Martial Arts Functional Conditioning

“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.

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  1. You ROCK DBN Nicki!! I loved the post and makes me feel a whole lot better about paying £40 per month for my gym membership for the last 20 months and only been 4 times because my kuk sool won workout is more than sufficient! The rest I do in my own time at home or running the streets. Love the image of you hauling yourself and 2 year old up 152 steps! Great stuff.

    PSBN Jon

  2. Love the post! I’m the gym girl who can do 4,000 steps on the eliptical but can’t translate it into real life. When PSBN Steffen had us run 18 laps in the Dojang Monday night and I just about died. This post is very timely. Great reminder of the goal in exercising. It’s not just about getting fit but being able to apply it to real life activities. You go DBN Nicki!

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