Functional fitness for the win, right now

Look how innocent and sweet Emmylou looks. Until she tries to murder me. Or a sparrow.

The other day, my cats were loudly demanding dinner, and I was walking toward their dishes and simultaneously trying to open a new bag of dental kibble. As usual, not paying much attention to where I was walking. The round ball of fur that is Emmylou snaked around my feet and tripped me. As she yowled, I did an agile little dance to free myself of her without stepping on her, dropped the kibble and executed a perfect little chataranga onto the edge of my kitchen island, avoiding smashing my face into the granite.

Functional fitness, baby. That’s what all those early morning squats and lifts and mobilizations have been about.

I wrote last week about how unmotivating movement is for me — and many others — right now. Other bloggers, including Sam and Catherine, chimed in with how one of the only things getting them to the yoga mat or the bike seat is thinking about all of the things they are going to want to do in the summer — camping, hiking, riding. That’s functional fitness right there: the movement that prepares you for other movement.

I was thinking about my relationship to functional movement during my virtual superhero workout this morning. I was noting how hard it is for me to do a squat with complete precision holding an 18 lb kettlebell — and contrasting that to the devil-may-care squats I used to do in the before times with 100+ lbs of barbell on my shoulders. That was just “grin and bear it,” brute force grunting. Now, I’m focusing on the kinds of movement that make it possible for me to sit at my desk in the zoom for hours and hours and then stand up without pain, go for a walk or short run without triggering the daisy chain of middle-aged aches I’ve come to know so well. (Here, have some morton’s neuroma in your left foot (stabbing pain #1!), and add crappy hip mobility, which causes pain in both knees and the occasional acute flare up in my SI joints (stabbing pain #2!) and don’t forget the shoulder impingement that makes lifting my left arm SOMETIMES, unpredictably, the kind of thing that suddenly makes me screech and fall to the floor (STABBING PAIN #3!), and sometimes just like doot de doo, all is fine).

As we did carefully curated split squats this morning, Alex reminded us that this is the kind of movement that make it possible to run, to walk, and to continue running and walking as we age. So after class, I asked them “what ONE thing would you recommend right now for functional movement?”

Alex being Alex, they responded “YES! What a great question! Do you want psychological or physiological tips?”

BOTH please, I said. So here’s their advice.

Physiological I would say we’re missing out on “openness” right now- both in terms of the world around us, but also our bodies. How do we expand our body and open it up compared to our constant states of being hunched over a phone or a computer, sitting, rounded. I would suggest a mid back or hip elevated shavasana daily to decompress.

Really any movement is good movement right now, but especially those that open us up. Neck circles, that kneeling hip flexor stretch with the side lean that I love.

Alex demonstrating elevated savasana, with Martie in the background.

On the psych side, I would say less is more right now- this pandemic is traumatic and tiny movement promises to yourself go a long way. Try and pick one small habit that’s so manageable you almost feel like it’s “not enough” and do it daily. This can be doing a wide leg fold while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, or 3 squats while you brush your teeth.

Here is a link to Alex’ program offerings — there are live classes, video on demand and one on one coaching. All infused with the kind of philosophy that will let you be in your body in a way so you can trip over your cat and not smash your head in.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is very grateful for the Virtual Superhero workouts she’s been doing about four times a week for more than a year now. It doesn’t matter where she actually lives because she hasn’t really left the house since October. Here she is with the less murdery cat, Georgia.