Scary tigerness.

Functional Strength Training

Although it’s only popularly gone by that name for the past few years, functional strength training is as old as the human body. It may be difficult to understand, since it is so far removed from today’s popular views of health and fitness, so I want you to try something.
Imagine a tiger. Picture his massive fangs and powerful jaws, his careful eyes. Envision his lean, muscular body. In order to survive he must track, chase, and kill, and every inch of his physique is intended for just that. The sum of his muscles, bones, organs, and senses work seamlessly together to capture his prey. He is an intimidating and completely functional creature.
Fine, you’re thinking. Tigers are awesome. What does that have to do with people?
Well, imagine a man. Try to believe that, like the tiger, he has a body which is perfect for his day-to-day needs. He has color vision and opposable thumbs for finding and grasping fruit, and also the intelligence, teeth, and digestive juices for hunting and eating meat. His limbs are adept at climbing, lifting, running, jumping. His versatile structure seems suited to do many things, and his knees, hands, and neck are engineering marvels.
We aren’t used to thinking of ourselves as impressive. Personal trainers and drug advertisements have convinced us that the human body is a ticking time bomb, that our joints and organs exist in a delicate balance. The way they tell it, our bodies don’t seem suited to much beyond the daily routine—and if at the end of the day all you’ve got is a little pain and stiffness, then you should count yourself lucky.
But we can see immediately what animals are suited to, because they still do it. You can watch a bear’s massive claws and surprising quickness swat a salmon out of a stream. You can see otters’ lithe, waterproof, flexible bodies play in a river. You can watch the long, strong arms of a monkey swing through a tree and the powerful jaws of a lion close around its prey.
We’ve forgotten what jobs our bodies are best for, because we just don’t need to do them anymore. Arms, made for climbing trees and carrying loads, instead hold briefcases and hail cabs. Hands made for damn near anything are used to type and fumble with iPods. Legs, made for sprinting and jumping, wait on line at Starbucks. As a result, our bodies, which are strong and functional by design, become frail and awkward in reality.
And when we actually try to exercise, we put ourselves through ridiculous motionswhich have little or nothing to do with our bodies’ natural functions. We use compact, balanced loads in ultra-controlled environments in order to isolate muscles that should be developed and used in groups. We use arbitrarily shortened ranges of motion for fear of injuring joints which are capable of much more. We separate out the training of speed, strength, balance, flexibility, and agility—and as a result, we cannot accomplish any two at the same time without risking injury.
Worst of all, we convince ourselves that this kind of exercise is the best and smartest available. We resign ourselves to the idea that, at best, our poorly constructed bodies can look okay for now—until we get old, and they completely fall apart.
Functional strength training means discarding workout fads and remembering what our bodies are for. It means exercising in an unpredictable and unbalanced environment so that we develop strength, flexibility, joint health, and agility all at the same time. It means maximizing performance and avoiding injury by developing our muscles together, rather than in isolation, so that they grow in healthy proportion to each other and to the ligaments and tendons holding them together. It means dynamic and mentally stimulating exercise which you will look forward to, even crave.
A lot of functional strength training takes place outside, but you can do it in a gym, if you want. The workouts tend to include elements of climbing, gymnastics, and calisthenics. Also, nearly any sport develops functional strength, and conversely functional strength training will improve performance in any sport.
You will see that when you train your body functionally, gains in one area tend to help out other areas of your workout and your daily life. When you get better at pull-ups, you will also get better at handstands. When you learn to run faster, you will probably also jump higher.
You will find that moving furniture, or opening jars, or working in your yard and around your house are a breeze. And when they day is over, you won’t be in pain. In fact, you’ll be smiling, and full of energy.
This training can be adapted to any goal—including, but certainly not limited to, speed, strength, flexibility, and overall health. Simply put, functional strength training is the only way to make your body everything that it can be.
If you just want to be huge, go ask the biggest guy in the gym how he got that way. I’m sure he’ll get you a great price on it. But if you want real, total, meaningful health for the rest of your life—you need to break out of your old routine and let your body do the work it was made for.

