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Undeniably, functional fitness especially when executed at high intensity is incredible at eliciting aesthetic and performance changes, and the results are supercharged when diet is aligned. The question I have been asking myself and anyone who will have the conversation with me is "are these goals aligned with the human experience?"
The answer I have come up with... "Sometimes."
Which garners a reasonable follow up question; "When are they not?" The answer: "when they are applied impractically."
Every decision is a tradeoff.
Going for a run is the decision to not go for a walk at the same moment. Going for a walk is the decision not to run. Neither is better, neither is bad, both are decisions that come with an opportunity cost of the benefit you could have enjoyed from doing the other.
This principle has been forgotten, the scale of human task diversity has been taken for granted, and what has resulted is a result with an unintended side effect of a tradeoff we never wanted.
People are getting fit, in too narrow of a dimension. This is leading to emotional fatigue, mental boredom, and aches and pains that "come with the territory". These conditions lead to physical and mental decay, and ultimately become the reason people decide to stop engaging in functional fitness in pursuit of something more practical for their lives. I believe we can find balance, we just need to drop dogmas.
I mentioned earlier that I believe part of the problem is that we have failed to recognize the scale of human task diversity. If we reverse engineer the constructs that contribute to our ability to perform a wide array of tasks, we are left with a new paradigm for what should be considered MOST functional, and it leaves what we have today very obviously dysfunctional.
Construct 1: There is an order of value.
Almost every human task outside of a gym requires a dynamic spine (a spine that is moving as we do it), yet in the gym we focus as often as possible on a static spine while we perform tasks. This is backwards.
Principle 1: As it pertains to practicality - training with a dynamic spine is more practical than training with a static spine.
Almost every human task outside of a gym requires a sequencing of muscles and muscle groups, not an isolated action of one.
Principle 2: As it pertains to practicality - training compound movements is more practical than training isolated movements (this principle is already adopted).
Almost every human task outside of a gym requires each extremity to function independently of and cooperatively with the other. This means that even at maximum expression in nature we load the left and the right asymmetrically to perform a task, leaving it to the trunk to create balance and direction.
Principle 3: As it pertains to practicality - training unilaterally dependent movements (asymmetrical loading included) is more practical than training bilateral, symmetrically loaded movements.
Almost every human task outside of a gym includes forward projection, not purely vertical.
Principle 4: As it pertains to practicality - including a forward vector in vertical training patterns is more practical than training vertical moving patterns without a forward vector.
Construct 2: Excellence indicates deficiency
There is so much diversity of tasks in the human experience that at any time we are unquestionably deficient in many. Some of this is from a lack of skill acquisition, some of it is neglect, some of it lives in our blindspot, and much of it is intentional. Excellence in a singular or group set of skills indicates a priority of practice in them and therefore a de-prioritization of something else (back to tradeoffs).
Shaolin masters living in the temples of China (just the example I chose, there are countless) do not train with the equipment that the world uses for strength development, and yet they seem to have no problem getting on and off of the ground as they age.
Principle 1: "Strong enough" is real. (And admittedly, I don't know where it lives. I'd love your input on this.)
We need to begin by considering basic needs, accomplish capacity to perform them with reserve, and specialize thereafter.
Principle 2: Create a stable starting point of general capacities, then specialize. (This might be the most broad of all of the principles as I believe the capacities have to span physical inclusive of strength, range and control, mental, and emotional. More on this next.)
Construct 3: Body and Mind are synergistic parts of a system, not isolated parts of a machine.
Two things must be true for any action to be taken, especially if we expect that action to be taken repeatedly. The reward of the action must be worth it, and the action must be likely to lead to the reward. People need to know who, what, where, when, why, AND how.
Principle 1: Education before exercise.
Even when people understand the benefit of an action, or inaction, in order to do anything with it, the pain of the problem that could be alleviated must be the greatest pain point of the moment. We do not move towards pleasure as a species, we move away from pain. People will push through physical pain if it will help alleviate mental pain, and they will push through mental pain if it resolves the physical.
Principle 2: The internally driven pain point is the starting point.
As we gain new information our perspectives change. The change of perspective can change the source of pain, even when the previous source has not been alleviated.
Principle 3: The plan needs to adjust to the problem.
I have more to add to this rambling, but I'm still hazy on much of it, and you need to get on with your day. Success for me in identifying and systematizing practical fitness is in getting close enough to inspire you to help me do it.
Fitness is no more physical, mental, or emotional than it is emotional, mental, or physical. It is all of these states and it is how all of these states interplay with one another. To define fitness in terms that would imply otherwise is severely limiting, and it is those limits that I believe have led to the dysfunction of functional fitness.
The fittest person on the planet today is a name we do not know. It is a person who has enough depth in their relationships, enough clarity and meaning in their purpose, enough capacity in their physical expression, enough acuity in their thought, and depending on how you believe, perhaps enough faith in their spirit.
The fittest person on the planet is the fittest person on the planet because they do not need any more.
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