Functional Fitness and Core Strengthing for a Purpose

We can all agree that it is important to be strong. We live in an era in which technology and machinery have replaced tasks that once required muscle, time and physical effort; we have washing machines, lawn mowers, tractors, cars, elevators, and chainsaws. We don't challenge our bones and muscles with functional, weight-bearing tasks during our daily life as often as we once did (this includes squatting down to use the toilet!). Manual laborers, fitness instructors, and professional athletes, among other occupations, are required to have a certain level of physical strength and movement. Unfortunately, many of these individuals often have extremely strong and overly-contracted muscles. Because their muscles cannot release and relax they are likely to experience muscle pain caused by sensory motor amnesia; they need to learn to relax their muscles before strengthening them any further. (In this Strong Core blog post I discuss what "the core" is and how excessive strengthening of the core can contribute to Sensory Motor Amnesia and muscle pain, thus inhibiting free and efficient movement.)

For many people, however, active movement isn't a required part of one's profession. You have a choice to either incorporate strength training and movement into your daily life, or not (and your decision will leave you with respective consequences). Motivation to move can be a big hurdle to overcome if you're not being paid to do it at work every day! The key is to make movement and strength training fun and purposeful.

Ask yourself: what do you want to be strong for? What is your motivation?

Do you want to be able to run a marathon? Climb a mountain? Bring your blood pressure down? Play with your children? Perhaps you want to just "be in shape." Think about what is important to you and what you want to accomplish. As Dan John, strength and conditioning coach, and author of Never Let Go, says,

"If it is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all."

Do every day what you want to be able to do in the future. Work toward your strengthening goals by incorporating functional and enjoyable movement into your routine. If you want to be able to climb a mountain, ditch the treadmill and walk a mile through your neighborhood or in a local park to get you started. If you want to play on the ground with your children, practice getting up and down off the floor. Every. Day.

Most of my personal fitness goals focus on the long-term. My biggest goal is to be able to walk up and down the stairs briskly (unaided) as my 87-year-old mother still does, so I make a point to walk an incline (stairs, a hill, etc.) every day. I want to be able to squat to the ground, carry my own luggage or groceries, and play "tag" with my grandchildren in the playground. Some of my favorite strengthening and movement practices that help me to work towards my goals are: Exuberant AnimalNia, and hiking. These movements will keep me strong and strengthen my brain in the process.

Martha's Tips for Motivating Your Movement:

  1. Find your "purpose for moving." What is important to you?
  2. Do your Somatic exercises before and after your chosen strengthening routine. Your muscles need to "reboot" in order to be fully functional.
  3. Enjoy your new routine and keep moving! This takes strength. It also takes a belief that it's possible.
Now get up and move!

Movements That Don't Feel Good For My Hip

As promised, in my last post I shared my daily Somatics routine. In this post I'll discuss the movements that don't feel good for my body and hip, as well as movements I enjoy that help me feel strong without stressing my hip and causing pain. To start, here's what I've learned about my labral tears:

Because I can't fix the structural problem I need to listen to my body, move in a way that feels good and stay away from movements that cause pain. I had to get past my self-competitive nature and embrace acceptance of what I can't change and know that I can be strong, healthy and happy without pushing my body into places that don't serve it. It's calling letting go of your ego. Not always easy.

Movements that aren't pleasant for me:

Running. Though I like to run a block, walk, run another block, then walk, I can only do this a few times. Not having equal structural stability in my right hip simply causes my brain and muscles to come down just a bit harder on the right side. I wind up quite sore for a day if I do this and it puts unnecessary stress on my hip joint. It's not worth it.

"Core strengthening:" Sit ups, certain Pilates mat exercises. Why? Because the more I tighten my "core" the more it hurts my right hip. Sounds odd, right? Not really. Many people with a labral tear also have a cyst on their hip. Their hip joint structure isn't symmetrical. This can create some sensitivity that those without tears don't have.

Look at an anatomy chart and you'll see where the abdominal muscles insert into the pubic bone, the pelvis and you'll get a better idea of how excessive strengthening exercises can create pressure and tightness into the hip joint.

The best abdominal/core strengthening for me is functional body weight movement like vigorous hiking. I also love the movements of Exuberant Animal. They're fun, functional, creative and strengthening.

Fast twisting movements: Zumba doesn't work for me. It's simply too fast and one is never able to get to the full range of the muscle, nor have enough time to learn to do the movement properly. Slow hip movements are great, but super fast? It serves no purpose that I can see.

Stretching: Stretching only makes muscles tighter and, when done statically, invokes the stretch reflex. I pandiculate - a lot. And it means that I move in a comfort range that is right for me and optimum for my muscles.

I have had to become extremely aware of my tendency to revert to the original pattern that likely caused the tears in the first place: the Trauma Reflex. When stress hits most people revert to their most deeply familiar habit. For me it's the Trauma Reflex. Don’t worry. The beauty of the human brain is that we have the capacity to be internally aware of and in control of these habits. This leads to the ability to be self-correcting, self-actualizing and self-healing. We can start all over again every minute of the day.

Becoming aware of how you emotionally respond to stress is a critical part of the process. Do you cringe into that hip? Do you tighten your back, hunch your shoulders? Does that hip begin to ache when you’re stressed? Has it never occurred to you that your emotional or psychological state is connected to how your muscles move and how you feel in your body?

The lesson is to learn to listen to yourself, sense the information your brain is giving you about your body and move in ways that create pleasure, learning, growth and strength. It's a life long process that makes us smarter and more resilient.