Fitness is booming these days. Everywhere you go there are gyms, nutritional plans, workout programs, fitness experts-the line goes on and on. Every one of them promising you everything that you want from what you’re paying them for. “Want to burn fat? Sure we can do that!” “Want to be a better (fill in the blank)? Yeah, we got that covered!” Sure, there are a lot of good coaches, nutritionists, and programs out there, but what is it you are actually searching for?
As the world of health and fitness has grown in the past decade, so too has the murky water thickened. When I was growing up, the predominant avenues of “working out” put you into the following three categories: 1) Aerobic Specialist (think step class and Jazzercise), 2) Bodybuilder (even if you never competed, you worked out like one), and 3) Athlete (training to make yourself better at a specific sport or activity). Even back then, with those few options, things were confusing for the consumer. Like today, there were different theories, ideas, plans, magic pills, and promises that if you “only do this one thing”, you’ll see results like never before.
With knowledge has come advancement as well as more confusion. We’ve learned, through science, trial and error, and the ever popular “bro science”, a lot about what makes our bodies tick. We’ve learned that it’s important to do “this” over “that”, and while “that” may have been thought to work back then, with a little thought, “this” is what we should be doing now. Like I said, the water has become quite clouded.
With the advent of Crossfit and Crossfit-like programs in the early 2000’s, a serious shift occurred in the world of health and fitness. Functional training became a very real thing, and not just something that physical therapists used to help injured people get back to a proper functioning body. Finding ways to challenge our bodies, not just to achieve a desired aesthetic look, but to perform in almost every possible physical situation attracted a lot of attention. To many people, getting a “workout” became something they could use to genuinely improve the quality of their lives. The average Joe was now aware that looking like a Greek God was all well and good, but what did that mean when it came time to do yard work, or pick up a heavy trash bag, or move a refrigerator? What did it mean if they could bench press 300lbs, but throw their back out picking up their 40lb child? And even more importantly, how many bodybuilders and fitness models looked great, but were incredibly unhealthy on the inside? It became quite clear early on that Crossfit and functional training practitioners were onto something.
Over the last fifteen years, the phenomenon of functional fitness has changed a bit. Whereas the original idea was physical output (what you could do and how well you could do it in a given amount of time), it has now become very much about pure competition only. Sure there are formal competitions like the Crossfit Games, but even within the community of people who never formally compete, much of their training has taken on a “competition like” feel. “How many burpees can you do in 7 minutes?” “What’s your Fran PR?” “I’ll bet I can take you in (X workout)!” Questions and statements like these are where we start to dip our toes in the murky water. Not only are we forgetting about the essence of what functional training actually is, but we begin to sacrifice healthy movement just to beat the clock or the person next to us.
As functional fitness has now become a sport, many people and coaches have forgotten about why they got into it in the first place. Unfortunately, for many trainees, their acquired function never sees its way out of the gym doors. There is the assumption of functionality in their movements, but it’s never actually put to the test in a real world setting. With the exception of Police, Military, and First Responders, many of the gains that we see inside the gym are just that-INSIDE the gym. Here’s a quote from the Facebook page of one of the very most respected Fitness Professionals in the world, Andrew Read:
“Everyone worries about making their training functional and using functional exercises. But they never get out of the gym. You know how to make sure your training has carryover to the real world? Do stuff outside the gym.”
Something that I pride myself on as a coach/trainer is real-world results. Sure I like to see my clients exceed in “numbers”, but the real measure of whether I’m succeeding in working with them comes from hearing that their yard work was easier this week or that they consciously thought about the way their body was moving when they were doing an activity. It comes from them telling me that they thought about how to keep their spine organized as they were picking up a heavy object and not mindlessly trying to “just move it” like they used to. If I can succeed in getting someone to at least think about their movements and how they can be better, I’m on the way to doing my job.
Being a competitive athlete, something that I think of often is what I heard Steve Maxwell, a world renowned strength coach and personal trainer, say in a certification of his I attended. He explained, “Sport is something we do for competition, not for health.” He went on to elaborate how there is an accepted risk involved with playing a sport. Injury isn’t something we seek, but it certainly cannot be unexpected. On the other hand, when we train ourselves for health and movement, injury is simply unacceptable. There has to be a very clear and defined line between the two.
With all of that, in no way am I saying that sport and competition is bad. In fact, quite the opposite. Through sports and through competition, we learn quite a lot about ourselves, more so, perhaps, than we would otherwise be afforded in our daily lives. However, we must draw an undeniably clear line between what it is we hope to achieve through training, and what it is we hope to achieve through sport. Blending the two not only clouds the water, but holds us back in both departments.