Functional fitness (aka functional movement) is a thing now. That’s exercises that train our muscles for regular life activities, like squatting to pick up something we’ve dropped, or reaching for something on a high shelf (or even climbing onto the kitchen counter to reach something, as I did a few days ago). But, do our regular life activities support our workouts? Can movement with a function substitute for a workout?
I asked myself this question a couple of weeks ago, when a cord of wood was dumped in our driveway at 8 a.m. Just looking at it was pretty daunting. Even though I knew from previous years the stacking wouldn’t take more than an hour (for two of us), all those logs in a giant, jumbled mound sitting in a bed of dust and bits of scattered bark said, “Cancel anything else you planned for the day. I’m the boss of you today.”
Sorry to break it to you, bossy logs, my day was actually a lot fuller. It went like this. Meditation for 30 minutes. Trip to the farmer’s market to stock up on spectacular veggies and fruit. Breakfast with my partner at the local coffee shop on our way home. (Tried a new wildberry paleo muffin with honey and finishing salt. Not bad. Plus the hard boiled eggs I’d brought with me to supplement the baked goods.) Stacked all the wood in the garage. Filled one plastic tub and the ash can with bark and wood remnants to use as kindling. Swept the garage floor, finishing touches with the shop vac. Swept and hosed the driveway. Cleaned the house. Removed, washed and wrestled every slip cover back on to couches, benches, chairs and stools. Caught up on email. Had a work call. Went for a tempo run in the mountains. Collapsed on the couch and watched German television (Dark-– a great mind game of a show).
Technically, I did “only” a 50-minute workout. Even though I pushed on my run, it was a lighter day in the arc of my current training. Except … I also stacked wood for another hour, which is physically demanding. And I cleaned, a lighter physical demand than the other two, but very taxing (plus, dishpan hands—can anyone recommend a truly effective hand cream?).
How should I count my workout for the day? 50 minutes. Some percentage of wood stacking and cleaning, plus 50 minutes? Why does it matter?
Three reasons: First, because if I don’t account for all that activity, then I wonder why I’m so tired during my workout the next day. Second, because actual movement makes you stronger. Why not give myself some credit, instead of partaking of the female tendency to downplay accomplishments?! And third, instead of doing a series of functional movement exercises, I engaged in the actual movement that the exercises prepare us for. And by the way, no functional fitness exercise is going to fully prepare me for the incredibly awkward and disparate shapes and sizes of logs, with all their sharp, pokey bits, plus the arm and chest abrasions, not to mention the wood dust in the eyes.
How incredibly satisfying to finish the task.
I gave myself another 50 mins of workout credit for the day. Added it to the tally in the back of my mind. Felt good about my strength. Decided I’d done some next level functional fitness.
Biking around New York City is another place this actual movement vs workout question comes up. Some days I might bike from place to place for an hour or more. Though I’m not pushing, as I would in a workout, the activity is not nothing. I’ve developed a personal algorithm for Citibike. I count 30% of the time toward my total workout time on that day. A bonus. My movement serves a function.
Functional movement is an excellent concept. Or as this article in Women’s Health puts it, “your butt isn’t there just to look pretty.” Our health is a resource, not simply an end goal in itself. We want to be healthy so we can participate in and contribute to the world (and get the chores done). Also, to have fun, as Catherine pointed out in her piece about functional movement and parkour.
So, how can we think about actual movement’s contributions to our workouts?
Like this: Our daily activity strengthens and prepares us to be better athletes.
Here’s one life activity that prepares us for everything (and that a lot of us here at Fit Is A Feminist Issue like to do): Dancing. I love it. Not for a workout, not choreographed, just turning up the volume, drowning in music and dancing my not-just-pretty butt off. A woman described to me recently being bored on a treadmill, loving the music she was listening to and wanting to get off the exercise machine and dance. She asked, “What should I do?” She was worried that dancing wouldn’t count as a workout. I said, “Dance.” Dance is uncategorizable. A daily activity. A workout. A practice of freeing the mind and body. Others here have written buoyant posts about dance. Catherine’s a dancing queen, Christine is dancing for 100 Days and Sam’s looking for more no-regrets opportunities to dance like a sexy Muppet.
Dance is the ultimate functional movement, preparing us for joy. And if you’re dancing for no functional or workout reason, my personal algorithm says—give yourself time and a half bonus credit (150%) in your workout log!