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Functional Movement

Jenny

Jenny and the evil eye. She must have loved that WOD.

Jox

Jox, another satisfied customer. Speaking of evil, check out Kyle's grin.

Functional Movement is quite the buzz word in fitness these days and we certainly use it a lot here at CrossFit. But, what really does it mean? Well, in my opinion, it has a couple of meanings. Some people are really strict about their definition of functional movement. If you read the CrossFit forums at all (warning: hours of one’s life can be spent there), there are those who say that a movement has to be replicated in the everyday world on a regular basis to be functional. The pushup, not so functional as there are more efficient ways to get off the ground. The deadlift, very functional. Thus, strict curls would be considered a very functional movement if you were one of those old fashioned ice deliverers who had to carry huge blocks of ice with tongs in front of your body all day. Get where this argument is going?

These guys had the kind of biceps that Golden dreams of nightly.

These guys had the kind of biceps that Golden dreams of nightly.

Others say that a movement has to be multi-joint, called a compound movement, to be functional. The clean? Yes, very functional, just about every joint in the body is flexing and extending (or groaning and creaking as the case may be with some of us) with the clean.

Yet another definition of functional movement that kind of blurs the above two is that a functional movement is a movement that is wired into our DNA. Basically, the squat, deadlift, and press. Let me give you an example. Look at a toddler who is learning to stand. The moment that toddler stands up, he or she will not look up at things higher, but rather look down on the floor to pick something up. The deadlift is part of our DNA. It is about as functional a movement as you can get.

Some movements, such as the pullup, have fallen out of functional training.  The pullup is wired into our DNA (climbing was a serious survival tactic for us once upon a time), and it is certainly a compound movement.  Or is it.  The pullup is widely performed these days as an isolation movement designed for aesthetic lat development.  The kipping pullup espoused by CrossFit, on the other hand, is a multi-joint whole body movement.

The kipping pullup also meets another definition of functional movement (at least as I define it).  It progresses to other movements. A functional movement should also lead somewhere.  A functional movement will never be performed in a vacuum.  The lateral raise for the shoulders done either with dumbbells or seated in a machine leads nowhere.  That movement is not seen in any other movement.  The kipping pullup, in direct contrast,  is the gateway to a host of movements performed on botht the bar and the rings, not least the muscleup.  The power development in the kipping pullup can also be directly traced from the core to the extremities in an exact imitation of the clean, snatch, SDHP, row and other exercises.  Thus, although I have rarely ever needed to utilize my pullup prowess outside the gym, swinging from a chandelier in Tokyo many years ago and scaling a wall or two here and there, the pullup meets all the definitions of a functional movement.

But, what do you think? Please post to Comments.

Workout:

1 Clean and Jerk on the minute for 20 minutes.

Go heavy, about 85% your 1RM.

Post WOD completed and score to Comments.

8 Comments

  1. Sam, you should know by now… I dream of you nightly. Even if you lack the aforementioned biceps.

  2. Golden, I don’t know whether I should feel complimented about the dreaming or insulted about the biceps.

  3. Another example of evil: Sam making me do two WODs back to back. I’m going to be not so functional tomorrow.

    I love it:)

  4. You killed it Joc. Diane and then Helen. Getting ready for the Games.

  5. I find the kipping pull-up to be a very functional movement – although I climb cliffs and trees on weekly (if not daily) basis. So I might not be the most average case study.

  6. I, of course, completely agree with you Cliff. The kipping pullup is very functional in my eyes. Simply in terms of a strength building movement, it is awesome. It actually provides incredible lat contraction due to the force generated on the negative portion of the movement, as well as the positive. Much more that an isolated deadhang pullup. Not too mention the ‘core’ tensioning that is going on. Many beginning trainees complain of stomach soreness while learning to kip. The grip and forearm are not neglected as well. In fact, there is so much stress on the grip and forearms in a kipping pullup that it is usually the grip that gives way on a max rep pullup effort, not pulling strength.

  7. I use cross fit moves every day: to pick up my kids , put them in the car, carry them, get stuff off the floor…
    I use to have back pain and not any more…
    Besides it helps me a lot with my volley ball game
    How functional and fun it is!!!
    Thank You !!!

  8. No, thank you Vero, great to have you.