Monday, July 21, 2008

Functions - Input versus Output (Part 4)

Maybe you thought to yourself, "Why the seemingly pointless discussion of math last post?" Well step up to the chalkboard for some more number-talk. (To read all the posts in this series, just click on the label "Functionalism" at the end of this post.)

Look at the arbitrary math "function" y=2(x + 5). By the manner in which this particular equation is written, the variable y is dependant upon a value of x. Therefore, x is the input and y is the output. X goes in, undergoes a function (in this case: 5 is added to it, then their sum is doubled), and y comes out. So in this equation, x is known and y is only discovered after one does the math. If we are told x=2, then y=14.

First of all, one must understand how to add and multiply numeric values before an accurate value of y is obtained. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are the first "functions" learned in school...and usually in that order too! More advanced math skills are square roots, exponents, and fractions...but are critical in solving even the most simple of practical real-life geometry problems. By using these simple skills together, one can develop some very complex functions or equations. We've been looking at y=2(x + 5) which uses only two of them: adding and multiplying. Imagine adding a variable and some functions to create something more dimensional: z={[(3x + 2y - 2)2]/4x} + 5 This make look difficult, but it is still simple in that one only needs a few basic skills to determine a value for z (as long as x and y are known, or at least postulated).

So how the hell does this relate to physical fitness?? Input versus Output. Output in the physical realm refers to "what I need to get done" or "the end product." We've already identified some of these fathomable end products in past posts:
• Get that bag of dog food from the trunk, so I can carry it
• Get that box from waist-level, to that shelf overhead
• Get the snow from the driveway, into the lawn
• Get the brown leaves from the lawn, to curbside
• Get up ten flights of stairs
The garbage man from Part One has his own output: get the garbage into the truck. Now if we examine the garbage man as only a careerist and NOT having any other physical needs at home or away from work (which of course is impossible), he needs about three (3) physical skills to accomplish the end product:
1. LIFT the garbage can
2. CARRY it to the truck
3. DUMP it into the hopper
There are other basic physical skills the garbage man does NOT have from a career of lifting, carrying, and dumping trash cans. This may seem to be oversimplifying the issue, but stay with me for a little bit.

With schoolchildren, repetition of multiplication tables and easy math problems gives them the starter skills. 2+3=5, 9x7=63. Their next step is learning how to apply those functions, like figuring out how old the farmer's daughters are if Patsy is 9 years older than Liz, but twice as old as Maggie.... The application requires the student to create an equation (or function). We've all heard (or even said ourselves), "When are we ever going to use this?" when confronted with the old "two trains leaving New York" problem. I argue that understanding the application of simple math skills to seemlessly develop OUR OWN functions to solve problems is the greatest lesson a math student can learn in the classroom.

Maybe you're telling yourself, "But with the math we know the input and not the output. And with functional fitness we know the output but not the input? I'm confused." Turn everything upside-down. Look at the orange equation again. It can be altered just a bit and we have x=(y/2) - 5. Same components, different look. So this time by picking the output we WANT, we can determine the input we NEED to satisfy it.

As physical beings, we must first develop simple physical skills to develop our own fitness functions to solve physical problems in life. We must develop the functions within our bodies to reach those outputs. Without the ability to add, subtract, multiply, or divide, a student will NEVER be able to get a value for y, much less z! Likewise, we must master the skills of lifting, pulling, carrying, grabbing, pushing, thrusting, twisting, holding, climbing, squatting, and bending if we want to be able to perform on demand with desired output.

As functionalists, we strive and prepare ourselves to complete, survive, and win various tasks, efforts, and obstacles...in the most efficient and safe manner possible. And with some brainstorming, we generally know the outputs we WANT: move snow or leaves, walk through the mall, get out of bed, bend over to tie shoelaces, carry bags of groceries, lift heavy boxes, play with their children around the house, yard work, climb stairs, etc. And importantly, do these things with the least effort expended and/or as quickly as one can and/or for as long as possible.

These outputs (requiring movement patterns) have some fundamental similarities. Much like the simplicity of easy math in a seemingly complex equation, one only needs to practice a few physical movements to become more physically functional. One of the keys to becoming more effective and efficient is to make sure you have well-rounded exercise sessions, including each of the necessary movement patterns.