Mindfulness + Fitness

By: Christie McFarland

The hours I spend daily interacting with clients has revealed the significance of mindfulness and how it ties our overall wellness and fitness journey together.

Forming a daily habit which doesn’t produce immediate results is frustrating. Much like weight loss, mobility, or strength, it takes multiple, frequent inputs over a long span of time to taste the fruits of a meditation practice. Try this app, Done, to start forming small habits, everyday.

From my own experience and the observance of clients, mental clarity, a positive mindset and healthy relationships are a critical piece of overall well-being. Meditation creates the space to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness expands the space to practice acceptance, awareness, and introspection in our daily lives. This benefits ourselves and those around us, tying up the ends of our circle of overall wellness.

For my own meditation practice, I use Waking Up with Sam Harris and Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris. Insight Timer is free and has thousands of meditations. Personally, I have found the other two options easier to progress with and less complicated to choose which meditations to practice.

Here are a few studies highlighting the effects of mindfulness meditation:

Consistency is key to reaching fitness goals:

This study showed 62 women over six months who applied mindfulness meditation practices to their routine had a much higher level of physical exercise and general movement, and a greater reduction in BMI, than those who didn’t.

Brain health is critical to healthful aging:

This study’s results showed, “Benefits may include improving brain functional connectivity in brain systems that generally degenerate with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other aging-related diseases.”

Mindfulness and chronic pain:

This study explains mindfulness meditation’s role in mediating pain: “While meditation after brief training (less than 1 week) produces significant reductions in pain intensity and unpleasantness ratings, long-term meditation does not produce changes/differences in pain intensity but rather influences the unpleasantness dimension of self-reported pain.”

Plan your work, work your plan

Something to ponder: When you go to the gym, are you there to workout or are you there to train?

It may sound like we’re splitting hairs with this question, but at Paragon, we believe there’s a massive difference between “working out” and Training. Going in without a plan, without clearly defined goals and specific steps to take to help you reach them– that’s working out. And there’s nothing wrong that. You’ll get some stuff done, you’ll feel better when you leave, and you’ll probably even see some progress, especially if you’re a beginner.

Training is different. Training means you’ve set yourself a goal or series of goals, and now you’re on a mission to achieve them. You lay out a plan to get you to your goals, and you execute that plan.

The process of achieving long term goals is largely dependent on doing the things you need to do every day along the way. This is where our daily habit tracking on Teambuildr can be so valuable. If you haven’t checked it out yet, here’s what it looks like:

  • Each week has a different focus: Week 1 was Strength, Week 2 Sleep, Week 3 Nutrition, etc.
  • Each DAY we ask you to adhere to 3 specific tasks related to the goal for that week. These are highly achievable on a daily basis, and by checking these tasks off each day, you’re setting yourself into a very healthy habit.
  • First, log into Teambuildr. If you still need your username and password, send us an email.
  • Next, open your calendar for that day, open the questionnaire at the top of your workout, and answer the 3 quick questions. Each question is worth one point.
  • When you hit the minimum number of points for the week, you win the prize(s) for that week.

Over the course of our 8-week ParagonSTRONG program, we’re asking you to train with a purpose. Pick some goals, and set a specific plan in motion to achieve them. If you haven’t already picked your goals, it’s not too late! Check out the instructional video below on how to set appropriate goals:

Now it’s YOUR TURN! Follow the steps outlined in the above video for your own goals, and send an email to info@paragoncle.com. It should look something like this:

  1. State the goal, and the time frame to accomplish it.
  2. What steps will you take on a daily basis to reach your goal?
  3. How will you measure progress each week?
  4. How will you be held accountable?

If you think you need some additional guidance, click here to schedule a free Strategy Session with one of our certified Personal Trainers.

Thanks for reading!

Exercise of the Month: March 2018

Exercise of the month:

Reverse Hyperextension

glutes

We hope you enjoyed last month’s Exercise of the Month: The Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat.    As we move into March, always keep this general disclaimer in mind:  This post, the video that accompanies it, and any similar follow-up posts are meant to be informational only.  It is highly recommended that you check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine, and as important- get yourself a thorough evaluation by a fitness professional before throwing any particular exercise into your regimen.

