People in the fitness industry often describe functional training as multiplanar, 3-dimensional, integrated movement training. I couldn't agree more, but that definition is far from complete. Training that is truly functional must also help people to meet the needs of their everyday lives. To fully train clients for function, fitness professionals must take a more holistic approach during their training sessions. This means they must help clients meet not only their physical needs, but their emotional and mental needs as well.
To set the stage for understanding how you can start functionally training the whole person during your personal training sessions, let’s start by taking a look at human needs at the emotional level.
The Emotional Human Being
Emotions convey information, drive human survival instincts, and are the result of perceived internal or external stimuli (Cushnir, 2008). The sight of a car speeding toward you may cause you to jump out of the way, but what came first was the fear that the car was going to hit you. Your action of jumping simply came from the fear you felt. Emotions also form a vital bridge between self-identity and self-expression. They help us figure out both who we are and how best to conduct our lives (Cushnir, 2008).
Given the pivotal role that emotions play, we as fitness professionals need to take another look at how we train the emotional human being, especially for clients who need to change their emotionally-driven behaviors to reach their goals.
Research has shown that the neural connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems are stronger than the connections from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems. This means that emotions can “flood” consciousness (and therefore be a strong motivator), but conscious control over emotions is weak (LeDoux, 1996). For example, when a doctor tells his patient she is overweight and needs to get in shape, there is no real emotional drive behind that information for the patient. However, if the doctor knows the patient is a new grandparent and tells her that her poor fitness could interfere with spending quality time with her grandchildren, the patient’s emotional reaction could drive her to think about, and subsequently make, a change.
As fitness professionals, it is our responsibility to guide our clients toward positive change by giving them an experience that is emotionally charged enough to make them consciously think about what they need to do differently. Once emotions are triggered, they can become powerful motivators for future behavior…they chart the course of moment-to-moment action and set the sails toward long-term achievement (LeDoux, 1996).
Knowing the motivating influence of emotions, and considering the sorry state of fitness and staggering obesity rates worldwide, it is clear that the idea of exercise alone is not emotionally charged enough to motivate people to move. If we are really going to train someone to meet the functional needs of everyday life, we need to also know what drives them, what they like, and how they believe exercise can be a positive experience.
We open the gates for a potential long-term behavior change when we create a positive environment that connects with our clients on an emotional level. This heightens our clients’ perception of importance and their desire to experience that feeling again.
- Emotions drive needs, behaviors, and actions.
- Positive emotions foster adherence through chemical responses in brain.
- Create a positive environment.
- Listen to the client’s needs, experiences, history, likes/dislikes.
- Build on their “why” for exercise.
- Coach with empathy, praise/encouragement.
- Foster self-efficacy (building a belief in self).
The Mental Human Being
Have you ever driven your car somewhere familiar and realized after you got there, that you had no memory of the actual journey? This interesting phenomenon happens when the brain is completing an action it already consciously knows how to do, allowing thoughts to wander to other things. You are no longer present in what you are doing physically, and you mentally disengage.
When we are no longer have to consciously think of what we are doing, boredom can set in, and we lose the emotional connection to our actions. When we exercise – particularly if the exercise requires complex motor movement, however – we’re also exercising the areas of the brain involved in the full suite of cognitive functions (Ratey, 2008).
Although complex movements are required to facilitate cognitive action for the task at hand, complex movements are defined and relative to the very person in front of us. When training meets the individual level of fitness and movement skill of our client, it becomes functional and allows us to connect cognitively.
Complex movements are derived from known movements. During training sessions, we can build on known movements to cognitively enrich the training environment and allow us to help our clients to “think” during their workout. It is this stimulus that helps them to develop a new perception of the movement, which leads to an emotional response. Ideally, when we pick the right stimulus based on what they told us they liked, they will want to complete additional similar movements to reinforce that response.
We must build upon known movements for two reasons.
First, we need to give clients movements that trigger an unrecognizable cognitive stimulus in order to keep them engaged.
Motivation seeks engagement, and only engagement can produce mastery (Pink, 2009). Movements that are engaging ignite the higher centers of our brain, and if the movements are at the right level and we can successfully complete them while still feeling challenged, the reward centers of our brain are ignited. When we are rewarded, our dopamine levels spike and we feel satisfied. As human beings we are wired to seek satisfaction constantly. Recognizing a challenge, and being engaged in an action that stimulated our reward centers only encourages us to do it again. And as Daniel Pink said so well, “Mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.” To facilitate mastery, we must provide a cognitive stimulus just above the current level of achievement.
Second, we need to apply the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID) principle.
The SAID principle teaches us that variability of input leads to fluctuation of execution, which is necessary to adaptation (Carey, 2012). This requires the fitness professional to recognize that we are responsible for providing input that is variable. When the environment is constantly changing we must constantly adapt, not only physically, but mentally.
Unpredictability not only keeps us engaged, but also fosters a need to adapt.
- When we adapt, we learn.
- When we learn, we progress.
- When we progress, we feel successful.
- When we are successful, we are satisfied.
- When we are satisfied, we REPEAT the actions that got us there.
Here is where we ask… is our training and its environment mentally stimulating?
