Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Value of Functional Training: Part II

Guest blogger: Dr. Jeremy Howell

Part II is a continuation of Dr. Howell's conversation with Functional Fitness expert Gary Gray.

Dr. J: I few months back I visited you to work on a wonderful project that we both are developing called Free2Play. I joined you early one morning for a workout and noticed that you had the Perfect Pushup in your arsenal of functional toys. Let’s functionally talk about the push up.

G2: Watch a baby on the ground and you see that one of the first things they learn to do is push up on their hands, elbows, then they get their butt up and at about 11 or 12 months they push up on furniture, they cruise around, fall down, and guess what, they have to push themselves back up. Now, they’ve never seen the handles of a Perfect Pushup to teach them how to do that. But, if I were going to create a paradoxical environment where I would make the push up even better, what would I design to enhance the function? Well, to get more core strength, shoulder strength and more arm strength, I would design these real cool handles that would allow this rotation so I could do the push up over and over again without impinging my shoulder.

Dr. J: So the Perfect Pushup is an enhancement exercise?

G2: Yes. It’s obviously not the pure and authentic function. When I worked with the US Navy SEALs and they got off the ground to dodge bullets, none of them had the Perfect Pushup with them! But, when you realize that as a Navy SEAL you have to get off the ground a bunch of different ways in real life, then you could enhance that functional movement pattern by using the Perfect Pushup handles in different places on the ground. As you do the push up you now have the freedom to let that rotation occur so that you are not binding your shoulder and you are going to develop functional core strength, hip and leg strength, certainly better arm and shoulder strength. By rotating, it creates the proper chain reaction in the humerus and scapula, it actually creates a chain reaction through the trunk, and, as you’re doing this in different hand positions, you’re varying the stress to the body – one of the principles of function is that it has to be variable. So each time, you are expanding your threshold or improving your envelope of function.

At the Gray Institute we probably have 5,000 different positions to use the Perfect Pushup three dimensionally. So the Perfect Pushup is that perfect paradox we spoke about previously. It compromises the authentic function but it can also enhance the purity of the activity. Ultimately, that is how you determine if a piece of equipment is good. It allows you to train and then perform the authentic function even better. That is why I think the Perfect Pushup has been so successful. You end up being able to push up better and more functionally.

Dr. J: So it is effective because it swings to the positive side of the paradoxical environment.

G2: You may look at it and perhaps think – another infomercial. But, by golly, when you get it and have used it, you go back and push up without it and you perform better. Well, there is the litmus test. That is the magic of function. If you want to know if the Perfect Pushup is good then start with a foundational movement pattern – a push up. Do a bunch with your hands in different positions, in the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes. After all, it’s push ups in different hand positions that are important because we never actually push up the floor in daily life the exact same way. Now use the rotational handles on the Perfect Pushup and workout with them. Later, go back and retest yourself on that fundamental push up movement pattern that everyone actually needs to do to get off the ground. Lo and behold, you get better. Therefore, that is a good functional tool.

Dr. J: So this is what you mean when you often say the exercise is the test and the test is the exercise?

G2: Bingo. The purest form of function is if I can test the movement pattern and then I use that test as the training exercise. But, if I properly do what we at the Gray Institute call a tweak, meaning enhance the exercise, then I may go back and actually perform the test better. That is really why functional training has taken off. With far too many products these days you do the functional test, then use the product, and go back to the test and perform worse! The paradox has swung to the negative side. You have totally compromised the function. The trick is always to maintain a balance of the paradox. The functional tools only make sense as part of the paradox.

Dr. J: Well, Gary, I want to say thanks for taking the time to chat. I also want to say thanks for deciding join our exercise and sport science department as an Adjunct Professor this year. It’s always an honor to work with you.

G2: Always good to catch up. And I know that you have been involved with Alden and the Perfect Pushup team. You can tell them they done pretty good.

Well there you have it. If you would like to learn more about Gary Gray and his Chain Reaction’ series of seminars, the ‘Functional Video Digest’ series, and the ‘Fast Function DVD’ series, then visit the Gray Institute. If you would like to learn more about functional movement science at the University of San Francisco, particularly future live and online course offerings to working professionals, then feel free to contact me at Howell@usfca.edu.

Jeremy Howell Biography

Chair of the Exercise and Sport Science department at the University of San Francisco, Jeremy has extensive exercise and sport industry experience having served as an advisor and consultant to a number of national and regional for-profit and non-profit organizations. He is also the 2007 recipient of University of San Francisco St Ignatius Award, given to the faculty person that best personifies the meaning of service to his community, profession and university.


Joe G. said...

Hi, Dr. Howell -

I broke both femurs in a bad motorcycle wreck 31 years ago. As I look back, obviously medicine in general has changed, but I realize that I did not rehab well. It wasn't a refined area of orthopedics in those days. In fact, I didn't do any specific rehabilitation at all. I was flat on my back IN THE HOSPITAL for five full weeks, then several more weeks in bed at home, then walked with a walker, then crutches, then one crutch, then a cane (wow - I think that is the first time I have ever precisely written down how I recovered!) I had chronic lower back pain until approx. Oct. '08 when I purchased the Perfect Pushup. I will not exaggerate. The fact is, the Perfect Pushup made me more conscious of my total upper-body strength. My posture improved within a month of using it. I didn't HAVE any upper-body strength before I bought the P. Pushup. I was a runner of 25-30 miles per week, nothing else. This gizmo got me so fired up, my wife thinks I'm off my rocker. (She's one of those ladies with perfect genes who never needs to "exercise" because she always doing something on her feet.) I am basically a walking talking commercial for the Perfect Pushup. I also have the Perfect Pullup installed in my home, but I'm sort of a beginner with it.

Question: Do you foresee OTHER sorts of these products that utilize the body's own weight? Maybe somebody somewhere (perhaps our Web host??) will come up with the next Perfect Product?

Let me add another question. To stretch my back, I lie on my back and bring my knees to my chest, even going so far as to roll backwards -- not roll over backwards, but rock backwards. It's a great feeling and my doctors have said it's a good exercise for the lower back. Isn't there some type of EQUIPMENT that stretches those muscles? It seems like I saw something somewhere, maybe in a chiropractor's office. There ought to be a device on the market for people like me, who need to keep their backs strong and flexible.

Alden Mills said...

Joe G. -- Great question! Short answer, check the Perfectpullup.com website for a new Perfect product, the Perfect Dip Bar. But Dr. Howell wants to answer your wider question in his next month's blog: so stay tuned!