This month, I’ll go through the potential benefits of the exercise, followed by how it is performed along with an instructional video.  If you are interested in further information and really want to know some science behind the exercise, keep reading past the video!

This month’s exercise of the month is the Reverse Hyperextension.

What are the potential benefits of the Reverse Hyperextension (Reverse Hyper for short)?

  • Decrease lower back pain.
  • Strengthen the muscles of the lower back.
  • Improve speed and explosiveness in athletes by dynamically strengthening the posterior chain.
  • Shape/tone the glute (butt) muscles, just in time for summer!

How do you do it?

    • Set-up: The Reverse Hyper can be done using a few different benches in a MacGyver sort of way, but the ideal set up is to use a machine dedicated to the Reverse hyper, as pictured in the video below.  Start by looping your feet into the straps attached to the pendulum.  Pull yourself onto the cushion so that your pelvis is fully supported.
    • Execution: Start by taking a big inhale and pressuring your abdomen into the cushion below you.  This is done to ensure that your lower back is not responsible for creating the movement to follow.  Point your toes, keep your knees straight, and raise your feet away from the floor.  This should be done by squeezing your glutes strongly (imagine trying to crack a walnut between your butt cheeks!), and NOT by rocking through your lower back.  Your legs only raise as high as your glutes take them, so don’t try to force a larger range of motion at the expense of using the proper muscles!  At the top of the movement, hold for a count of 1-3 seconds before slowly lowering your legs back towards the start position.  Notice that I used the word towards, and not to the start position.  We want to maintain tension in your glutes, and to do so, you need to maintain tension in the ankle straps the entire time.  On the way down, the principle of moving with the hip joints, rather than the lower back still applies!  Do not allow the pendulum to swing.   As the “God Father of the Reverse Hyper” Louie Simmons says, “If you’re back rounds in the bottom of a reverse hyper, then you’re doing it wrong.”
    • Sets and Reps: Feel free to vary the number of repetitions and sets you use with this exercise, anywhere from 5-20 reps per set. I don’t see a ton of value in doing max effort singles or doubles on the Reverse Hyper, but anything above that range can be very beneficial.
    • How to make it harder:  Add weight!  Or bands.  Or go single leg!  Or vary your tempo.  There are plenty of ways to make this exercise harder, and it probably fits best as your second lower body exercise in a given routine.

Enjoy the video below!

Reverse Hyper from Adam Reeder on Vimeo.

Random Nerdy Thoughts on the Reverse Hyper:

  • In most cases, the reverse hyper should not replace the traditional “bang for your buck” type lower body movements such as deadlift, squat, etc.  Rather, it should fit into the posterior chain category as an accessory lift.  As far as accessory lifts go, it’s probably one of the most powerful.  If you program like we do at Paragon, this would fit as B1 or C1, depending on the specific program.  This means you’d be performing one of the “big lifts” like deadlift or squat in your first circuit, but Reverse Hyper could make a lot of sense in the 2nd or third circuit.
  • I actually think that Reverse Hyper can be quite useful when the back is painful during deadlifts, squats, swings etc.  In a lot of cases, we want to keep people’s feet on the floor, or “closed chain.”  There are circumstances, however, when closing that chain with a certain amount of load elicits back pain, and developing posterior chain strength in an “open chain” setting (feet not in contact with the floor) can have very powerful therapeutic effects for the lower back.
  • Let me be clear– I do NOT believe the Reverse Hyper magically triggers something called Imhibition.  Imhibition, not to be confused to Inhibition, refers to the exchange of fluid via movement, which could be quite beneficial to increase blood and nutrient supply to areas of the body which do not receive a large supply.  Louie Simmons does believe in this effect, and claims the Reverse Hyper has fixed his back twice.
  • I tend to agree more with Charlie Weingroff, renowned Physical Therapist, who says the Reverse Hyper remodels and strengthens the tissues of the lower back, making them more adaptive to stress.  This in itself is therapeutic enough for me to want to include it in my programming a lot.
  • The forces at play in the Reverse Hyper are quite hard to find in other exercises.  We see “cyclical, dynamic directional” load vectors during every rep of the Reverse Hyper, due to the fact that the stress on the joints in question changes as the swing rotates about its’ pendulum.
  • Bret Contreras has conducted some great research into the Electromyography (EMG) of hundreds of exercises over the last several years, and variations of Reverse Hyper consistently show as one of the top performers for glute activity.  An EMG test involves hooking electrodes up to various muscle groups, performing an exercise, and measuring the electrical output produced.  This is technically testing the neural activity in the area of that muscle, rather than the muscle itself, but EMG activity does correlate with muscle tension.  It’s not always true, but in most cases… Higher EMG=Greater muscular tension=Greater strength/tone/whatever you want to call it.  While EMG activity isn’t the whole story, it’s certainly an important part of it.
  • For the same reason people isolate their biceps and triceps to get stronger/sexier/more defined arms, it is important to also isolate the muscles of the hip.  Deadlifts, squats and their variations do a great job from an overall muscular development standpoint, and they should make up the bulk of most people’s lower body work.  But with summer coming, glute isolation drills are a good idea.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article.  We have some really exciting things coming in the next few months including the Summer Shape Up Challenege (starting in May) and the 1st Annual Paragon 5k in June.  Stay tuned!

