Not Just Any Movement, You Need Functional Movement

The Human Body is a mechanical work of art.  By design it is capable of a ridiculous amount of movement patterns, all at different degrees of intensity, from slow and steady to explosive and short. The ability to crawl, walk, run, jump, and climb each require an amazingly sophisticated movement system.  This system sets us apart from all other species on the planet. But there is one catch… If you don’t use it you literally lose it.Why you lose it
One of the reasons your body is so special is its ability to heal itself. Within your fascial tissue are cells that create fascial adhesions around an injury to provide extra stability and restrict painful movement while the damaged tissue is repaired. The restricted movement is just enough to facilitate the healing process while at the same time allowing you some freedom to move. In the ancient world where the human body was forged, this healing process took place over the course of a few days or weeks.  Movement was a necessary and key factor in the healing process. Early man did not have the luxury to spend a few days in bed to fully recover. He had to move to survive, and so he had to heal while moving, which is why this process of building fascial adhesions is so special. Movement works in unison with the circulatory system as a secondary mechanical pump and flushes the injured tissue with fresh blood. This flush of blood flow removes waste by-products, brings in fresh nutrients and speeds up the healing process dramatically. As the injured area recovers, the body once again is able to utilize full, pain free, movement patterns that completely break down the fascial adhesions.

Today we have a problem: we no longer live in that ancient world. Our cultural landscape has dramatically changed our lifestyle over the past 100 years – especially in the last 20. Instead of hunting, gathering, and harvesting our food, utilizing our body in daily acts of survival, we spend most of our time sitting, in front of a computer or in a car. Compared to a mere couple hundred years ago, the lifestyle of even the most active person in any industrialized country today would be considered relatively sedentary.

When you do not get adequate functional movement, you no longer put your mechanical pump to use.  This slows down the healing process as restrictive adhesions do not get broken down. Instead, lack of movement communicates to your body that you are still injured and so it continues to build up even more adhesions to further stabilize and restrict motion around the supposedly injured areas. Over time, these fascial adhesions become so thick and strong that you permanently lose your full range of motion and function. Examples are: losing the ability to fully turn your head in one or both directions to see behind yourself while walking or driving; the ability to raise your arms fully over your head while maintaining a stable spine and scapula; the ability to do a deep squat with your feet flat on the floor; the ability to walk, run or sprint without pain. Without enough functional movement your body assumes you are in a continual state of injury. Eventually this becomes a full-time reality. This is the primary reason that I find deep tissue massage therapy, such as myofascial release, to be so important. I can manually break down fascial adhesions and increase functional range of motion.  I can prime the mechanical pump, facilitating waste product removal and nutrient delivery back into the tissue. In essence this removes years of fascial buildup and facilitates a speedy return to functional movement.

Not Just Any Movement, What you need is Functional Movement
A sedentary lifestyle means we do not use our bodies the way a human body was designed to move. This has become the reality of our lives.  On a daily basis, we fail to utilize the vast array of movement patterns that are possible.  Plus the intensity of our movements has softened. All kinds of technologies have made our lives much easier in most regards.  This means that we must go out of our way to move our body the way it must functionally move.

Functional movement training is vital. You cannot not get the movement your body needs to maintain pain-free health and vitality by sitting in front of a computer. You must move. I am not talking about the traditional types of exercises that are likely coming to your mind. I’m not talking about running for hours on end on pavement in a straight line.  I’m not talking about lifting weights while sitting on a nice cushioned bench or using a machine. Your body needs functional movement. It needs to move the way it was designed to move. Running and traditional weight training are small portion of functional training and tend to be overly repetitious in very specific movement patterns.  They do not utilize the postural stabilization and functional movement patterns your body craves. To your body not using a functional movement pattern is almost the same as not moving. And as I said earlier, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Even if you run or lift weights 7 days a week, if you do not lift your arm over your head, over time you will lose the ability to do so. Your body recognizes this as an injury and begins the healing process discussed above, but now to your detriment.

