You need to exercise your muscles to strengthen them. The challenge is to strengthen your muscles naturally so they allow you to lead a healthy and functional lifestyle. Exercises reflecting functional movements have long been recognised as the best way to strengthen sustainably. Yoga poses are closely related to everyday movements so is yoga functional movement training?
By practising yoga regularly, you are performing the original functional movement training. Daily functional activities like getting out of bed or lifting boxes require your body to be flexible, mobile and stable. Yoga poses feature common functional movements which will help you live your best life.
There is a strong correlation between the physical yoga postures and your basic everyday movements. These are bending, lunging, pulling, pushing, squatting and twisting. Our lifestyles have become more sedentary so you are less likely to be doing many of the basic movements. If you are spending the majority of your day sitting you give your body less opportunities to do other movements. So it is vital that you do functional movement exercises which counteract the time spent sitting.
Importance of Functional Movement
Functional movements are based on our body’s bio-mechanics for dealing with real world scenarios like lifting or pulling. Your muscles are responsible for executing these movements but they will adapt to the movements you do most often. If you are sitting a lot then they will be stronger in that form. Over time your body will develop issues in mobility (range of motion) and flexibility (length of muscles). Below is a definition of functional movement from Wikipedia:
“Functional movements are movements based on real-world situational biomechanics. They usually involve multi-planar, multi-joint movements which place demand on the body’s core musculature.”
The opportunity to operate in more than one or two planes of movement is rare. Most of the time you will only operate in the forward flexion portion of the sagittal plane and maybe one direction of the transverse plane. When you are in yoga you mobilise, stabise, stretch and strengthen all panes of movements. These are sagittal (flexion and extension), coronal (abduction and adduction) and transverse (rotation). Furthermore many yoga poses require you to be in all three planes of movements at once.
Impact of poor Functional Movement
Sitting for long periods especially if your posture is poor will negatively impact your functional movement. You will develop physical issues in the upper and lower body. Slouching will cause tightness in your back and shoulders. Your hamstrings will shorten and the range of motion in your hip flexors will decrease. Over time a lack of functional movement can cause the following imbalances:
Mis-alignment in the shoulder girdle
Internal rotation of humerus with elevation/abduction (protraction) of scapula from prolonged computer work (or, rounded shoulders). And, if one-sided, scapula elevation, from carrying a bag on one shoulder (one shoulder blade higher than the other).
Result: Tightness, weakness, limited range of motion, and/or instability in one or both shoulders.
One hip becomes more elevated due to habitually holding an infant/child on one side, crossing the same leg while sitting at desk, or repetitive leaning while sitting/driving.
Result: Tightness, weakness, limited range of motion, and/or instability in one or both sides of lower back, SI Joint, hip and/or leg.
Due to repetitive sleeping patterns (on stomach turned to one side), or long-term turning in one direction for work or sport (tennis, golf, one arm rowing, etc.)
Result: Tightness, weakness, limited range of motion, and/or instability in one rotational direction of neck, spine, ribcage and SI joint.
Kyphotic thoracic spine
An exaggerated rounding of the convex curve in the upper back due to prolonged computer work, bike riding, couch surfing/ gaming, studying, etc.
Result: Tightness, weakness, limited range of motion, and/or instability in core (using the “Apple Core” definition of skull to tail).
Lordotic cervical and/or lumbar spine
An exaggeration in the concave curves of the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine). Due to staring at technological devices (cervical), staring at road as cyclist (cervical), looking ahead while swimming (cervical and lumbar), prolonged (years) wearing of high heels (lumbar), or prolonged sitting at a desk (tight psoas increases lumbar lordosis).
Result: Tightness, weakness, limited range of motion, and/or instability in lower back, SI Joint, diaphragm, lower abdominal region, hips and legs.