Adam Reeder

 

Exercise of the Month February 2018

Exercise of the month:

Rear Foot-Elevated Split Squat

February marks our first installment of the Exercise of the Month series which will be featured on our blog and monthly newsletter.  Each month, we will break down a particular exercise, complete with video demonstration. We hope to use this series to gradually expand your exercise repertoire and  show you some things you may not be doing in your current fitness program.  Always keep this general disclaimer in mind:  This post, the video that accompanies it, and any similar follow-up posts are meant to be informational only.  It is highly recommended that you check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine, and as important- get yourself a thorough evaluation by a fitness professional before throwing any particular exercise into your regimen.  This month’s exercise of the month is the Rear Foot-Elevated Split Squat.

 

What are the benefits of the Rear Foot-Elevated Split Squat (RFESS for short)?

  • Improve the shape and strength of lower body musculature including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
  • Improve balance and stability by providing a significant stimulus to the muscles of the feet and ankles.
  • Isolate one leg at a time to help improve muscular asymmetries between your left and right sides.
  • Several ways to make the exercise harder to accommodate various body types, injury history, etc.

 

How do you do it?

  • Set-up: Using a pillow or pad under one knee for cushioning, assume a “lunge” position- one foot in front of the pad (referred to as the front foot), one foot behind the pad (referred to as the rear foot), elevated slightly.  Notice in the video below that Megan’s rear foot is not high in the air.  In our video, we use a rolling pad to elevate the rear foot, which is set to approximately mid-shin height for Megan.  If you don’t have this type of pad, you can use a stair, an aerobic step, or any other stable object to elevate your foot.  The front foot should be far enough forward so that from the “down” position, your front shin is approximately perpendicular to the floor.
  • Execution: Focus on your front foot.  Push your front foot down into the floor to raise your body all the way into a standing position, keeping your back foot resting on the elevation.  Your front leg should completely straighten as you get to the top of this squat.  Keeping as much of your weight into your front foot, slowly lower your back knee down to the starting position.  
  • Sets and Reps: Feel free to vary the number of repetitions and sets you use with this exercise, anywhere from 5-12 reps per leg per set.  Because it is a balance-intensive drill for most people, we will generally stick with 12 reps or fewer per leg per set, as after this point, the balance tends to deteriorate to the point where the exercise loses its’ effectiveness.  
  • How to make it harder:  Is a body weight RFESS too easy?  A huge benefit to the RFESS is the variety of ways you can load it to make it more difficult.  The video below gives a few good options as you start to make progress:
    -Add a kettlebell in a goblet position, which simply means holding it in line with your chest.
    -Adding a dumbbell in a suitcase position, which means down at your side, and we will typically place the weight on the side of the leg that is back.
  • Important Considerations:
    -The placement of your front foot is crucial to proper execution of this exercise, and is going to vary slightly from person to person.  During the exercise, you should feel your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, etc. working on your front leg.  You should NOT feel any pain in the knee or ankle of your front leg.  If you feel pain in either of these spots, try adjusting your front foot further ahead of your body, spreading your stance out.
    -Your focus should always be on your front leg.  If the overwhelming feeling here is a big stretch or pressure on your back foot, adjust by shifting your weight forward and emphasize pushing through the ball of your front foot.  If you still don’t feel anything other than a stretch in your back hip, try making your elevation lower, and if this doesn’t work, lose the elevation all together and perform a simple split squat.

