Thursday, August 6, 2015

Call it what you want

Certain buzz words and phrases exist in the fitness world and us cyberspace fitness experts will pontificate what we know or don’t know about them.  Take “functional strength” for example.  What does it mean?  It depends on who you ask.  Simple and not-to-simple answers abound.

For a simple explanation, I found one written by Katie Chasey of RXBound.com.  She identifies herself as a 2-time CrossFit Games Coach for those of us who don’t know who she is.  Ms. Chasey defines functional strength as the strength that gets us through life and daily survival.

Well you can never go wrong with a simple explanation like that but fitness meatheads, like me, with a thirst for complex explanations may want more.

Later in her article, she offers more by adding that “Functional strength is the ability to run your load-joints (shoulders, hips, knees and ankles) through a full range of motion without pain, stiffness, or restriction.  This is also known as load-joint articulation.”

Wow!  I don’t know about you but that’s more than I need.  I never took a human anatomy course in either high school or college and I don’t know a thing about textbook exercise physiology because all that I know has been acquired from my own school of hard knocks.  But that won’t prevent me from giving you my own take on this functional strength term.  

For me, functional strength is strength efficiently applied to get the job done whatever that job may be.  So the functional strength needed by an Olympic weightlifter is different than an average Joe Blow stacking a just-delivered cord of seasoned oak firewood in the woodshed in preparation for an upcoming cold winter wood-burning season.

And the functional strength needed by a super-heavyweight power-lifter attempting to set a new personal record in the dead lift is different than the functional strength needed by a skilled karateka intending on breaking a stack of bricks in a demonstration of his tameshiwari skills. 

A final comparison would be that of the functional strength needed to lift a very heavy object off the ground versus the functional strength of a construction manual laborer who makes, perhaps, a hundred or more trips a day moving a wheelbarrow full of cement.

Just as there are “different strokes for different folks”, so too is the case with functional strength and its efficient application to the life and daily survival tasks at hand.

Visit any internet fitness forum in which its members are engaged in a discussion about functional strength and eventually, more likely than not, you’ll read about how someone once knew someone who was a muscle-head bodybuilder who got a construction job and even though this person could bench press 300 lbs. and squat 400 lbs. he almost dropped from exhaustion unloading a truckload of 100-lb. cement bags.

I’m sure these accounts are true stories and they certainly drive home a point that strength is only functional if it gets the job done.

Further visits to other internet fitness forums will find discussions about strength where a distinction is made between power and strength.  I read several explanations from different people and eventually decided that I best liked this one:  “Strength is what someone is capable of and power is how that strength is utilized.  Seen in this way, you can talk about strength and power in any context.”

Still another explanation I read elsewhere is that power is similar to strength but it adds speed as a dimension so power = strength x speed.

It’s all making sense to me.

A couple points, from me, deserve mention.  The first is how cardiovascular conditioning is needed to make one’s strength lasting and therefore functional.  Take the muscle-head bodybuilder in the above example.  Undoubtedly he had the strength to get the job done if the job lasted ten minutes but not the strength to get a job done that takes all day to complete. 

That’s why this middle-aged man devotes a lot of time to cardiovascular conditioning.  And while I’m an expert at avoiding hard manual labor requiring rigorous effort thanks to my ability to afford paying someone else, I know I could do it if I had to thanks to a good level of cardiovascular conditioning. 

But so long as I can use my brain to get through most of my life and daily survival tasks and can afford it, I’ll hire a functionally strong laborer, when needed, to help me get through life and daily survival tasks requiring physical labor functional strength.  It’s why I have a gardener to keep my landscape groomed, why I hire a roofer when my house needs a new roof, and why I’ll hire a grave digger to dig my grave when my time comes.

My second and final point on this discussion that functional strength is strength efficiently applied is that we need to only use our strength at the generally brief moment required and then with decisiveness.  I’ll borrow the term “kime” from my martial arts training days and use the following explanation I found on a Wikipedia webpage that best aligns with my understanding of it.

Kime is a Japanese word and the noun of the verb “kimeru” which means “to decide”.  In karate, it can mean power and or focus realized by the instantaneous tensing at the correct moment during a technique.  In some cases, this moment is but a nanosecond after which a return to a relaxed state of being is how strength efficiency is realized.  The speed to translate strength to power can only be had from a ready yet relaxed state of being. 

So in some respects, power is what is created when kime is applied to strength that is decisively executed with perfect technique.

Blah, blah, blah – this could go on forever so I better stop while I’m ahead or to be no further behind than I am already.

So what is functional strength?  Call it what you want.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum


Bob said...

Great post! I just stumbled onto your blog about a month ago. As a middle-aged man (I turned 50 this year) who is reacquainting himself with fitness and health, I love your insights and advice. Please keep up the great work.


Pierini Fitness said...

Well thank you sir and it's always a pleasure to have a viewer comment. I try my best and encouragement from fellow middle-aged men like you inspire me to keep at it. Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

Having done far more, sometimes grueling manual labor than I care to remember, I respectfully disagree with your statement that cardiovascular conditioning will prepare you for manual labor
Manual labor is a whole different ballgame and I have done heavy manual labor both when I was cardio conditioned and when I wasn't
It didn't make any noticeable difference to my performance....gym strength and cardio are not the same as "bullwork" :)
When I worked in the gym, some young guys asked me how they could get really strong....my answer was to get a heavy labor job for the summer and they would see a difference
I've done roofing, worked construction, been a firefighter, oil refinery roustabout, tugboat deckhand and telecom tower climber
While cardio conditioning may play a role, the body's adapting to lifting, pulling, carrying while bending and working in difficult positions for extended periods is what enables you to do this
There is no gym workout that can equal a day of heavy manual labor...spoken from the experience of sweat and exhaustion LOL
John D

Pierini Fitness said...

Thanks for your manual labor dissertation John that shouts with authority since you graduated from the University of Hard Manual Labor. I side with all of your comments and stand corrected and that is why I said I'll hire a grave digger to dig my grave when the time comes.

I have found, however, manual labor benefit of cardiovascular conditioning and only using the muscles necessary, in my small universe of manual labor experience. I've personally used unnecessary muscles and held my breath in moments of manual labor toughness and have noticed others less experienced in the rigors of this type of work do the same.

With your permission, of course, I'd like a chapter two to what I've written drawing from your life experiences. Let me know if that's a go with you.

Thanks again for your contribution Mr. Medicare Man and still a bona-fide middle-aged man with years to go. Have a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

Thank you and a great weekend to you as well
John D