- Brain needs engaging stimulus to learn/adapt/be motivated.
- Stimulus to challenge but not to discourage for self-mastery and individual evolution.
- Stimuli elicit brain chemistry response enhancing future behaviors
- Engage the client./Don’t watch.
- Play games/activities with known movements.
- Facilitate movement at their capacity, linking thought with movement.
- Change direction/distance/height of movements.
- ASK, don’t tell! Questions to build upon what is challenging to them.
The Physical Human Being
All of our physical structures imply relationships. All of them! The very form of the body follows an integrated function. It is clearly stronger, more efficient, more stable, and more mobile as a whole rather than as the sum of its parts (Dalcourt, 2007).
For many years science studied human cadavers – lifeless, dehydrated, and lying supine on a table – in order to understand movement. This approach, of course, neglected the fact that gravity and ground force reaction are essential components in human “function.” Researchers also looked to cadavers to understand how each individual muscle pulled on each individual bone, which negated the importance of the many layers of tissue on top of the muscles as well as what was connecting the muscles to the bones. In recent decades, exercise science has begun to show the importance of the connective tissue as a system in the body, and what that means for functional training.
Connective tissue and fascia forms a whole-body, continuous three-dimensional matrix of structural support around our organs, muscles, joints, bones, and nerve fibers. This multi-directional, multi-dimensional fascial arrangement also allows us to move in many directions (Myers, 2009). The intricate ties between the connective tissue and the nervous system are even more fascinating. The connective tissue has ten times more proprioceptors than muscle, and the fascial matrix helps us react to our environment faster than the conscious mind can respond (Price, 2012).
The important takeaway here is that we learn from our previous research, and not make the same mistake by focusing in on just the connective tissue. By understanding what the connective tissue does, it suggests that relationships between all of the systems of the body are integral in movement.
The human structure is designed to receive randomized stress through the environment in which we live (Duhon, 2011). As discussed previously, we need randomized movements to stay engaged mentally. When we are engaged, we are entertained. And if it’s at the right level of challenge, our ability to foster positive emotions about the movements is enhanced. When all of these factors occur simultaneously, adherence is second nature. When we repeat randomized movement consistently, all the systems of the body are required to adapt, and if programmed with the right acute variables…a goal is achieved!
- Train in a way that enhances all systems both in structure and function.
- Train in a way that engages all systems to respond to stress.
- Train movements that tie physical needs to mental and emotional needs for adherence.
- Select movements that are specific to the individual's level of fitness and goals, designed to enhance their level of daily readiness & match “how” they want to move.
- Introduce vector variability.
- Tweak the acute variables for adaptability.
- Triangulate movement for randomized stress.
- Use heart rate monitors to assess stress response to chosen exercises.
Watch this video for more insight into engaging a personal training client at all levels:
Functional: The way in which something is designed to operate.
The human body is designed to operate against the myriad of stressors placed upon it. True function occurs when we give the body what it needs to be stimulated, engaged, satisfied, and adaptive. Recognizing the relationships between the physical systems of the human being, we see the importance of training the human body randomly and periodically. But in order for randomized movement to occur repetitively, we must connect both mentally and emotionally to each person to build positive associations with movement.
Although we may know intellectually that we need to move to survive, it isn’t until we want to move that we will actually do it. Authentic functional training enhances how we operate by helping us understand why we would want to operate at all.
- Carey, A. (March, 2012) Exposure Training: What’s Your Exposure? Retrieved from http://www.ptonthenet.com/blog/the-inner-unit/exposure-training-399
- Cushnir, R. (2008). The One Thing Holding You Back: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Connection. New York, NY. Harper-Collins Publishers.
- Dalcourt, M. (October, 2007). Training Laws: The Design of Human Form. Retrieved from http://www.ptonthenet.com/articleprint.aspx?ArticleID=2923
- Duhon, J. (August, 2011). Triangulation: Adding Another Dimension to Variable Movement Training. Retrieved from http://www.ptonthenet.com/articleprinst.aspx?ArticleID=3516
- Hill, D. Emotionomics (2nd ed.). (2010). Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page Limited.
- LeDoux, J. (1996). The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks.
- Myers, T. (2009). Anatomy Trains. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone.
- Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books
- Price, D. (April, 2012). Whole Body Strength Training Using Myofascial Lines, IDEA Fitness Journal, 9 (4), 24-30.
- Quelch, Fraser. (April 22nd, 2011). A Need for Change in the Fitness Industry. Audio Recording. Retrieved from http://www.ptonthenet.com/audio-interviews/fraser-quelch-need-for-change-in-fitness-industry-199
- Ratey, J. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. New York, NY. Little, Brown and Company
- Carter, R. (1998). Mapping the Mind. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press
- Daane, M. (August, 2011). Movement Training and Emotion. Retrieved from http://www.ptonthenet.com/articleprint.aspx?AricleID=3344
- Dalcourt, M. (April, 2006). Isolation to Integration Training? Part 1. Retrieved from http://www.ptonthenet.com/articleprint.aspx?ArticleID=2613
- Dalcourt, M. (Dec, 2006). Isolation to Integration Training? Part 2. Retrieved from http://www.ptonthenet.com/articleprint.aspx?ArticleID=2780