Enjoy the video below!

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat Including Kettlebell and Dumbell from Adam Reeder on Vimeo.

50 Days of Movement

If you subscribe to our monthly newsletter, you know that as of Sunday, November 12th, there will be 50 days left in the year 2017.

We are challenging Paragon clients, readers and followers to perform 50 days of 50 movement to close out 2017 and get a jump on those New Year’s Resolutions.  Any movement is highly encouraged-so feel free to include going for a walk, riding your bike, going to the gym, or anything else you enjoy.  At Paragon, we are strong believers in a full body mobility routine consisting of Controlled Articular Rotations, or CARs.

Any CAR you perform should be a slow, controlled circular motion of the joint you’re targeting, and should not involve any other parts of the body.

IMAG0003

If you’re rotating your shoulder, don’t allow your chest, hips, back, etc. to help out and compensate!

The video below is a quick example of some CARs to add to your daily routine– your body will thank you!!

CARs:
-Neck
-Rib Cage
-Shoulder
-Ankle
-Hip
-Upper Back flexion/extension
-Lower Back flexion/extension

Movement Vitamins from Adam Reeder on Vimeo.

 

Would you like to try these (and many more) daily movement strategies out in person?  Use the form below to send us an email, and we’ll get you scheduled for your first session at Paragon today!

 

 

Why We Assess Movement

Adam1

Let me start this post by saying stating the obvious if you’ve read any of my past writings:  I’m a fan of the Functional Movement Screen or FMS.  All new clients at Paragon Health & Fitness go through the FMS in one form or another before they’re ever asked to go through an entire exercise routine.

That being said, I do not work for Functional Movement Systems.  I do not collect any kind of commissions from them by promoting their materials.  I don’t believe that everything they do is perfect or right.  I do not use the Y-Balance Test or the Functional Capacity Screen.  I do not have any necessary allegiance to FMS, and as soon as I find something better, I have no problem jumping ship.

I am NOT writing this post to defend the FMS or anyone who works for them directly– they certainly don’t need my defending even if I were.  I am not writing this to defend anything that Gray Cook or Lee Burton or any of those guys have said over the last 8+ years since Cook wrote Movement.

I’m writing this because there seems to be a growing “anti-FMS” movement on the internet lately, and I think the majority of those behind this movement either don’t like the fact that Cook and others have found a way to become very commercially successful by branding their methods, or simply do not understand the FMS and how to implement it.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say FMS, I explained the FMS here, and also explained what the FMS is NOT here. In short, the FMS is a relatively simple, 7-movement screen, designed to look at some basic human functions and help us make decisions about the next step in your exercise program.

Recently, I’ve come across several studies like this: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26502447

“CONCLUSION:

Based on analysis of the current literature, findings do not support the predictive validity of the FMS. Methodological and statistical limitations identified threaten the ability of the research to determine the predictive validity of FMS.”

To which I say…No shit.

Maybe I missed something along the way, but I’ve never looked at the FMS as a method to predict injury.  So many of these recent studies really seem to be asking the wrong questions when it comes to the FMS.  To think that a movement test, which takes approximately 15 minutes to complete, could accurately predict something with as many variables as athletic injury rate is beyond irresponsible.

So…if we don’t use it to predict injuries, why do we use it?

Let me give you an example of the FMS in use.  We recently had a small group of athletes (6 kids ages 13-15) start their off-season strength and conditioning program at Paragon, all of them working out together.  During their first visit, we had each athlete perform an FMS.

We had 2 kids who’s Active Straight Leg Raise (ASLR) test looked like this:
ASLR 3

Two other’s ASLR looked like this:
ASLR 1

The other two kids were somewhere in between the top image and the bottom image.