What is Functional Movement?
My definition is simple.  You have a body for a reason.  Functional movement is what happens when you use your body to meet all of its designed purposes: flexing, extending, pulling, pushing, rotating, changing directions, running, walking, jumping, sprinting and climbing. If you are designed to do it, then use your body to do it.  If you don’t, you will eventually lose your ability to do it, which will lead to a higher risk of chronic pain and injury in your life.

As a personal trainer and deep tissue massage therapist, my entire focus is on functional movement – no exceptions. From the start we make sure you have pain free, functional range of motion with a stable posture. We make use of deep tissue massage, flexibility and corrective exercises (you can see examples of corrective exercises here, here and here) to open up your neck, chest, and shoulders so you can turn your neck to check your blind spot, or lift a box overhead without pain or injury.  We increase flexibility in your hips so you can easily squat deeply without knee or back pain.  We get you to walk and run comfortably again – no more dread of a painful trip up the stairs, to the mailbox, or to the car.

Once your functional range of motion and postural stability are improved you get to start having some real fun. In these workouts you fine tune this high performance machine that is your body by working it to meet all of its designed purposes. You will sweat, burn calories, build muscle, get stronger, move better, have more energy, become more capable and productive in your life, look better, reduce body fat, reduce stress, pain and injury, and most importantly: you will feel better in your body.


16 Replies to “Not Just Any Movement, You Need Functional Movement”

  1. Have you been a fly on our wall listening to what we are all about – ha!
    It’s so refreshing to read your article – its spot on. My greatest pleasure is helping people regain sound movement patterns. Clients that come with pain and report very quickly either a lack of or No pain is why I keep on doing what I am doing. Its not always straight forward, as no two clients are the same but when the results are experienced its the best feeling. So thanks again for your inspiring article.
    All the best. Gillian

  2. Hi there–

    Awesome article, wonderful way of emphasizing the functional. Another gain for many is being/doing out and about in their neighbourhood and natural community setting.
    Perhaps another way for us to come round to this realization and ground of postural fitness is approaching this from the fun and nature side. For example I initiated functionally fit for my daughter by accompanying her to the water front park and ‘challenging’ her to some fun.ctional workout activities including sprints, leapfrogging, cartwheeling, squats and natural functional fitness things like boulder/rock tossing…Seems to have taken hold as she reports being out and about in her neighbourhood fun.ctionally working out during her sprint through college.

    Don Carmichael

  3. Very good article James. I love this work.!! I just took a CEU Seminar class on Myofascial Release and it was amazing. The connective tissue will literally melt away beneath your hands leaving you feeling fabulous.

    Huntsville, AL

    1. Hi Janie,

      Thank you for the comment. If you enjoyed the class on myofascial release, I suggest you look into Anatomy Trains. I took a workshop this past August. It is a very powerful way of piecing together the fascial system. It really connected some dots for me.

      Jesse James Retherford

      1. I too found the anatomy trains approach very enlightening. Mike Reinolds, PT just released a “functional stability for the core” series of videos, that sound really good (

        1. Hi Iday,

          Thanks for the great suggestion. Mike Reinolds is another coach that I follow. I have not seen the videos yet. If you get a chance to view them, would you let me know what you think?

          Jesse James Retherford

  4. Great, inspiring article! I say inspiring because while I have joined a gym for fitness including Pilates, I am now inspired to do the things we did when we were children. I can also share with a lot of ly clients who as a result of little or no functional, physical activity are ‘as stiff as a board’ across the upper body–shoulder and neck area when we perform massages for them.

    For some of us when we take our children to the park, we should really PLAY with them instead of just watching them play.

    1. Thanks for the great comments Dorothy. I love playing at the park with my son. I am often the only adult climbing and swinging through the playground equipment. When I open my own gym, it won’t have rows and rows of machines. It will be an adult playground with monkey bars, climbing ropes, things to jump on, and things to throw. We can learn much from our children when we play with them.

      Jesse James Retherford

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