My experience with functional movement

If you’ve friended me on Facebook, you might be aware that I’ve been taking classes in functional movement since August, so four months now. I thought I’d post something  about what it is, what I’ve been doing, and my results.

What is functional movement?

Functional movement refers to fitness and the movements we use in everyday life. As opposed to yoga, for instance. Now don’t get me wrong. I love yoga and have studied and practiced it for many years, and when I go back to it, my yoga will be different and even better. But beyond tadasana, sukhasana, savasana (standing, cross-legged sitting, and lying on your back, respectively), and a few other poses, it’s not very functional. I mean, when in your daily life would a headstand or eagle pose fit in, besides when you’re doing yoga?

Most of yoga is the opposite of functional movement. Functional movement is about walking, sitting, lifting, crawling, lunging, lifting the heavy grocery bag out of the back seat, and so on.

(In my opinion, yoga works specifically to open up the meridians. Interestingly, modern anatomical science has discovered “trains” of fascia in the human body that pretty much coincide with the meridians of Chinese medicine. The poses of yoga stretch these fascial trains/energy channels to give us more range of motion and a better flow of energy. For more on this fascinating topic, see Appendix 3 of Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists by Thomas W. Myers.)

The Functional Movement System was invented by Gray Cook, a physical therapist and strength/conditioning trainer who saw a need to test athletes objectively to determine if they were injury-prone, and if they were, to give them exercises to help them gain stability and mobility to prevent injury. There’s a lot of science and research behind it. Many pro and college sports teams use FMS now to keep athletes playing instead of injured, as well as the U.S. military and Secret Service.

Stability and mobility are the basis for healthy movement, and if you are doing strength training, conditioning, or activities that require physical skill (from shooting hoops to martial arts, from chopping wood to lifting a heavy box) without first having enough stability and mobility, you are likely to get injured.

This is important: Functional movement classes are not just for serious athletes.

  • If you are an ordinary person who wants to move with more grace, to be stronger, to be more coordinated, to have better balance and skill in the movements of everyday life, functional movement classes are for you.
  • If you know your body, or arms, legs, shoulders, hips, feet, and so on, is asymmetrical in strength or mobility, functional movement classes are for you.
  • If you repeatedly injure yourself in the same place, functional movement classes are for you.
  • If you have had an injury and want to get back to snuff and then some, functional movement classes are for you.
  • If you have chronic low-back pain, functional movement classes are for you.
  • These classes are also for people who want to develop and keep their stability and mobility into old age, since often a fall means a broken hip, from which one may not fully recover.

Functional movement classes are rehab as well as “pre-hab,” which is what Tim Ferriss calls it in his book The Four-Hour Body.

What I’ve been doing

I learned about Matt Fuhrmann‘s studio Tao Health and Fitness from my friend Dale Whistler, who had been practicing yoga for 40 years and still had chronic low-back pain. Just a few weeks after starting this training, his back pain went away.

I dropped by and set up an appointment for a functional movement screen, a set of seven movements that Matt observes and grades you on. The score you get determines where you start and helps him decide what to emphasize in your training.

Here’s a video that shows a screen:

And then you decide if you want to attend classes (which currently are offered for Level 1 at 8 and 9 am, noon, and 6 pm, and you can mix up your times, perfect for those with flexible work days),  3 times a week or 5, make your deposit and payment, and get started.

You may be in class with a couple of others, and each person is doing what Matt has specifically prescribed for them. You’re not competing, except with your own past performance, learning how to get better.

Every once in a while, I am the only one in a class and get all of Matt’s attention, but business is growing. He expects to be in a bigger space within a year, and so having him all to myself probably won’t happen much more. He’s an affable guy who keeps an eagle eye on your form and helps you get the most out of each movement. Then he progresses you. If you’ve been sick or had a major chiropractic adjustment, he cuts you some slack.

Today I lifted a kettlebell for the first time.

Oh, and Matt has been through it all himself. A long-time martial artist, he has recovered from many injuries and learned FMS to prevent them. He also offers several martial arts classes at his studio.

The first exercises are called 3DX or nervous system reset and include belly breathing, cross-body movements, rocking on all fours, crawling, walking, and a few more exercises.

You learn a series of rotations to improve range of movement and a series of muscle control exercises to improve strength.

Matt paces your work well, so that you never leave feeling tired, sore, or burned out. I leave his classes with energy and well-being, pleased with my progress. It’s a sustainable way to get and stay in shape.

My results

About 3 months after I started, I noticed that I had lost body fat. My scale showed an eight percent drop in my BMI, which means more muscle, less fat. My weight has remained about the same, but I look trimmer and have received compliments on my posture and my vitality.

Between working with Matt and going to a chiropractor that he referred me to, my vision has improved, my left SI joint (long a troublesome spot) feels like it’s finally going to stay in place (yay!), and my left footprint has changed to one with more stability. I’m learning how to move so I can safely lift weight, which I had no previous training in.

My core has gotten much stronger. I walk with ease and can walk much further without feeling achy or tired. My work as a massage therapist has gotten easier on my body, with less repetitive strain issues and less fatigue. My energy is better than it’s ever been.

So if you are looking to get in great shape and want to do it in a sustainable, no-pain kind of way, I recommend getting a functional movement screen and taking classes, and if you’re in Austin, I recommend contacting Matt Fuhrmann. He’s doing free screens at his south Austin studio in December. You can call him at 512-653-1495.

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