Now, did we humiliate and chuckle at the kids who fit into the bottom image category?  No.  Did we get our goniometers out and try to measure their degrees of hip flexion and then foam roll their hamstrings until they got to 90 degrees?  Nope.  Did we even address the “issue” with them or try to “fix” it?  No.  Because our our eyes, as long as it’s not painful, this may not even be something that needs “fixing.”  And if it does need fixing, as trainers/coaches, we very well may not be the appropriate professionals to be doing the work.  How do I know that hip doesn’t have some kind of structural abnormality that no amount of core strength + foam roll + stretch will help?  The answer is we don’t know.

What I do know is I am going to treat the kids who look like the top picture a bit differently than the kids who look like the bottom picture.  On top, I have no reason to believe they can’t learn how to deadlift from the floor, power clean, etc. from day 1.  The kids who look like the bottom picture may not learn how to deadlift from the floor day 1, but maybe a Rack Pull (picture a deadlift, but with the bar elevated from the floor), or a kettlebell deadlift from a step, etc. could be an option.

Since it wasn’t painful, I fully believe that we can work with and help all of the above, and over time, I believe that intelligent training will lead to improved movement, which may open the door for the kids who look like Picture #2 on Day 1 to do all of the things the others are doing.  In the meantime, I’m going to put those kids into a position where they can succeed and let them thrive and get stronger in those positions.

Brief aside: What if one of those movements (or any other in the FMS) had caused some kind of shooting pain, tingling sensation, or numbness?  I’m going to work with them on the patterns that aren’t painful, and suggest they go see a health care professional (physical therapist, chiropractor, MD, etc.) to address the painful pattern.  This may seem like I’m being overly cautious, and in most cases I will be more cautious than I need to be…However, and I’m only saying this because I honestly have seen it happen in my career…

How do you know that your client’s lower back is a “tight muscle” or “weak spinal erectors,” and not bone cancer?  Seriously trainers, do you think you’re qualified to answer this question?  You’re not.

Back to the athletes mentioned above– In less than 20 minutes total, I was able to put 6 kids through an FMS and found that none of them had any pain, but two of them had significantly different active hip Range of Motion than the rest of the group.  I was then able to quickly create an initial program for the entire group, with some slight modifications for those differing movement patterns.  I’m not sure how anyone could argue the benefit of such an analysis.  I’m confident that by spending 20 minutes up front to evaluate these things, I’m saving a bunch of wasted training time down the road.

So if we return to the question posed above– if it’s not for injury prediction, what is it for?  The answer is pretty simple to me– The FMS provides us with a road map of where we should go next.  It’s then our choice whether or not we follow that road map.  Just because you don’t follow a road map, that doesn’t mean you wont get to where you’re trying to go, I’d just argue that there is some kind of “cost” associated with ignoring the map.

Can your joints actively get into position to absorb and adapt to whatever stress we’re about to put on them?  If yes— get after it!  If no–either change the joints or change the stress.

 

 

 

Meet Kylene

They say you are who you surround yourself with.  I hope that’s true, because I feel truly blessed to be surrounded by some great people.  My wife, family, friends, co-workers and colleagues all make my world go ’round in a wonderful way.  One of my greatest points of pride as a professional are the individuals, in and around the health and fitness industry, who I am lucky enough to call my friends.

Kylene Bogden is one such individual.  She’s an all-star the field of sports nutrition, and I highly recommend you check her out:

https://kylene-bogden-gt2t.squarespace.com/blog/2017/1/9/functional-laboratory-testing-better-health-better-performance

 

Adam

Aerobic Exercise Isn’t Evil?

As I mentioned in my post about Functional Training, trends in the fitness industry seem to come and go, swinging back and forth like a pendulum.  Aerobic exercise is no different.

