In the past few years there has been a huge shift in fitness, one that I’m so glad to be seeing. The fitness industry, or at least part of it, has started to preach the importance of actual fitness, not just aesthetics. Understand that an improvement in “fitness” will cause a change in body composition. Whether your focus is to get stronger, or build muscle, you’re in the right place.
No aspect of functional movements is more important than their capacity to move large loads over long distances, and to do so quickly.Greg Glassman
A functional movement is a movement that is natural to human function/movement. In other words, we would do regardless of the existence of gyms or strength training. For example, a deadlift is functional, but a hamstring curl is not. Anytime you pick something up from the ground you deadlift it (you may not execute “a proper deadlift” but the mechanics are the same). Now think about a hamstring curl, it’s not natural to human life/function. You won’t do a hamstring curl, unless you’re on a hamstring curl machine.
Now that we’ve defined functional movements we can look at the 5 key characteristics that make them so valuable for building muscle.
They have high power output
They are “intense”
They recruit large muscle groups
The use core-to-extremity movement patterns
They are compound, yet irreducible
If functional movements allow us to move large loads, over long distances, quickly, then they have potential for a high power output. Power is equal to force times distance, divided by time. [P = (F*D)/T]. If we increase the load, or the distance, then we increase the average power output. If we increase time, and keep load/distance constant, we decrease the power output. What does this sound like? Intensity. So, if we increase average power output, we increase intensity, right? Functional movements have a high power output which allows them to have a high intensity.
Intensity determines the time it takes us to reach a goal. For example, if I want to lose weight I diet, right? How intensely I diet determines how quickly I lose weight. The same applies to building muscle. The more intensely I train the faster I build muscle (given I’m not overtraining). So, intensity is the single most important variable for achieving a goal. If average power output and intensity are equal, then to increase intensity we increase power output. We can move a load, over a distance faster, or we can move a increase load and/or distance while keeping time constant. Intensity lets us build muscle faster, but where do we want to build muscle? Everywhere.
Functional movements are compound, yet irreducible. This means that the movement as a whole is greater than the sum of all individual pieces involved. You know the saying 1 + 1 is more than 2? It’s the same thing here. Functional movements make the body to work synergestically, by using a core-to-extremity movement pattern. If you look at the stress placed on a muscle in a functional movement it’s greater than the stress that the same muscle could handle in in isolation. The fact they’re irreducible means that we can’t break them down anymore for the same results. So we can do more with the same tools, which is the same as increasing power output, and therefore increasing intensity.
The final characteristic that makes functional movements so essential to quickly building muscle is their use of the core/large muscles. Sometimes they even use more than one at any given time. Large muscle groups elicit neuroendocrine and hormonal responses within the body that support quick muscle growth.