The Med Gym
A Three Step Approach to Optimal Movement: Part III - Load the Pattern
In Parts I and II of this three-part series I’ve taken some time to lay the groundwork for optimal movement. Step one is to ensure that adequate mobility exists within each movement pattern. Quite simply, without adequate mobility you will never be able to achieve optimal movement. Step two is to ensure that you have both static and dynamic stability layered on top of your mobility.
Once you’ve taken the time to ensure that mobility and stability are present within a movement pattern, only then is it time to load the pattern. The mobility and stability that you’ve built up to this point will serve as your foundation, and functional loading will be the house that you build on top of that foundation.
Sticking with the analogy of a house, if you have a poor foundation you can still build a house, that house will just be limited in how tall it can be built, and how long it will last before breaking down. Likewise, you can still load the body while possessing inadequate mobility and stability as your foundation. However, the level of training you’ll be able to reach will be limited, and the chances of breaking down over time will be far greater.
That’s why it pays off in the long run to take the time to ensure mobility and stability are up to par, and to continue maintaining them throughout the lifespan. Doing so allows far greater training potential for your body, and far less wear and tear.
So then, once you’ve laid a solid foundation, it’s time to build the house by loading your movement patterns with a quality functional training program.
Firstly, when I say “functional” I’m not talking about the gimmicky functional training advertisements and YouTube videos that are seemingly everywhere in the fitness world these days. I don’t mean standing on a wobble board or a BOSU ball with one leg up while using Battling Ropes!
What then could I possibly mean by functional training of the body, you might ask? Very simply, I mean training the body in a way that allows it to function optimally for the activities that you need to do in real life, at your job, or in your sport. That makes it a whole lot simpler, doesn’t it?
In order to fully prepare your body for the demands of life, a job, or a sport, you must load your movement patterns to the point that what you do in real life is easy because you’ve already trained it in the gym.
For example, I once heard a Cirque du Soleil performer describe his training for performing on stage. If you’ve ever seen Cirque du Soleil, you know that some of the things they do are unbelievably challenging on the body. However, his description of their training was this - what they do in training ensures that their performance is not the hardest thing they’ve done that day, their training is. So, they train their bodies to the point that when they are on stage, it is easy.
Now, while you may not ever need to achieve the level of performance of a Cirque du Soleil performer, the concept of training your body remains the same. What you do in the gym should make the most challenging thing you have to do in daily life or in your sport easy.
That means that whether you’re required to move something heavy, or walk 5 miles, or carry a kid for 2 miles, or compete in a sport, or perform on stage; whatever your life demands of you physically, you want to be prepared for it. Don’t make the physical events in your life or sport the most challenging thing for you because you haven’t prepared your body properly.
So that is why, when it comes to training your body in the gym to prepare it for life, we must build upon the foundation of adequate mobility and stability with functional loading of each movement pattern.
This loading of the body should be in line with your goals and needs, and it should transfer over to real life. That’s what makes it functional loading. If your training is non-functional, it simply means that you’re loading your body, but it may not necessarily transfer over to helping you move better or perform better in real life.
So, what does it look like to have quality functional loading of the body? Often, it begins with a foundation of quality strength training within each movement pattern. There are two important points to remember here:
Quality is the key word when it comes to strength training. That means that you’re performing strength training exercises with proper technique, with the proper amount of external resistance, and with the appropriate level of progression.
You must train within each movement pattern. For each individual, there may be some movements that are more important than others, depending upon their goals and needs. However, every person must achieve at least a foundational level of strength within each of the fundamental human movement patterns. Below is a quick overview of the patterns you need to cover in your strength training:
Hip Hinge (Deadlift)
Upper Body Push (vertical and horizontal)
Upper Body Pull (vertical and horizontal)
Covering all of the above movement patterns is important for functional loading because they are patterns that we move through in real life. Very rarely does a person perform a Concentration Curl in real life, but they perform upper body pulls all the time.
However, it’s also important to recognize that functional loading doesn’t necessarily end with strength training. In the case of someone who is post-surgery and trying to build their functional level back up, walking on the treadmill for 10 minutes could be functional loading of the body because it loads the body to a greater degree than it has been loaded to this point post-surgery.
Likewise, functional loading for an athlete might incorporate speed and agility training to load their body in a way that transfers to their sport. In this case, loading doesn’t mean adding more weight to a strength training exercise, but rather adding more speed and force to a running movement.
You see, loading could mean squatting with a barbell, but it could also mean walking on a treadmill to build endurance. Loading could mean deadlifting lots of weight, but it could also mean agility or sprint training.
The idea is that you’re loading your body with more intensity or volume of exercise than it’s currently adapted to in order to get it to where it needs to be to function in life or sport. What your level of function needs to be will dictate what your level of functional loading should be.
This requires that you first understand what your needs are and what goals should be associated with your needs. Only then can you select a level of training and a mode of training that is most appropriate and that will get you to where you need to be from a physical preparation standpoint.
I’ve covered a lot of ground over the past three posts. In fact, it’s basically my entire approach to training in a nutshell! However, it’s difficult to fit that in three 1500 (give or take a few) word blog posts. Nonetheless, I wanted to give you a bigger picture approach to training movement both now and across the lifespan.
If you want to move well and perform well in your life and/or sport, you would do well to adhere to these three steps to optimal movement. Building mobility, stability, and functional loading within each fundamental human movement pattern is the key.
Firstly, you must ensure that your level of mobility is up to an adequate standard. I tend to use the Functional Movement Screen as a baseline for assessing mobility, as it gives strict criteria for what is considered functional or dysfunctional, and it incorporates both fundamental and more complex movement patterns.
However, there are definitely cases where other criteria for assessing your mobility may be necessary. The bottom line, though, is that there has to be a certain standard of acceptable mobility, and you must achieve that first.
Secondly, you must build static and dynamic stability on top of the mobility that you have. Again, this is not to add stiffness, but to add control to your movement patterns. Once your body knows that it can control the range of motion that you have, it will allow you to have continued access to that mobility. But if you can’t control your range of motion, often your body will default to stiffness, which will prevent you from accessing those uncontrolled ranges of motion. In that way, stability training serves to hit save on the document of increased range of motion that you’ve created with your mobility training.
Finally, as I discussed today, you must have functional loading of each movement pattern that is layered on top of (not instead of!) your mobility and stability training. Once you move well, it’s time to move often enough that you develop fitness, strength, endurance, and even power within your movement patterns.
This functional loading allows what you are required to do in real life or in your sport to become easier, since you’ve trained your body for it. It also allows you to do more in life, or perform at a higher level in your sport, while preventing injury because you’re not working at a level that is above your current capacity.
So, to wrap it all up - work on your mobility, stability, and functional loading within each of your movement patterns. Trust me, it will make your life better!
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