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Beyond Functional Training

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

Functional movement training is by its very definition training that has practical application in real world scenario's due to it's adherence to natural human biomechanics. This type of training is being utilized by every sport and athletic endeavor imaginable right now and is only growing in popularity. The reasons for this are obvious enough, why fight the biomechanics developed over millions of years when you can utilize it instead.

However the subject doesn't just end at functional training, for human nature is built around a highly variable and creative movement capacity. The subject of organic human movement is vast and only beginning to be rediscovered by trainers, coaches and athletes. Below is a brief overview of some alternate areas of training which aren't usually listed as functional movement, but are nonetheless inherent in our species' motion repertoire.

Natural Human Movement Training– This kind of training is something of a foundation. A foundation in the sense that everyone has a human body and everyone benefits from a greater understanding of how that body is designed to move. I have yet to meet the average Jane, Joe or high level athlete that doesn’t benefit from this type of training. It can open up whole new worlds and venues of movement exploration by providing a safe and functional basis of movement to build off of.

A great example of this type of training is the MOVNAT system developed by Erwin La Corre, designed bring healthy human movement back to the forefront of training. This work is largely based on an earlier program called "The Natural Method" designed by one of the godfathers of physical training, George Hebert. This type of training resembles a more basic and functional type of parkour blended with more natural calisthenics.

Sport Specific Functional Training- Training of this variety is always geared towards a very specific athletic attainment. Programs can be designed specifically to increase the functional use of vertical jumping ability in basketball or the speed of Olympic sprinters. The main requirement here is that the training doesn’t create muscular development or movement patterns that run contrary to the main athletic goals or to human biomechanics.

For instance, long distance running does little for the sprinter other than waste his body's resources and potentially create injury. However, unilateral strength and speed training performed with good biomechanics and in positions similar to sprint positions will likely cut time off his 100 meter dash. In my personal experience most of my sport specific training has been in the martial arts, creating lots of balance, body control, and explosive strength without growing much body mass.

Expressive Movement Training– This type of training isn’t discussed as much as the two above, but it’s effectiveness can’t be denied. Expressive movement begins to cross the boundaries between physical training, emotional awareness, and mental presence. It requires a great deal of development in the areas of “inner awareness”.

In expressive movement training one is taught to get in touch with their own body to the degree that movements spring forth naturally from inner need and desire. For instance many athletes who begin training through this manner began to create rhythmic, pulsating, wave like motions of the spine. Not because they are told to do so, but because the body was asking for it through the sensations of comfort and satisfaction. The results of listening to the body in this way is an increase in body awareness and control as well as often seeing the healing of plaguing injuries.

Instinctive Movement Training– Instinctive training is basically skills training, but taken to the next level. For great examples of instinctive movement we can turn to the animal world. When a squirrel wants to get from one tree to another it does so in the most efficient way it knows how based on its abilities, the environment and circumstances. But don’t take this to mean that the squirrel thinks about what its doing, at least not in the way we understand thought.

These deductions are done often in an instant, the knowledge simply being inherent and the movement springing forth from the inner “knowing” developed through genetic heritage and years of experience. Humans have this same capacity, although its not usually active to the same degree do to our propensity to be focused in our minds as opposed to our bodies. Though it can be seen in top athletes from all areas of sport, and is particularly useful to athletes who’s safety requires extremely fast reaction speeds as well as flawless technique.

Good examples of this being combat athletes, football players or free runners. These athletes are routinely presented with scenarios that would cause a great deal of stress, an increase in reaction time, and greater likelihood of injury if they were to pause and think about the movement before performing it. Instinctive action can then be described as a uniting of mind and body in the present moment, a type of mental embodiment that the ancient Samurai would call zen and modern psychology would call flow state. The training involves building instinctive skills with an emphasis on embodiment. The result, when done properly, is a presence and skill level that appears to the average observer as nearly superhuman.

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