In recent years, traditional aerobic exercise, also known as “steady state cardio,” has come under attack in the fitness industry.  Numerous articles have been published with titles such as “Regular Cardio Will Make You Fat,” and everyone has jumped on the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) bandwagon.  There are several things wrong here.  First, the research claiming that “cardio will make you fat” is sketchy at best.  Second, what most people call “HIIT” is actually more like moderate-intensity short-duration training, which misses the benefits of high intensity training as well as the benefits of long duration training.  We’ll go into greater detail on these topics at a later date, but for now suffice it to say that aerobic exercise is actually a good thing for your health, and the article below provides evidence as to some benefits of cardio that may surprise you:

http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/fitness/it-s-a-no-brainer-why-running-is-good-for-your-grey-matter-1.2962438

“Functional Training”- Definitions, Fallacies, and creating a Client-Centered fitness plan

Trends in the fitness industry have an uncanny tendency to swing back and forth like a pendulum over time.  One example of this is stretching. For a long time, stretching was thought to be the end-all-be-all for sports and exercise warm-up.  “If you don’t stretch first,” the thought was, “you’re bound to sprain/strain/tear something!”

Then a handful of studies came out demonstrating that stretching prior to jump testing could potentially reduce power for athletes, and suddenly the pendulum swung completely in the opposite direction.  “Nobody needs to stretch ever, you’re wasting your time and reducing your power!”  And slowly, the pendulum has begun to swing back towards the middle on stretching, where we realize that not everyone is doing a maximum vertical leap test immediately after stretching, people generally feel better when they stretch, and maybe we  just haven’t been stretching in the right ways all these years.  This pattern can be seen in trends across the industry from stretching to strength training to nutrition.

At some point, the sensible middle ground is often where the best answer lies.  A recent trend on the pendulum swing is what is being referred to as “Functional Fitness,” or “Functional Training.”

Do a google search of “Functional Fitness” and you’ll see articles linking to “functional fitness routines” and exercise catalogs with “functional fitness equipment” for sale.  Click over to the Images tab in Google and you’re likely to see pictures of people jumping, flipping tires, waving long ropes, and standing on BOSU balls.

What Does “Functional Fitness” Mean, Anyway?

The term functional training originates from physical and occupational therapy, where treatment regimens were designed to retrain patients with movement disorders to create independence.  When the world of fitness got ahold of the phrase “functional,” it became an alternative to more traditional modes of exercise.  “When you exercise in a way that mimics an everyday activity, you are becoming more efficient/effective at that activity, and therefore more functional.”

For example, doing a body weight squat more closely resembles standing up from a chair than say, a leg press, even though they work similar muscle groups—so the squat must be more functional.  As the pendulum continued to swing away from machine-based training and towards functional training, we started to see trainers and coaches take this to the extreme:

If a leg press is non-functional and squat is functional, then a squat while standing on a BOSU ball must be super-duper functional because sometimes we stand on uneven surfaces!  And it works your stabilizing muscles too!  Silly leg press, you do none of those things!

And with a growing market of people who look down upon those archaic “isolation machines,” a new market for functional training tools was born.  Medicine balls, BOSU balls, suspension trainers, battling ropes and so on can all be found in your local sporting goods store under “functional training tools.”  

The Two Extremes

But more recently, a strong push back has occurred where more conventional methods of training have become more and more popular, as questions regarding the true effectiveness of the functional approach have come up.  This can be seen in athletic performance training, as well as in the general fitness realm.  The belief is that people who only perform “functional” exercises are just not all that strong, and as such, they are prone to injury and have a hard time reaching their fitness goals.

Since standing on a BOSU ball on one leg with one eye closed is more of a circus act than an exercise, it’s close to impossible to provide enough stimulus to promote change within the body, whatever the desired change may be (increased strength, elevated heart rate, fat loss, etc.).  So the pendulum has begun to swing back in the entirely opposite direction, back towards simple, basic strength training.  I assume that this pendulum will continue to swing back and forth until we define a sensible middle ground, which is what I want to do today.

To me, the very essence of functional training is misunderstood.  Most coaches and trainers, as well as many personal training clients and gym-goers would be able to answer these questions:

“Is a bicep curl a functional exercise?” or “Is a BOSU ball a functional tool?”

And I think that’s the problem.  We have created this imaginary line where everything on one side is functional and everything on the other side is something else.  Because of this, the word Functional in fitness has become completely bastardized—those in favor of functional training over-use the term to promote themselves as better than the “meatheads,” while those opposed to functional training shrug the functional crowd off as want-to-be-physical therapists.

