How Life-Like Do Functional Movements Need To Be?

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Front Squat The Box Magazine

Do you often feel like you’ve got to defend “functional movements” with real-life application? I sometimes cringe when I hear coaches and athletes struggle to draw straight lines from movements like the thruster or the kettlebell swing to a “real life” equivalent as if that’s the only way to justify them.

“A thruster is like squatting down to pick up a heavy groceries and placing it in a top shelf.”

No, it really isn’t. But that’s okay.

Rather than force square pegs into round holes with the whole functional-movements-show-up-everywhere-in-our-lives talk, maybe we can find validity without it. Sure, there are plenty of pretty straightforward crossovers from the gym to real life, but not all of them are. Furthermore, I don’t think that detracts from the efficacy or relevance of these movements.

The truth is we have no idea (for the most part) what is going to happen out there in the real world. And, to be honest, if movement in the real world were as rigidly structured as they are in the gym, life would be pretty boring and we’d all look like idiots. Heck, sports don’t even happen with your “heels down,” “chest up,” and “knees out.”

For me, there’s plenty of justification for functional movements in their ability to train for longevity, their full expression of our joints, and the neurological demand of moving our body parts in concert. If I can move in a way that supports big work capacity, not just now but indefinitely, I think that’s key. Furthermore, if you want to argue that you no longer need to squat deep because none of your chairs are that low and we aren’t all living in the Stone Age, fine. You can’t argue, however, against the fact that movement through a joint’s full range of motion holds value. Furthermore, failing to express the full potential of a joint makes some ranges of motion vulnerable in “real life” to both injury and lower performance.

There’s a much deeper story at play here than deadlifts looking like moving furniture, in my opinion. If someone corners you about why they need to jerk a barbell when they’re certain they’ll never put their carry-on bag in the overhead compartment that way, you don’t need to lie to them. Tell them that you, too, hammer curl your duffle bag into the overhead compartment, but that the jerk still has value in its ability to express full ranges of motion in the elbow and shoulder at loads impossible otherwise. It’s also sustainable, and requires a neurological engagement fit for real life.

Carry on…

Logan Gelbrich
@functionalcoach