Here we are in February 2019. Many folks have already dropped their gym regimes and the celery shortage has come and gone. In other words, the urgency of new year’s resolutions has slowly abated for many.
But just because the resolutions have waned doesn’t mean the barrage of ads for diets, fit bodies, and lifestyle trends has. In American culture, there is constant noise barking: “Get in the best shape of your life!” “Finally keep off the weight this year!” “Try this new lifestyle plan/supplement/eating strategy and be the happiest you’ve ever been!”
What does it actually mean to be “in the best shape of your life”?
Think about that question for a second.
What images come to mind?
What beliefs about bodies and health does that bring up?
Many folks associate being “in shape” with weight loss. But is this a true representation of “best shape of your life”?
First of all, it’s exclusionary to think about thin, able bodies as the only kinds that can be in shape. Body diversity is a very real, very important aspect of being human. Second, this view leaves no room for the reality that your “best shape” will change across the lifespan.
Being in the best shape of your life actually has to do with how well you function. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not you can touch your toes at age eighty or how sexy you look at age forty.
Functional fitness refers to movement that improves daily activity. It prepares you for life: pulling, pushing, squatting, balancing, etc. In essence, functioning well is the thing that keeps you able to do the things you take for granted like opening the pickle jar without the rubber grippy thing or balancing while you get in and out of the shower.
When you think about functional movement, think about combo activities: lifting using your back, legs, glutes, arms, and torso. There’s coordinated effort between these muscle groups, the nervous, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems. On the other hand, doing isolated exercises at the gym may give you the look of a toned butt, but not give as much “bang for your buck” or benefit in the long term (think getting up from a low chair when you’re seventy).
In addition, functional fitness reduces the risk of injury. When you meet the body where it is instead of pushing or overdoing, the body is going to build more strength across multiple muscle groups and increase endurance. Furthermore, your nervous system will thank you for actually listening to it instead of overriding cues that you’re reaching your limit.
Functional movement meets the body where it is. What is functional for a typically abled body may differ from one with disabilities. What’s functional for a twenty year old will be different for someone in their eighties. But they’re both functional. Thinking in rigid terms like “best shape” (i.e. it’s either the best or not good), limits our ability to think flexibly and creatively about how to maximize the potential of our bodies no matter what their ability or age.
So much of our time is focused on big goals like running fast or lifting more. But this is about much more: meeting the challenges life throws at us. Considering functionality as a “best shape” criterion, how do you want to be in the best shape of your life?
Would you like to be able to chase your kids around?
Be able to reach and grab things from a tall shelf?
Get up from sitting on the floor?
Carry more than one grocery bag at a time?
Let us know in the comments below! We love helping people think creatively about sustainable movement and wellness goals. If you have questions about functional fitness or our offerings, feel free to email us or come by the studio to take a class.