Thursday, July 10, 2008

Functions (Part 3)

I was raised as a functionalist, by a functionalist. Not a fitness functionalist, but by a man with a sense of cause and effect. He could solve problems...logically, efficiently, and methodically. And he taught my brothers and me to do the same. He taught us math not from a book or blackboard, but with a carpenter's tape measure and roofer's square. We learned problem-solving using livable math AND hand tools. When it came to school math, we understood...not by memory but by logic.

Take an algebra problem: (y=2x - 7) and (x= 4y) could be ancient hieroglyphics to many people. However, to a math nerd who understands "functions," these are simple algebraic or graphical representations of input versus output, or cause and effect. For each numerical value of x, there is a corresponding value for y...and vice-versa. And for both the above equations together, there is one solution. So for those goofy word problems that begin, "A farmer has three daughters. Sarah is twice as old as Mary. And Susan is 2 years younger than Betsy. If Betsy..." the solver must find the proper algebraic equations (and solution) to answer correctly. Math nerds who comprehend the beautiful relationship between geometry, trigonometry, algebra, and calculus can solve more problems...including the ones about two trains, one leaving from LA and one from NY... It turns arithmetic into practical problem solving.

Change gears: look at a handyman's toolbox. There are different tools for different jobs and tasks. Contrary to the late-night infomercial, there is no one tool capable of doing it all. The wrench, hammer, screwdriver, and bubble level each serve a purpose. As as long as the handyman knows how to use them all, having more tools equates to more abilities, which further equates to more solutions to more problems! With more tools, the handyman becomes more functional! (I think you see where this is going...)

Much like the mathematician and the handyman, we all need problem-solving abilities. And the more "tools" we have, the more obstacles we can overcome! The physical tools we need include:
  • Anaerobic Capacity
  • Aerobic Endurance
  • Coordination and Agility
  • Strength and Stamina
  • Flexibility
  • Power
  • Speed
This list identifies some of the components of physical fitness. Within the various components, there are exercises and drills to test (and then increase) one's abilities. FUNCTIONAL and PRACTICAL fitness programs address each and every one of these components....most traditional systems do NOT.

Bodybuilders (and that includes people who do bodybuilding-style weight training, AKA "chest and bi's day") ignore anaerobics, speed, power, stamina, coordination, and agility exercises. This is because those aspects do NOT build muscle size. And generally aerobics are only included to cut fat and make the bodybuilder more "cut." Slow and isolated weight-lifting patterns DO build muscle and overall strength, but at the cost of power, endurance, and coordination. The bodybuilder is a specialist in his field.

Marathoners and triathletes generally have poor anaerobic capacity, strength, and power. They are excellent at aerobic endurance, but tend to forget about some of the other more practical aspects of fitness. As long as all the tests in life only make endurance demands, the marathoner will succeed. We can all conjure up a typical body image for an elite marathoner or triathlete: skinny like a toothpick. Muscle mass might hurt endurance sport athletes in the arena of competition, but that skinny frame and lack of powerful muscle affects them daily.

The above two characters (the bodybuilder and the endurance athlete) are polar extremes. They both excel in their isolated competitions, but lack a well-rounded sense of functionalism. Life, being a test of randomized tasks, must be tackled by those with fully-integrated fitness. The bodybuilder has the hammer. The endurance athlete has the screwdriver. So when life calls for the turning a of screw, the marathoner succeeds while the body builder fails! And when the nail needs pounding, the triathlete stumbles. With that being said, the specialist will kick your butt if the challenge happens to be within their strong suit.

I respect the professional manner in which specialists perform at individual sport, but LIFE does not dish out challenges in the same manner a race or competition judge does. We must fit as many tools into our toolbox as possible to stand ready to accept any task life give us. We must be able to carry groceries, push a stroller, rake leaves, push a stalled car, climb stairs, move furniture, shovel snow, out run a loose dog, jump a fence, swim to shore, carry a fallen comrade, or fight to the death with our assailant.

If you find yourself at one of these polar ends as a specialist does, you take a serious gamble with life. You are banking on the dice rolling in your favor. However, if you are truly a well-rounded functionalist with a broad base of fitness, you stand prepared for any of the challenges that lie ahead. The jack-of-all-trades handyman might not fix the drippy faucet as quickly or as textbook as the union plumber, but can your plumber also re-wire the ceiling fan, hang the closet door, and grout the bathroom tile? Do the math. I think not.

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