As humans, we are challenged to perform certain functions of everyday life and few people would argue this fact. I’m going to outline a few of these functions and how we train to be able to perform these functions more optimally, reduce the risk of injury while performing these functions, and how functional training for human performance mimics functional training for athletic performance.
- Force production: walking, running, jumping, swimming, dancing, and even picking up our kids all require our muscles to produce a certain level of “force," ranging from minimal (walking) to much higher (sprinting) to repetitive (picking up a toddler over and over just to have them to tell you to put them down 2 seconds later). By developing strength through different ranges of motion, using different implements and different loads, we improve our ability to produce force more efficiently, more quickly, and with less need for recovery. This improvement in force production capability leads to not getting as tired walking up 15 flights of stairs, feeling less “winded” after chasing down the 10 page briefing that blew away while walking to the office, and less pain from bending down and picking up the indecisive three year old.
- Force reduction: the ability to quickly stop our momentum while walking, running, landing after jumping or stop another object or person’s momentum is a quality that is difficult to quantify in daily life. Fortunately, force reduction is fairly simple to train. Whether the cause is an absent-minded adolescent with their nose buried in their iPhone or the seemingly imminent car accident we see coming from a block away, our brains and bodies have a unique way of protecting us from these potentially life-threatening situations. The main challenge in reducing force is that even though our brain stimulates our muscles to “brace”, many times our muscles are not strong enough to withstand whatever external forces are impacting us. The way we train for force reduction is by causing our brain to react faster, and then by strengthening the muscles that protect our spine.
- Carrying objects: maybe the most consistent function outside of walking is carrying things. Since pre-historic times, humans have tried to carry things in the most efficient and sustainable ways. Some of those strategies have proven effective, others not so much, yet even with the technological advances of the last few centuries, we still find ourselves trying to come up with innovative ways of carrying things. The function of carrying is a combination of the two previous qualities: force production and reduction concurrently. Carrying groceries into the house is a great example: I always try to carry as many bags as possible to minimize trips (efficiency). Picking up and holding onto the grocery bags requires us to produce force while resisting the back and forth sway of the bags and staying upright requires us to reduce the force the bags are exerting on us.
Functional training for athletes may require more force at different speeds, loads etc, but ultimately the demands remain the same: force production and reduction. Functional training for human performance makes everything we do as humans easier, more efficient, and ultimately healthier for longer.