Moving away from the extremes, Towards the Sensible Middle

In his book, Advances in Functional Training, the great strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle did a wonderful thing—he put exercises on a functional continuum.  In his view, the question of function no longer has a yes or no answer.  To coach Boyle, a leg extension would be classified as “very unfunctional,” and a leg press would be classified as “not very functional,” while a standing squat on two legs would be classified as “relatively functional,” and a squat on one leg would be classified as “very functional,” and therefore their order of effectiveness from least to greatest would go: leg extension, leg press, squat, single-leg squat.  This is progress towards the sensible middle.  The rationale behind Boyle’s rankings generally boils down to a few factors:

-How many joints are moving during the exercise?  An exercise which involves many joints is very functional, because it makes several different muscle groups work together, which often leads to a more greatly elevated heart rate and, in theory, a greater translation to everyday functional activities and/or sports performance.  A squat is considered very functional because it involves movement of the ankle, knee and hip, and requires stability throughout the entire upper-body, therefore most of the body’s major muscle groups are involved in the squat.  If you’ve ever performed squats with a decent amount of resistance, you can attest to their heart-rate-elevating tendencies.  A leg extension is very unfunctional because it involves only one joint (the knee), and therefore only one major muscle group (the quadriceps).

-What position are you in when you perform the exercise?  Are you sitting or standing?  Lying down?  Standing on one leg?  Since our activities of daily living and/or athletic events are performed mostly on our feet (debatable, but not the point), exercises which place us on our feet will have a more direct carry-over to things outside the gym.  When we walk, run, and play sports we tend to use one leg at a time more than the other, so any exercise which requires you to have only one foot on the ground is extra functional in this light.

leg-presssquat-body-weightleg-ext

In order from left to right-
Leg Extension (very unfunctional), Leg Press (somewhat unfunctional), Squat (very functional)

Coach Boyle has been in this industry a lot longer than I have, and I have learned as much from him as I have from anyone else in the business.  However, even this improved view of functionality leaves out the two most pressing questions when it comes to working with people:  the who and the when.  My contention would be that the functional continuum proposed by coach Boyle and others could be completely different depending on the individual and the timing of the workout.

When choosing an exercise for an individual, you must consider factors such as training experience, body type, injury status, injury history, medical history, skeletal structure, movement ability and even traits such as confidence and body image.

As an example, let’s say we want to train the legs.  Many coaches and gym-goers will look to an exercise such as the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS for short) as pictured below:

bulg-ss

The RFESS is a fantastic exercise on the functional continuum:

  • How many joints are involved? The ankle, knee and hip all must work together on the front leg of this exercise, while the muscles of the trunk work to keep you upright.  If you end up holding a weight in your hands you’re using upper body joints as well, so this has the potential to utilize most joints in the body and therefore most major muscle groups as well.
  • What position are you in? Check.
  • How many feet on the floor? Just one. Check plus.

So by all accounts, this is a very effective functional exercise based on the continuum above.  And make no mistake—I have programmed this exercise hundreds of times for my clients.

But what if you’re like most Americans who have a job where you sit at a desk for hours at a time, and as result have tight hips?  What happens when you ask those hips to perform the exercise pictured above?  Sometimes, everything is just fine.  A lot of times though, since you lack the range of motion in the surrounding hip musculature, you force the hip bone and sacrum of the leg on the bench to rotate forward, while the hip bones of the leg on the floor remains “neutral,” which over multiple sets and reps can lead to pain in the sacroiliac (SI) joint.

si-joint

So, are you sure that RFESS is more “functional” for that individual than a leg press?  You really have no way of knowing the answer to this question without assessing them first.

Maybe it’s practicing the movement, maybe it’s stretching certain structures while strengthening others, maybe it’s going to see a physical therapist for a few visits to get some manual therapy.  In the meantime, if the leg press doesn’t hurt, that’s your more functional choice.  Pain-free with a challenging stimulus is always better than painful without, so let’s get stronger there while we work on your RFESS in some other ways.

It Depends.  It always Depends.

