“Functional conditioning” is THE buzzword in the fitness industry right now, though, like most ideas, it isn’t exactly new, just newly repackaged and marketed. It seems that the billion dollars worth of exercise machines filling fitness centers across the country really don’t do all that much for our health. Machines (as any fourth grader who has studied basic physics can tell you) do work for you, making your workout easier and, therefore, less of an actual workout. Add in the potential for real injury even from using the machines correctly, and you’ve got a bunch of expensive, gleaming, and fairly useless pieces of equipment. Oh sure, you might be able to do 45 minutes on the stair machine, but can you actually climb that many stairs in real life? Go ahead and try — I did, and (once I stopped wheezing in agony) that was when I stopped using the stair machine and started running stairs and hills instead. ‘Cause I actually NEED to climb stairs in my life, and a stair machine doesn’t do a thing to prepare you for the 152 steps up the Highland Park Watertower with a two-year old in a sling.
So, how do we wean ourselves off of exercise machines and into real, functional fitness — the kind of fitness that leaves us able to run without gasping, jump without injury, slip on the Minnesota ice without falling or at least without breaking? Get the heck out of the typical fitness center and either a) find a personal trainer who uses free weights, resistance bands, medicine balls, or heavy stones and tree limbs or b) start taking a comprehensive, well-taught martial art.
I will admit that there are aspects of Kuk Sool that do NOT (in my mind at least) fall under the banner of “functional.” God help me if I ever actually NEED to use a spear, for instance. But I need all the help with balance that I can get, and I get plenty of practice with that when I do forms. The cardiovascular conditioning that comes with a 1000 kick workout translates into running with kites, chasing a dog, and racing my kids on their bikes. Real-life flexibility? After 6 months of Kuk Sool, I found I could prop my foot up on the HIGH ledge in the shower when I shave. Do I adore my well-muscled shoulders, arms, and back? Oh yeah, baby. And I love them all the more for the way they can haul a kid, lift the groceries, pull me up on the jungle gym, dig a garden, and climb a tree.
Get out of the gym. Get off the elliptical trainer. Don’t brag to me about how much you can lift on the Seated Leg Press. Come on over to the dojang and train for real flexibilty, balance, and strength. Then enjoy a body that functions as well as it looks.