As you roll out of bed, you engage your abs and hip flexors to rise to standing. You walk to the toilet, and if you sit down, you use your strong quads and glutes to get back up. You reach down to pet your dog or pick up the newspaper, which uses your lower back and hamstrings. You open the cupboard and reach for a coffee mug on the shelf. These are all the basic movements in life. When you can no longer do these things, its a downhill progression to your existence. As healthy people, we take this for granted. But as people who know what this feels like to have these simple things taken away, it is devastating.
Now let’s crank up the quality of life part of our world. Now you pick up your 40 pound toddler and play. You grab the groceries from the floor and take them to the counter. You twist under the sink to check a leak. Maybe you help someone move that refrigerator or sofa down the stairs. You don’t really want to fail or get injured doing any of these things.
So here are the functional movements to life. If you don’t do anything else, at least do these.
- Sit-ups – Most movements in real life involve engagement of hip flexors too. The fitness community went away from sit-ups long ago because they didn’t think it isolates your six-pack abs as much. But realistically, hip flexors play a huge role in life and your core abdominals assist in the process. Maybe you also do leg raises of some sort as well. But we shouldn’t neglect sit-ups anymore. Hernias and lots of back issues arise from having weak abdominals.
- Squats – Simplistically, this may mean sitting on a chair and then standing up. We all should be able to do this. Honestly, if you can no longer get off the toilet on your own, life won’t be very good for you. Better yet, put some weight on your shoulders. When men and women can squat 1 to 3 times their bodyweight, there is nothing in life that can get in their way. Keep the flexibility there too. Old school “Starting Strength” people live off of flawed science that’s all been debunked. The “don’t let your knees go past your toes” idea is long gone. If you look at pictures of people from developing countries, they do everything in a deep squat from cooking, cleaning, to going to the bathroom. Today, Olympic weightlifters lift huge weights after first dropping to Ass-To-Ground squats with knees far past their toes. Keep your ability to move by including deeper variations of squats. So, either keep it simple and use the chair. Or find more information on variations. You can’t ever get bored with squats.
- Deadlifts – Again, there are many varieties of this lift. My latest infatuation has been doing trap bar deadlifts. It is a huge mass builder and you can vary your knee bend and back tilt to the nth degree. But you can do forward folds and rises (good mornings) just as easily with wonderful results. You can grab jugs of water or maybe a sandbag. There is no excuse for not doing deadlifts. Learn good form. Gain some grip strength. It will pay off greatly in your quality of life.
- Overhead Press – Ever seen a baby laugh when Daddy lifts them overhead. They smile and squeal with joy. Lifting overhead has so many benefits. Think if you were pushing a lawnmower or a friend’s car down the driveway. Think of putting that 5 pound bag of sugar on a shelf. Again, this can be as simple as pressing a jar of peanut butter overhead. Or it can be doing handstand pushups. The varieties of this movement are endless. They work not only shoulder strength, but torso, core, hip, and leg strength. There is also the element of balance.
- Ambulation – There is so much written about walking and running. When I was into ultra-marathon running, I didn’t even think twice about being able to run to work, or even from one city to another. If you read in historical texts and even the Bible, people walked all over the place. Research says that the speed at which you walk has a direct correlation with longevity of life. The slower you walk means your end is near. Stride length also has a relationship with life. If you can imagine someone stricken with Parkinson’s Disease, you can see how unhealthy it is to be restricted in balance and muscle lengthening with shortened steps. This is something that I’ve come back to myself. An injury 3 years ago took running away from me. But now that I feel healed, I will be back on the trails enjoying runs through nature again. We should all find more time to exercise our heart, balance, muscles, and enjoyment of the outdoors.
Like I said, if you don’t do anything else in life, at least do these 5 things. Find time to explore this and grow. If you lose any one of these functional movements, you’ll start to lose your ability to live.