Just as important, you must also take under great consideration the individual’s goals before you decide whether an exercise is functional for them or not.  Many folks in the “functional” crowd view isolation exercises such as bicep curls as mortal sins.  “You’re only using one joint and only one muscle group?! Blasphemy!”  And indeed, if the individual in question has the goal of losing 40 pounds before summer and works out once per week, a bicep curl is probably not a very effective use of time.  It’s not a big metabolism-booster, and you’re strengthening muscles that can be used on many other, more “bang for your buck” exercises such as rows or pull-ups.  For this person, a bicep curl would be quite low on the functional continuum.

But what if the person in question is a Navy SEAL in training, who works out 6 days per week and is already a stud on the run, swim, push-up and sit-up test, but can’t seem to break that 10 pull-up minimum standard?  This is their career on the line, and they must pass the test to be accepted.  Is it inconceivable to think that throwing in some bicep curls a few days per week could help them reach their goal, considering the biceps play a huge role in each pull-up they do?

In the words of world famous biomechanics expert Dr. Stuart McGill: “It Depends.”  It depends on the person, it depends on their goals, it depends on far too many variables to fit any exercise into neat categories.

When viewed in this manner, there is no such thing as a “functional training implement.” BOSU balls have their place, both in rehab and in training.  As do bands, medicine balls, battle ropes, and many other tools that have somehow fallen under the “functional training” umbrella.  But using a specific tool because it’s under the “functional” category in your magazine isn’t a reasonable approach.

With this approach, there’s also no such thing as an exercise that isn’t “functional.”   Bicep curls and calf extensions may get laughed at by the functional crowd because they only target one joint and don’t jack your heart rate through the roof, but they may have their place.

This is where working with an educated, experienced and sensible personal trainer can be so valuable.  Your trainer should be able to put you through a thorough a movement assessment, filter through the gimmicks and fads which clutter this industry, and make logical choices in regards to exercise selection and implement utilization.  Taking this view of functional training, we not only create a much more individualized plan for each client, but since we remove the black and white nature of “functional vs. non-functional” exercises and tools, we allow ourselves much more creativity and variability in our training.  This results in a client-centered program, specifically tailored to that individual at that time.

 

adam-closeAdam Reeder is the owner and founder of Paragon Health and Fitness.  In addition to his Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology, Adam has over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry and is an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certified Personal Trainer, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), and holds specialty credentials through Functional Movement Systems (FMS) and Functional Range Conditioning (FRC).  For more information or to schedule your first appointment, feel free to call 440-539-3393 or send an email to adam@paragoncle.com

My Approach to Training

I’m a visual person.  I like when things are laid out in a simple, visual manner, and that’s why graphs and charts work well for me.  I especially enjoy when simple graphics can be used to explain some pretty complex ideas.  Here’s a chart that I created that can help explain a lot of things:

Dose Benefits graph

  • Exercise Dose- This can be whatever you want.  It could be total workout volume-sets and reps.  It could be exercise intensity.  It could be time under tension.  It could be the amount of time you spend stretching.  It could be the distance you run.  Whatever your definition of “dose” fits here.
  • Exercise Benefits- Whatever you’re trying to get out of your training.  If the dose is time spent stretching, the benefits might be improved range of motion.  If the dose is the number of sprints your’re performing, the benefits might be improved body composition.  If the dose is the number of bullpens a pitcher throws in spring training, maybe benefits means arm strength.
  • At either end of the spectrum, we see very little benefit.  Too much or too little of anything usually results in diminished results.
  • Notice that on the ascending portion of the graph, Dose and Benefits increase pretty proportionally.  Adding work or adding intensity leads to greater benefits…until it doesn’t, which is the descending portion of the graph.  And once you reach that point of diminishing returns, the returns diminish in a hurry.
  • The point between the ascending and descending portions of the graph is the money zone.  This is where we want to live.  This is where a good coach/trainer/teacher makes their money.  Knowing where the minimal effective dose exists for each individual is paramount to success, regardless of what “success” means for the person–improved body composition, improved performance, etc.
  • A good coach/trainer/teacher can take you to the very edge of this minimal effective dose without pushing you off a cliff towards fatigue, sloppy technique, and injury.

Adam Reeder
madeformotion@gmail.com