Benefits of Functional Movement Exercises
Functional movement exercises have a purpose or task and are designed to be useful and practical rather than attractive. It implies that something supports the effectiveness of the whole and in combination with fitness, functional means that we move in a way that supports the movability and wellness of the entire body. Improving your fitness by doing functional movement exercise you will see benefits in the following areas:
More efficient use of your body
Think about how you use your body in your daily activities. Generally speaking, whatever movements you perform, you use several different muscle groups at the same time rather than using your muscles in isolation like you can experience so often in a strength training workout in the gym. Functional fitness exercises focus on compound movements, which means that several parts of the body are engaged at the same time and with that you can use your body more efficiently.
Increase Agility, Balance and Coordination
Functional fitness is bodyweight training, so there is no assistance from a machine for stability and support. It is vital that you do functional movement exercises that focus on balance and coordination to improve stability.
Strengthen Your Core
Functional fitness is all about the core. And we’re not just talking about the abs, but also back muscles and hip muscles. All together they help us to maintain stability and we strengthen the core muscles in functional fitness exercises. Strengthening your core comes with so many benefits in and of itself. You increase balance and stability, reduce back pain, prevent injuries and improve your posture.
One of the main reasons functional movement training is popular is that it prevents injuries. It is also a valuable tool for rehabilitation and maintaining healthy joints. Most common injuries in athletes and non-athletes alike come from our inability to deal with stress to the joints. Functional fitness exercises help to keep your joints healthy, stable and active. If you exercise with proper alignment, good technique and stabilizing your body to handle any challenge.
Increased Flexibility and Mobility
Functional fitness exercises are excellent for increasing flexibility. This is because you will use a large range of motion. You start and finish movements in positions where the muscles stretch, increasing flexibility and mobility. When you Increase the range of motion your everyday life activities become a lot easier and smoother.
Improve your Posture
Functional fitness exercises use multiple muscle groups at the same time. You enhance balance and strength and with that effectively improve your overall posture. You only use your own bodyweight in functional movement exercises. Consequently you will have to focus on using your smaller muscles to stabilize your body. This will help to prevent imbalances in our body and boost posture.
Increasing Power and Speed
If you want to be faster or stronger, doing functional movement exercises will really help. You become more powerful in your movements with more parts of your body are involved in the exercise. For example jump squats, explosive lunges and several push-up variations can develop speed and power because they require a combination of muscle control, explosiveness, balance, coordination and agility.
The purpose of functional fitness is to use your body as a force and a weight. When you are doing these exercises you will be more connected and respond better to how you feel. You will be more aware of natural and unnatural imbalances. To perform functional fitness exercises properly you have to focus on how you feel during the exercise.
Develop better Muscle Memory
A major benefit of training more often is that your body becomes more responsive. Repeating a bicep curl over and over again will help you perfect a bicep curl which is great when you need to do bicep curls! Repetitions of a functional movement exercise will not only help you perfect that movement but also train your body and brain to move better in daily life.
Integration of yoga and functional movements
The connection between yoga and functional movement has grown over the last decade. Many yoga instructors understand the appeal of positioning yoga as a functional fitness activity. The challenge is to identify yoga poses that support functional movement as well as integrating functional fitness exercises.Combining them with the self-awareness and deep relaxation of yoga helps you move and feel better. Exercise for this type of yoga can be grouped into 3 areas:
Access for Many
Yoga instructors who are positioning their classes as functional fitness training develop simpler movements with options for everyone. An example of this would be dropping knees to the ground when doing lunges. Or using blocks for any twisting pose for better balance and stability. Functional movement yoga also allows you to track your progress easily. When you start you will probably do some poses with some support or modifications. As your yoga practice progresses you will require the modifications or support less often.
Long Term Progression
Another benefit of functional movement yoga is that you have the opportunity for long term progression in key areas. Improvements in body awareness, coordination, mobility and strength are strong indicators of an effective functional movement program. Targeting a specific part of your body for improvements is much more effective with functional movement yoga. You firstly isolate the target part of the body. Then you activate the muscles associated with flexibility, mobility and strength of the target part of the body. Finally you integrate the functional movement exercises into a training program.
