What is an exercise and what is a functional movement? I did a video a while back talking about why pull-ups aren’t a functional movement. Based on some of the comments I’ve received I’m not sure I explained myself as well as I could have. That’s why today I’m taking a broad approach and talking about exercises vs functional movements!
What’s The Difference Between an Exercise And A Functional Movement?
The emergence of the functional fitness trend has really muddied the waters of functional movements. Things like battle ropes and doing exercises on a bosu ball aren’t the same as functional movements. Some of that is adding complexity to an exercise and some of that is just a different form of work. I come from a natural movement and traditional strength training background and I have some thoughts on functional movements.
Here’s what I think the major divide between the two is. The focus of an exercise is training muscles and the focus of a functional movement is training neurology. The goal of a functional movement is to accomplish a goal or task. It is more applicable to the real world than an exercise. And it also uses the body as an integrated system rather than breaking it into small moving parts.
Exercises can be incredibly useful. They’re great for rehabbing injuries or improving weaknesses necessary to complete a movement. Generally, however, exercises are performed to get better at the exercise. Traditional strength training is full of improving exercises and hoping it transfers to actual performance. Let’s look at situps. Being able to sit up from the ground is a handy motor pattern to have. But there isn’t much use in being able to do it 1000 times back-to-back as they’re often performed. A situp is a small piece of getting off the ground or getting to sitting.
By performing situps and never the complete movement you’re not practicing the entire motor sequence. If sitting up is the part that gives you trouble when trying to get up from the floor, then doing situps may help. However, there’s more to getting off the floor than just a situp. This gets even more challenging when a load or challenging footing is involved.
The more removed from the gym most exercises are, the less useful they are. It’s extremely important to practice complex movements for a healthy resilient body. Exercises tend to isolate parts of the body creating ranges of motion or movements that could lead to injury in someone who by most standards appears extremely strong and resilient.
Of course, this is my opinion. I’d love to hear what you think as well!