We say that Crossfit utilizes functional movements, but what does that really mean? Plugging the word “functional” into the Google machine gives two definitions, the second of which I like better: “designed to be practical and useful, rather than attractive.” However, this is still not good enough for us in Crossfit and therefore, we have our own definition of functional when it pertains to movements. In fact, Crossfit has six defining characteristics and a definition for functional movements, which should indicate to you how important functionality is when it comes to functional movements in Crossfit.
In this first post on functional movements I am going to cover the big three of the defining characteristics, which are: functional movements are natural, essential, and safe.
These movements are natural in that no one created them, they are just things that we do. Yes, we still need to be taught how to squat correctly, but who taught the first person to ever squat how to squat? No one! It is just built into our systems and our DNA. It is just the natural movement that you have to use to move from a seated position to a standing one. Look at all of the babies learning to walk. They have a beautiful, below parallel, rock solid squat position. Who taught them how to do that? No one! This holds true for deadlifting, pressing overhead, cleaning, etc.
Since the movements are natural, they are also essential. Essential in the sense that once we lose the ability to perform these movements, our quality of life decreases and we are no longer able to live independently. Squatting is getting up off of the toilet, deadlifting is picking your groceries up off the ground, pressing is placing the toaster back up on the top shelf. I mean, even sled pushes are essential – ever take a cart outside in the Econo parking lot towards the end of winter? Those wheels aren’t spinning and you are pushing that cart just like you would a sled. By performing functional movements and becoming stronger in them, we are prolonging the time that we are capable of independent living and therefore prolonging our freedom to live as we choose.
And to close, since these movements are natural and essential, they are inherently safe. Otherwise you would be hurting yourself every time you got up off of the couch. Yes, I understand that you still can hurt yourself doing these movements, but you can also hurt yourself walking, and not to get too morbid, but you can die driving to the gym to perform these functional movements. By learning to perform these movements correctly, and becoming proficient and stronger in them, we are also increasing the safety. Imagine that you have a 400 pound back squat with pristine form. Now imagine that same person does an air squat with a slightly rounded back. Are they safe? Most likely yes. Being stronger in these movements allows for us to be in not-so-great positions in unloaded situations. Meaning, it is ok to have a rounded back when you pick up your groceries from the floor if you can safely and properly deadlift 225 pounds. Being stronger gives you a buffer of safety for our everyday tasks.
Hopefully that clears up a little of the fog surrounding functional movements, next month we will delve a little deeper into the defining characteristics and the definition!