Although it’s only popularly gone by that name for the past few years, functional strength training is as old as the human body. It may be difficult to understand, since it is so far removed from today’s popular views of health and fitness, so I want you to try something.

Imagine a tiger. Picture his massive fangs and powerful jaws, his careful eyes. Envision his lean, muscular body. In order to survive he must track, chase, and kill, and every inch of his physique is intended for just that. The sum of his muscles, bones, organs, and senses work seamlessly together to capture his prey. He is an intimidating and completely functional creature.

Fine, you’re thinking. Tigers are awesome. What does that have to do with people?

Well, imagine a man. Try to believe that, like the tiger, he has a body which is perfect for his day-to-day needs. He has color vision and opposable thumbs for finding and grasping fruit, and also the intelligence, teeth, and digestive juices for hunting and eating meat. His limbs are adept at climbing, lifting, running, jumping. His versatile structure seems suited to do many things, and his knees, hands, and neck are engineering marvels.

We aren’t used to thinking of ourselves as impressive. Personal trainers and drug advertisements have convinced us that the human body is a ticking time bomb, that our joints and organs exist in a delicate balance. The way they tell it, our bodies don’t seem suited to much beyond the daily routine—and if at the end of the day all you’ve got is a little pain and stiffness, then you should count yourself lucky.

But we can see immediately what animals are suited to, because they still do it. You can watch a bear’s massive claws and surprising quickness swat a salmon out of a stream. You can see otters’ lithe, waterproof, flexible bodies play in a river. You can watch the long, strong arms of a monkey swing through a tree and the powerful jaws of a lion close around its prey.

We’ve forgotten what jobs our bodies are best for, because we just don’t need to do them anymore. Arms, made for climbing trees and carrying loads, instead hold briefcases and hail cabs. Hands made for damn near anything are used to type and fumble with iPods. Legs, made for sprinting and jumping, wait on line at Starbucks. As a result, our bodies, which are strong and functional by design, become frail and awkward in reality.

And when we actually try to exercise, we put ourselves through ridiculous motionswhich have little or nothing to do with our bodies’ natural functions. We use compact, balanced loads in ultra-controlled environments in order to isolate muscles that should be developed and used in groups. We use arbitrarily shortened ranges of motion for fear of injuring joints which are capable of much more. We separate out the training of speed, strength, balance, flexibility, and agility—and as a result, we cannot accomplish any two at the same time without risking injury.

Worst of all, we convince ourselves that this kind of exercise is the best and smartest available. We resign ourselves to the idea that, at best, our poorly constructed bodies can look okay for now—until we get old, and they completely fall apart.

Functional strength training means discarding workout fads and remembering what our bodies are for. It means exercising in an unpredictable and unbalanced environment so that we develop strength, flexibility, joint health, and agility all at the same time. It means maximizing performance and avoiding injury by developing our muscles together, rather than in isolation, so that they grow in healthy proportion to each other and to the ligaments and tendons holding them together. It means dynamic and mentally stimulating exercise which you will look forward to, even crave.

A lot of functional strength training takes place outside, but you can do it in a gym, if you want. The workouts tend to include elements of climbing, gymnastics, and calisthenics. Also, nearly any sport develops functional strength, and conversely functional strength training will improve performance in any sport.

You will see that when you train your body functionally, gains in one area tend to help out other areas of your workout and your daily life. When you get better at pull-ups, you will also get better at handstands. When you learn to run faster, you will probably also jump higher.

You will find that moving furniture, or opening jars, or working in your yard and around your house are a breeze. And when they day is over, you won’t be in pain. In fact, you’ll be smiling, and full of energy.

This training can be adapted to any goal—including, but certainly not limited to, speed, strength, flexibility, and overall health. Simply put, functional strength training is the only way to make your body everything that it can be.

If you just want to be huge, go ask the biggest guy in the gym how he got that way. I’m sure he’ll get you a great price on it. But if you want real, total, meaningful health for the rest of your life—you need to break out of your old routine and let your body do the work it was made for.

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