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Functional Fitness – not the mere appearance of fitness

AKA – what do Gym Jones, Parkour, Crossfit and MovNat have in common?

The mantra of Gym Jones (link to – http://www.gymjones.com/), infamous for the training regimes developed for the cast of the film “300”, could equally apply to the original urban gymnastics of Parkour, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkour), the high intensity strength training cult of Crossfit (link to http://www.crossfit.com/), or the recently developed au natural routines of MovNat (http://m.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/caveman-fitness-for-the-21st-century-20121107-28ymo.html), among many others.  Though these increasingly popular systems of training are superficially quite distinct, requiring different skills and conditioning to achieve mastery, and whose more obsessive disciples might well bristle at the thought of there being more than one ‘true path’ to total fitness, they are actually philosophically perfectly aligned.
The common link is a shared belief that the optimal way to maximise conditioning, (including strength, flexibility and endurance), is through movements that most closely mimic those responsible for our physical evolution as a species.  
Explosive movements – jumping, throwing, pushing, pulling, sprinting – were those that separated hunter from prey for millions of years of our collective history.  Those who were able to escape or evade, or alternatively kill, the many species with which we competed for survival for thousands of generations survived.  Those who couldn’t did not.  Either you were able to rise to the physical challenges of your Darwinian past, or your were not.  The survivors disproportionately propagated our species.  Thus our DNA, at a most basic level, is comprised predominantly of the victors.
Put another way, we were designed through the brutal process of evolution to be functionally and explosively athletic.  It is programmed into our DNA.  
Of course there are many grades of ability in terms of your underlying physicality, (were Mum and Dad descended from warriors, hunters or gatherers do you think?  Why not let them know and ask for their feedback on your painfully honest assessment?).  And it is also true that a modern sedentary lifestyle coupled with a diet heavy in processed foods, chemical additives, and endocrine disruptors can suppress healthy gene expression.  None the less, and with apologies to the US Army’s marketing department, if you want to be all YOU can be, you would be well advised to connect the dots between your ancient history classes, and the biology major you snoozed through.
To maximise the potential for optimal health and wellness, you must optimise an environment conducive to healthy gene expression – ie you need to eat and move the way you were designed to by millions of years of evolution.
What does that mean?
(Note – the usual post modern lawyer era note of caution applies here – ie dont do anything without seeking medical advice if you are injured, ill, or haven’t been training regularly; warm up adequately before conducting any explosive training; and start off slowly in terms of intensity, resistance, and speed of movement.  Don’t be stupid basically, and if you dont know what I mean by that, stop reading and contact a local accredited personal trainer to assist you.  Continue at your own risk, you are in control.)
1. Move in three dimensions – two dimensional movements, like an arm curl or a leg extension, have no equivalency in nature.  I challenge you to think of a single reason for ancient man to arm curl repetitively.  It just didn’t happen.  On the other hand, I can absolutely guarantee that throwing a spear to kill in order to feed your children, climbing a cliff face or a tree while motivated by the snapping jaws of a pursuing oversized and hungry feline, or traversing rocky terrain leaping from boulder to boulder in search of water, occurred on a daily basis for your ancestors.  Wherever you come from.  Choose movements that involve up and down, push and pull, and twisting in different combinations, at the same time.  This is the way you were designed to move.
2. Vary resistance types and weights – gravity and body weight is ample in many cases, and one could argue this is about as natural as you can get.  Think explosive sprints, jump squats, burpees, clap push ups, and explosive chin ups.  Combine these in a series of movements.  Or to start a little more slowly, walking lunges with a 90% trunk twist with each step.  However, we were also designed to haul heavy weights up and down hills, throw heavy spears, and use clubs and other heavy weapons for hunting, self defence and attack.  Regular weights can be utilised, kettlebells are fun, medicine balls are old school enough to feel a little retro, and Bulgarian bags are an option for the more adventurous.  However, a log, large rock, or bag of sand can work just fine too.
3. Embrace high intensity and infrequency – explosive functional training executed with high intensity to momentary failure is exhausting.  It is meant to be.  The objective is to force adaptation, ie body recomposition ordered by the brain in order to deal with whatever crazy threat to life and limb was just experienced.  In order to allow adaptation, rest and recovery is necessary.  Infrequent means different things to different people, but for most of us once to three times a week is plenty.  Feel free to fill the other days with physical recreation to your hearts content – run, walk, surf, swim, make love, chase the dog in the park, whatever you want.  For our purposes, exercise is to exhaustion / momentary failure in order to stimulate a specific metabolic response, aka adaptation and body recomp.  Recreation, on the other hand, is any physical activity at a sub maximal effort, and is for fun.  They are different.
4. Eat appropriately – to truly maximise gene expression, diet is key.  Most researchers believe it is actually 80-90% of the battle.  Get the diet right, and the exercise part is easier, plus the two operate synergistically to accelerate gains.  If you have explored this site you know what we mean by ‘appropriately’.  High quality protein, plenty of veges, low GI fruits occasionally, lots of nuts and seeds.  No sugar, nothing processed especially no processed carbs, nothing that comes in a packet.  It is actually incredibly simple in theory, and a little tricky in practice, especially when traveling or eating out.  None the less, it is the way you were designed to eat, and in the absence of an appropriate option, skipping a meal won’t kill you.  God knows, your ancient ancestors weren’t on a three square a day routine, and they survived to give you a chance at life.  And if you are planning on being strict about it, schedule a cheat day, or for you true obsessives, a cheat meal, at least once a week.  Go all out.  You will reset your metabolism, and just as importantly, you won’t want to face an ice cream, doughnut or pizza for another week.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the ideal functional workout – send us some routines, or better yet post us a video…..
Go hard.
– Josh


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