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What Are Functional Movements?

We hear the term “functional movements” all the time, but what does it actually mean?

There are several characteristics that help us define functional movements.

First off, they are movement patterns used in everyday life. For example, getting up out of a chair requires an air squat; picking up groceries from the floor, a deadlift; getting a five-gallon water jug onto a table, a clean; placing items on a high shelf, a shoulder press.

In a similar vein, functional movements are also “essential.” These are the movements life demands — whether we practice them or not — which makes them essential to independent living. When we lose the ability to perform functional movements, we also lose the ability to live independently.

For CrossFit, the most significant and definitive characteristic of functional movements is they are capable of moving large loads long distances, quickly. Functional movements are those capable of producing high power output relative to their non-functional counterparts. For example, with regard to a simple air squat, if you take the distance an athlete travels (vertical displacement), the load (in this case the body weight of the athlete), and the duration of the effort, this will easily produce greater output than any isolation exercise. This also makes these movements measurable. We can put an exact number on the effort and track both the effort itself and real (rather than perceived) improvements over time.

Now, does this mean we never hit a bicep curl or a plank? Of course not. We still incorporate other movements into our programming, we just tend to prioritize functional movements.

This is the second part of a multi-part series we will be posting over the next several weeks. Follow along if you'd like to learn more! If you want to experience it for yourself, book a free trial at one of our three Boston locations.

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