June 17, 2024
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For Functional Strength, Train Movement Patterns, Not Body Parts

Within the research circles of the fitness industry, there is much discussion about the “Blue Zones,” a study and book published by National Geographic journalist Dan Buettner in 2008. The findings identified regions around the world where people live significantly longer and healthier lives than the global average. The highest scoring regions were specific communities in Italy, Japan, Costa Rica, Greece, and the U.S. (Loma Linda, California).

Buettner found that these communities shared common lifestyle characteristics that accounted for healthful habits around food rest, and recreation; physical vigor through active, robust daily routines, meaningful social connections and purposeful living. These places reflect earlier times in history when daily life was more physically demanding and people had to leave their homes for just about everything, well before digital communication, supermarkets and home delivery.

Exercise as a discipline for personal health is only a thing because, as a society, we continue to become more sedentary and consume more calories than ever before. Making up for a general lack of activity to promote healthy, vigorous living is not the same as going to the gym to bulk up or running to lose weight. Strength, stamina and body composition changes are the byproducts of incorporating modest physical and metabolic exertion as part of a weekly routine that starts with what someone is willing and able to do.

For functional strength, I recommend training movement patterns as opposed to body parts. Isolating body part muscles per workout is derived from the regimens of physique builders and power lifters. Movement pattern exercises are multi-joint movements that mimic the way our bodies move in the real world, such as squatting at the knees, lunging or stepping, hinging at the hips, and directional movements of our arms and shoulders. These exercises typically engage the core and stabilizing muscles to improve overall balance and coordination. Practicing the primary patterns weekly with good form and moderate resistance conditions the body to function efficiently as a unit.

Often, consistency with this alone will help relieve some degree of aches and joint stiffness that come with sitting and aging. For recreational athletes, such as runners, tennis and softball players, functional strengthening can improve muscular endurance, joint stability and overall power. Given the moderate resistance levels, there is usually less tightness and soreness afterward associated with heavy lifting. Appropriate exercises can be done with minimal equipment regardless of fitness level at home, outside or in a gym.

Balanced programs will also promote metabolic capacity and movement quality as appropriate for an individual. Walking local hills, biking and bodyweight flow circuits are low impact options for moderate aerobic efforts at home. Movement quality involves improving range and comfort around major joints through active stretching and practiced mobility sequences. Once learned, these take just a few minutes and can be done virtually anywhere.

As with the Blue Zone communities, regular activity to improve physical health is part of a larger picture for those looking to invest in their quality of life. Feeling good in one’s body can bring awareness of eating habits and give more energy for work, personal relationships and community involvement. While getting started seems a necessary evil for some, my experience is that many who stick with it, even for just a few weeks, become invigorated by the results and are eager to strive for more.


Jason Goldsmith is a certified personal trainer, senior fitness specialist and corrective exercise specialist.

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