In the previous article I mentioned that exercise regimes need to include functional movements in order to effectively promote optimal health and fitness. The phrase “functional movement” has become a catch phrase in the health and fitness industry, especially in the arena of commercial gyms. What is “functional movement” really? A functional movement is one that mimics the muscle recruitment patterns that are found in everyday life. For example, movements we frequently perform are sitting and standing from a chair and lifting objects off the ground. The functional exercise movements that mimic these muscle activity patterns are, respectively, squats and dead lifts. Yet we frequently see people performing leg extensions and leg curls to “strengthen” the muscles that perform these everyday movements. Yes, such gym-based exercises might elicit some activity from muscles engaged in standing up from being seated or in lifting objects from the ground, however, these exercises isolate movement to a single joint and are generally performed whilst seated or lying down. Natural movements, however, typically involve the movement of several joints against the forces of gravity. The bulk of gym-based isolation movements are therefore non-functional. So all those shiny pieces of equipment you find in your commercial gym are largely insignificant in the pursuit of true health and fitness. Eliminate all of that equipment and what are you left with? Lots of space to perform a huge variety of functional movements.
Calisthenics are exercise movements that are performed without weights and have the aim of developing body control. The foundations of calisthenics include movements such as pull ups, push ups, dips, lunges, jumping and climbing. Calisthenics increase the strength to weight ratio like no other mode of strength training and also enhances co-ordination, balance, agility, accuracy and flexibility. These results are evident in any competitive gymnast, and the side benefit is a lean body.
Weightlifting, as opposed to “weight training”, refers to the Olympic sport which includes the “clean and jerk” and “snatch” movements. These lifts are based on the dead lift, clean, squat and overhead press. These movements are essential to everyday life and athletic performance, and should form the core of any resistance training program. Olympic weightlifting develops strength, speed and power and requires substantial flexibility. The requirement of moving heavy loads in a technical manner also improves balance, co-ordination, accuracy and agility. Furthermore, weightlifting has been shown to have a significant impact on cardiovascular fitness and is proven to stimulate positive neuroendocrine adaptations. These lifts are extremely complex and technical. However isolation movements invoke essentially no neuroendocrine response, so you will not get stronger, fitter or faster by performing them.
So that takes care of the resistance/ strength component of an effective exercise regime. Most people must be asking, “but what about cardio?” Firstly, start blurring the distinctions between “cardio” and strength training. You do, undoubtedly, need to run, swim, cycle, row and skip in an endless variety of drills, but an effective exercise program will use resistance exercise and calisthenics to elicit improvements in the body’s three energy producing systems, and it will employ mono-structural activities such as sprinting to increase strength.
Remember, there is no ideal routine. There needs to be a constant variation in the load, mode and duration parameters of your exercise program. Train beyond your realms of comfort and experience. Train to not suck at life!