PictureDownward Facing Dog

In my workout this morning, we were doing a warm up to strengthen the shoulders. The conversation then led to someone mentioning that bodybuilders may be stronger than CrossFitters simply because they do more isolated movements. Of course, this got me thinking. Is being strong in a single movement better than being able to move well? Physios and trainers (myself included) throw around the saying “functional fitness” or “this movement is functional” often. But what does it really mean?

Dictionary.com defines function as “having or serving a utilitarian purpose; capable of serving the purpose for which it was designed”. Hrmm, well that really clears things up, doesn’t it? I understand functional movement to be movement that will serve you in your daily life. Think of bicep curls – when do you ever contract and release ONLY your biceps? But you do use your biceps when lifting something off of a counter or from the floor. A more functional exercise would be one that prepares your body for what may actually occur. As the teacher, I am more inclined to teach you how to stabilize your spine during movement, how to squat properly, and how to stabilize your shoulders while lifting,  as these movements will better prepare you to pick up a box off the floor than an isolated bicep curl. 

When I see pictures on social media of people contorting their bodies into all sorts of pictures, I wonder how that particular movement is serving them in their body. In my opinion, while flexibility is helpful, stability is equally important. Without stability, you are flexible in a loosey goosey body, and put your joints at risk. I may not be able to stuff my head between my feet in a backbend, but I can sure stabilize my spine in preparation for jumping or heavy lifting. 

I plan my classes around movement that will help people in their daily lives. While it would be neat to do many of the classical yoga poses, most of us spend all day in front of computers, behind the wheel of a car, and seated. None of those positions are helpful for having the range of motion required for even a “basic” yoga pose such as Downward Facing Dog. As a result, we do not do many Down Dogs in my class, but you may prep your shoulders by increasing strength and flexibility within your range of shoulder flexion and external rotation, spinal stability, and hip flexion – the basic movements that come together to make the DownDog position. We can get a lot done in class just by focusing on basic movements – and trust me, as modern humans, we need the basic movements way more than the fancy ones!