The future of functional fitness is an evolution into functional movement.
We see this already in the explosion of more complex movement practices like parkour happening all over the world and being adopted slowly by the mainstream fitness world. Organisms are not machines, and the era of training them like machines will give way to an age of treating them like organisms, leading to longer health-spans, fewer injuries and even greater potential.
The Parkour Perspective
The body/brain has evolved for movement, in every way, as demonstrated by the continual feedback process of action-perception coupling. So the ‘function’ of the human body is to move, and most fundamentally to locomote across varied terrain, which has led to our incredibly adaptive movement capacities, enabling us to run, jump, climb, vault, brachiate, crawl, roll, spin, twist, etc.
Vitally, it is not enough just to prepare the body to do these things – it must actually do them. It is not enough to endlessly isolate, deconstruct and reduce the holistic nature of your movement to a mechanical process. It’s important to understand that your movement, like you, is more than the sum of its parts!
So we aim to feed the body and brain with the movement nutrition it craves – which is to constantly challenge it and to encourage adaptation by overcoming any obstacle in its path. This is what we call ‘task-oriented training’, which arises naturally and universally in humans as part of the constraints-led nature of our play when young, which is rooted in instinctive, adaptive movement to achieve a specific goal or overcome an immediate challenge. So play is a fantastic way to ensure you are testing your movement capacities in truly functional ways.
But functional fitness, for us, does not mean simply increasing difficulty for difficulty’s sake. Just because something is difficult for the body does not necessarily mean it has a ‘functional’ purpose or an optimal outcome, in terms of physical effectiveness and/or health. The heart of parkour is to be effective within your environment, which often requires mastery of what may appear to be ‘simple’ functions, but within which there is of course immense complexity.
The body is a biotensegrity model: we have a dynamic anatomy based on the forces of tension and compression exerted by a collection of separate, contiguous bones floating in a network of softer tissues. The body is not just a mechanical structure of levers and pulleys, as the fitness industry taught for decades.
Biotensegrity structures require complex, ever-changing stimuli in order to develop optimally and to remain healthy, so this is what our training must provide. In technical language we would say this necessitates non-linear, complex-dynamic, multi-planar and multi-directional movement.
In simpler terms, we call this parkour.