ physical uniqueness and dysfunctions. For example, if a person is doing a squat in the smith machine (image the bar sliding up and down fixed vertical poles on each side), their feet may be positioned comfortably, but if the body wanted to sway forward or back just a bit to adjust for variances and weaknesses in the spine to protect itself from injury, it would not be able to. I mention this because it is important to note the requirements of free movement by the body for the purpose of preventing injuries if possible.
The human body is made to walk up and down hills, climb trees, carry supplies, build, gather, dig, and a great many other functions. To live well, the body needs to carry out actions like these. Muscle will atrophy and the nervous system will weaken if those tissues aren’t used regularly. When it comes to biology, “Use it or lose it.”, really does apply.
The requirements of living over the span of human existence pushed the body to develop suitably. You can see this when comparing physical attributes of people that lived for thousands of years in one part of the world to the physical attributes of people that live for thousands of years in another part of the world. One example is comparing ancestors that lived and survived in harsh cold climates to those that lived in hot climates. Peoples that evolved to the cold climate have shorter limbs for reducing heat lost from their bodies. Hotter climates, and you’ll witness ancestors were taller thereby releasing heat to cool the body. This is referred to as “Allen’s rule”.
The movements of physical play do not emulate the utility of functional training, it IS functional training.
Physical play moves the body in ways that repetitive work habits do not. While play can be repetitive, like throwing a football or jumping rope, generally people will change activities often enough that it isn’t of any consequence to the body’s physical structure. Play activates muscles that were possibly stagnate or used too little to maintain good health of those tissues. This retrains the nervous system and tells the body that you are, in fact, using those muscles and adaptations for improved functionality should be made.
Since our work has become so incredibly sedentary, play now becomes the physical training that keeps us living well. Play works in all physical planes available for the body to move in.
Play releases the good AND bad chemical responses in the body that tell it to adapt and improve.
Physical exercise releases chemicals in the body that would be known to hurt the body and bring unwanted levels of stress to its physical and biological make-up. On the contrary, what is happening, is these chemicals tell the body to adapt, become stronger, and eliminate waste more efficiently. These improvements give the human body the power to live longer while operating at closer to optimal levels than before. It is important to note, however, that too many stress induced chemicals in the body for extended periods of time is terribly unhealthy. It is important to remember that balance is key.
Physical activity also releases good chemicals. The ones felt when having fun and/or enjoying a playful competition. Pumping endorphins through the human body generates feelings of happiness, excitement, enlightenment, and creativeness. These are all important to induce on a frequent and regular basis and throughout a person’s life. Creativity, to be specific, cultivates confidence in problem solving in a way that boosts independence in everyone, especially young people.
Play is competitive and competition defines strengths and weaknesses that bring self-awareness and confidence.
Competition can either feed a person’s drive to become better at something and/or fulfill individuals desire to know their place in society. Being the best might be important to some. These people go on to be high level athletes or professional competitors in whatever they excel at. For those that aren’t pining to be the best, finding one’s place in the world is an incredible journey to finding strengths and weaknesses. When a person knows what they are good at and what they are not, they can put themselves in situations to feel good about what they do in a way that offers feelings of fulfillment.
When a person knows their weaknesses, it limits the options offered to them in the social and professional world. This is incredibly important in modern society where opportunities are boundless for people living in developed countries. Many people today struggle with direction in their professional lives. There are too many options and surviving this blessing of a challenge mentally and emotionally has become a skill-set in itself. It is important to know that boundaries are very beneficial to creative results.
People today are struggling to find balance in work, play, exercise, education, family, spirituality, and more, depending on what they find important in their lives. The goal here is to explore ways to combine aspects of life that are required yet difficult to find time for.
Play is rewarding to the mind and the body. It doesn’t matter a person’s age.
Play can include family, education, and exercise. It easy to know this but also easy to forget. Modern society has people feeling as if going to the gym and dropping the kids off at the gym’s daycare is the responsible and best thing to do. While it is, and depending on the gym, the kids might love the kids’ room, family time while playing outdoors cultivates connections with each other and the self in a way nothing else can.