How functionally fierce in life are you? Could you run for the bus without exploding? Could you catch your 2 year old toddler running past you on the fly without slipping a disc? Can you bend down to tie your shoelaces? If you answered an emphatic NO to these questions then you need to take a look at this.
The ‘buzz fitness labels’ right now are ‘functional training’ and ‘primal fitness’. They are brandished about feverishly in the top fitness blogs and your local gym class descriptions. We all get the idea that they must be a great thing since we are seeing them everywhere. Experienced a session? We always feel wiped out having sweated up a storm, right? But what does it all actually mean? Where has this ‘trend’ come from and why is it so important to help you tie your shoelaces?
Having seen trends come and go, sometimes 2-3 times over the past 20 years that I have been sculking around gyms in the UK, Australia and the USA. I can tell you this ‘trend’ is going nowhere. So lets get to the core of this functional training and primal fitness business.
I have been a big advocate of ‘moving systemically’ (by that I mean ‘your whole self’ and as much as possible) for the majority of my career. I have used functional training in programming for a wide variety of client outcomes and goals; from rehab to fat loss, event preparation to anxiety management. I have seen the multitude of benefits from training in this way over traditional isolation training (so last decade, I know) and can attest to its benefits personally too. At 40 I am fitter, leaner and (joy!) pain free. A far cry from the 20 year old ballerina that had to crawl on her hands and knees to the kitchen every morning to get breakfast because to walk was excruciating and impossible until my joints had warmed up a bit.
Athletic Coaches have been aware of the benefits of functional training for decades (Crossfitters, Olympic Lifters etc) in their programming with athletes. It is only in recent times that the general public has become more aware and educated around the WHY and the HOW of functional training for better health, better mobility, better pain management and stress management.
In this 2 Part post, we will look at just what functional training and primal movement is and why its so important. How you can make it work in your routine and ways that you can include it in your daily life with more awareness.
What is Primal Movement?
US rehabilitation and exercise coach Paul Chek developed and popularised the concept of Primal Pattern Movements and trademarked them in 1998. He identified there to be seven basic movement formations or patterns from his studies of human evolution, anatomy, biomechanics, kinesiology and other related areas of human science. We all develop these patterns from infancy which then become set neurologically as we age.
Repetition of poor movement patterning causes chronic pain and degenerative issues, but the good news is that through rehabilitation and awareness, some if not all, ineffective patterns can be reset and relearned. Chek almost single handedly turned the fitness industry on its head by bringing awareness to our movement patterns, the functionality of movement, efficiency of movement and pain elimination with the correction of imbalances. Many of the patterning being created by lifestyle related conditioning, we now clearly understand to be detrimental to our health and wellbeing; sitting at a desk all day and smartphone use. ‘Most exercise prescriptions are not functional,’ he says. ‘For example, many exercises used to rehabilitate injuries are performed on isokinetic machines – producing constant speed – such as leg presses, knee extensions, hamstring curl machines, etc. [www.chekinstitute.com]
‘Primal movements are the most natural of human movements,’ says Nathan Helberg, creator of ZUU Fitness, an exercise system designed in Australia using the concepts of Cheks primal patterning. ‘They help people rediscover the principles of movement that come so naturally to children but are often forgotten by adults due to the sedentary lifestyle of modern living.’ Primal Movement Workouts are designed to develop mobility, agility, flexibility and cardio endurance, while strengthening muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and fascia – the tissue that surrounds muscles.
What are the 7 Movement Principles and 3 Directions of Movement?
PRIMAL PATTERN #1:HINGE
Hinge at the hip joint keeping back straight, hips will tilt lengthening the hamstrings, feet remain flat on ground, toes pointing forward. Common variation is the deadlifts. Bend to extend movements work your Posterior Chain (glutes, hamstrings, lower back).
PRIMAL PATTERN #2: SQUAT
This is a hips down motion. Keep your bodyweight in its neutral gravity line with your back flat, developing range of motion through the hip girdle that will take you to ‘rock bottom’ or as I like to coach ‘ass to grass’. There is no forward lean as your hips are more directly under you, and your spine is straight as your core activates to keep chest elevated.
PRIMAL PATTERN #3: LUNGE
A linear stride, lowering your back knee to ‘kiss’ the ground, no forward bend of torso as core is active. Longer lunges will work your quads more, a shorter range of motion lunge will focus more on glute and hamstring activation. Lunges also highlight very quickly any glute weakness or hip to knee muscle imbalances in the legs that may require work to correct.
PRIMAL PATTERN #4: ROTATE/TWIST
How mobile are you when twisting your torso from your pelvis to your ribcage. Every step you take has rotation in the thoracic spine, as a matter of injury prevention, train it in your routine. Not only will it keep your core strong and mobile, unifying your body, but it will also switch on the midsection. Ladies! Anyone want a neat, tight waist?
PRIMAL PATTERN #5: PUSH
How is your upper body strength at pushing things in various directions?In the real world, you would have to do this with different objects, in different ways, quite frequently. Depending upon the lift this trains your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
PRIMAL PATTERN #6: PULL
How is your upper body strength at pulling weight toward you. This is often seen in a row or pulling your bodyweight up in a pull-up. Pulling trains your upper back, biceps, and grip strength. There is a version of pulling out there for everyone. This movement can also help correct the forward shoulder posture that has become so problematic for the desk bound and smartphone junkie.
PRIMAL PATTERN #7: GAIT
Walk, jog, run or sprint. Training strength and mobility in the first six primal movements will allow you to enjoy exercises such as running with less likelihood of injury. We get fit so we can enjoy running, not run to get fit. A generous amount of research has also shown that shorter interval runs such as sprints are more in sync with human biology and give better results than long distance running. Long distance running is more likely to stimulate unwanted stressors and overstimulate your sympathetic nervous system. Unless you are training for an event that requires this type of conditioning, there is little benefit in smashing out 10km or more, 3 times a week.
The 3 Directional Planes of Movement:
Taking all 7 movement patterns into consideration, we then look at the planes (directions) we can move in and how the body is designed to move for optimal efficiency and capability. In todays world I believe we have forgotten how to move and as a result when required are not conditioned to move at all well. Exercising with these key aspects in mind means we are reconnecting with the ways we are designed to function best. Which in turns equates to a stress free, mobile, detoxified, hormonally balanced, healthier and happier system.
- Frontal planes involve moving forward and backwards,
- Lateral (or transverse) is left to right and
- Sagittal is diagonal.