Friday, December 9, 2011

Form, Function, Strength, that order.

I have clients aged 13 to 78 years old, from all walks of life.  The common thread that drives them is they want to improve their health, fitness, and performance.......the right way!  So often, fitness is marketed as a survivalist sport.  Come in (with no or minimal instruction), get your butt kicked, and hope that you can stick it out for more than six weeks.  The result is often a handful of people "surviving" and continuing.  The majority either get hurt, or get discouraged.  If you didn't achieve the results you were looking for it was your fault for not working hard enough.  Unfortunately, this is what people think is their only option with fitness training.

Fitness training is movement training.  Most people don't know how to move properly, and often are not ready for more intense exercise.   Whatever your goal is (fat loss, health, strength, etc.), it all starts with moving well.  If you don't move well, then you can't pursue any of those goals.  So, for all of my clients, I perform an assessment which includes:
  • Standing posture
  • Gait,
  • Joint range of motion,
  • Joint stability,
  • Movement patterns and strength.
From this assessment, I get a better idea where they are and what they need to develop.  Then a personalized program can be developed that follows the following progression:
  1. Form-  Do you know how you should be performing the movement?  Are you able to put your joints and limbs in the correct position?  Most people don't and need lots of cues and regressions of basic movements to learn how to demonstrate the proper form.
  2. Function- Now that you know how to perform the basic movement, is it natural and intuitive?  Do you have to think about it, or need to be talked through it?  Most people don't "function" efficiently and need practice to develop the ideal motor coordination.  It often takes numerous sessions for clients to really feel good with the basic movements and perform them naturally.
  3. Strength- Strengthening is really just reinforcing function with greater loads.  Once you can perform a basic movement pattern (i.e. squatting) efficiently and naturally, you can gradually start adding resistance.  However, you need to be mindful of what is the limiting factor (i.e.spine stability), and understand that fatigue sets in quickly and form and function can quickly deteriorate. 
  4. Performance- Once an adequate level of strength is achieved (with solid technique), then training to improve performance can begin. Performance can be developing maximal strength levels, or the endurance to maintain a level of activity.  Most fitness training programs start here, ignoring form, function, and strength. 
While it may not be the most glamorous or easiest to market in an age of instant results, proper training is extremely important for safety, longevity, and results.  Assuming anyone can jump into a rigorous fitness program is myopic.  Efficient movement is the basis for all fitness training.  Most people need help learning how to move properly.  It is important to figure out where someone is on the Movement Form-Function-Strength-Performance Continuum. Once that is established, then an appropriate training program can be designed and implemented.  Clients really appreciate learning not just what to do, but how to do it properly.  Taking time up-front to assess each client and teach them how to move properly greatly increases a client's enjoyment and long-term results. 

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