Sustainable Body Development
The strategies of functional movement yoga encourage your practice to be much more balanced. You will not be so focused on the physical shape of a pose. Or be more reliant on more dominant parts of the body and strain weaker parts. You figure out how to move with all the parts participating in an entire body development like a yoga present with less strain. Consequently your are less likely to to experience repetitive strains, niggles or even injuries.
The Enjoyment of Connections
Yoga is a great opportunity to connect with your body, your breathing and your movement. It is an activity that helps you become more aware of your body and what it can do. Progress in yoga is more about enjoying moving with curiosity and being playful than nailing a particular pose. Combining functional movement and yoga poses helps you feel sensations in your body with a calm awareness of your breath.
Functional Movement Yoga in Practice
The most effective yoga exercises for functional movement are ones that follow the seven general movement patterns of your body. They are squat, lunge, push, pull, hinge, twist, and walk. The hips are a good starting point to explore functional movements, especially mobility exercises. Improving range of motion in the hips can make a huge difference to your overall functional movements.
Standing Hip Range of Movement Activity
This versatile exercise is very accessible, effective and can get your tired! Grab a block (or book, small box) and position it six inches in front of you on the highest setting. Hold on to the block with fingers pointing away from each other. Move your body to a half-lift or L shape position and stabilize your core. Next hover your right foot, strongly flex it and lift it out to the side as high as possible. Slowly return to hover position and repeat until fatigued before switching sides. A variation to develop a full range of motion is to use the same setup and then lift your foot out to the side as high as possible. Then move it up behind you and slowly bring it back down beside your standing foot. Make slow, strong circles for a few repetitions before you change directions. Then switch sides.
Dolphin to Forearm Plank
This exercise focuses on developing core strength and hamstrigh to spine mobility. You begin the exercise in a tabletop position and then lower your forearms to the ground. If you are struggling to keep your palms on the ground, use a block on it’s lowest setting. Hold the block between your palms or grip it with your fingers to create a stronger base. Next come into dolphin pose by lifting your knees away from the ground and pushing your backside upwards. With your legs staying as straight as possible, move your feet toward your elbows. Maintain your height by lifting your hips. When your feet are as close to your elbows as they will go, walk back to the forearm plank position.Try to repeat a few times.
Mobility for Shoulders
Another area where you can benefit from functional movement is the shoulders. Spending long days at desk jobs or steering wheels and in front of electronic devices leads to rounded shoulders. This leads to tight and weakened shoulders and to counter this you need to increase mobility. Mobility exercises for the shoulders concentrate on flexibility and control. Flexibility allows ease of movement into a shape but not necessarily the ability to hold it with control. To build control, you need to use movements that will strengthen the muscles around joints in order to facilitate their optimal range of movement.
360 Degree Scapular Movement - Shoulder Circles
An excellent exercise for developing a diverse range of shoulder movement. You can do this exercise in seated, kneeling, or standing poses as well as chair pose. Start by stretching your arms out in front of you and hold a block horizontally between your palms, keeping your fingers relatively straight and spread slightly apart. Stabilize your core and spine by engaging your abdominal muscles; this helps ensure that the movement is isolated in your shoulders.
Keep your arms strong from fingertips to shoulder blades. Draw your shoulders as far back as they’ll go, pressing them down into imaginary pockets; then roll and press them as far forward as they’ll go, and hike them up to your ears. Make these circles while pressing into the block and emphasizing the end range of movement (going as far as you can in each direction: back, down, forward, and up). After a few circles, take a break—this is hard! Then switch directions and repeat.
Diagonal Block Swims
This exercise requires a lot of coordination as you may find it difficult to move your arms independently. Oscillating between left and right sides and isolating movement in each limb, is really healthy for developing body awareness, back-line strength and shoulder mobility.
Start by lying on your stomach with a foam block in front of you. Press your hands into the short ends of the block. Reach your arms forward and lift your upper body and legs up into locust pose, holding the block overhead. Then, take the block in your right hand and reach it behind your back. Swim your left arm back and grab the block from your right hand. Swim your left arm forward, followed by your right arm. Take the block in your right hand and swim it back, repeating the circle in the same direction four to eight times. When fatigued, take a rest. Then switch directions.