Monday, June 13, 2011

Everything Matters -- The Importance of Small, Functional Fitness

A couple of days have gone by and with it plenty of time to ponder the moment of fail during my Kung Fu black sash test.

There might be some who will say I'm over-analyzing with the blog post I'm about to present, but I do not think that I am.  There are some important lessons, details, and revelations in the minutia and I hope that case will be made as I present my thoughts in the words and photos that follow.

Basically I failed my black sash test because I couldn't dress myself.  This may seem like a trivial reason to "fail" after being able to handle apparently tougher physical matters, but I have come to believe that it may not be so trivial after all.

For a while now, I've been on the track of considering what basic functional everyday fitness means to our lives.  I've written about this a couple times on this blog, and most recently as I've been posting the little beginner routines I've found and have been using as warm-up routines. (See "The Joy of Warming Up")

Here I would be mastering these awesome Kung Fu forms and stances and various other Kung Fu physical feats, but little functional fails in my daily life would make me sit back and think.  For example, after kung fu class I would come home in the evening and when I got ready for bed, I would notice that I had trouble crossing my arms and lifting and pulling my t-shirt off over my head.  I was lacking in flexibility and even the simple strength to accomplish this basic task of undressing without some effort and struggle.  I would think that maybe I should rep that, or find some exercise that would develop that needed motion.

Another time I would notice a "fail" would be when trying to put on a pair of shorts.  I would have trouble balancing on one leg and lifting the other leg to insert in the leg hole of the garment.  Another fundamental physical task, needed by us all, to maintain our daily lives.  Having the strength, coordination and balance to dress and undress ourselves effortlessly should be a kind of functional fitness available and enjoyed by us all.  Simple and obvious, right?

Dressing One's Self is Important
When my son was in kindergarten, I was still assisting him getting dressed in the morning.  The "master teacher" at his school told me in a conversation that it was important for me to let him struggle with dressing himself because he would be developing strength in his fingers and arms and motor coordination skills.

And at the other end of the spectrum, sometimes the elderly lose the strength and balance and flexibility they once had that made getting dressed so easy at one time in their lives.  They often end up needing assistance getting dressed.

And the fact that getting dressed and undressed requires effort, coordination, flexibility and strength is evident when there are really important people, like Kings, who end up having a valet or butler to assist him in getting dressed.

In light of these reflections,  this weak link that manifested itself in my failure to "dress myself" in my sparring gear within the required time is not trivial, nor meaningless in a quest to live a better life by freer and more effortless movement.

I'm going to examine one of my functional weaknesses in this blog post (even though there are a number of other ones as well).  This is one of my main ones, however, and I think this has been giving me trouble when I gear up quickly for sparring.

Weak Link:  Hip Flexors
I had three main areas of concern going into my black sash test (besides stamina and endurance).

  1. Worried about stopping during the bicycle crunches during the conditioning segment
  2. Worried about losing balance when doing crane stance
  3. Worried about taking too much time to put my sparring crotch protection piece on
There is actually something all three of these tasks have in common, and another thing two of the tasks have in common.  All three of these physical tasks involve the hip flexors, and two of them involve balancing weight on one leg while using the hip flexors of the other leg.

1. Bicycle Crunches

It wasn't my abs that failed on these, they were pretty strong.  It was the hip flexors.  Doing these bicycle crunches are great for helping strengthen them through reps.  Being overweight meant that I was working with a high level of resistance.  High resistance, lower reps.  That's why the fail. These bicycle crunches came at the end of 3 rounds of conditioning exercises and it was tough.  I improved so much, but maybe not enough to last the whole amount of time.  I didn't know during the testing period whether I would get the best results from doing them every day, or three times a week.  To me, they were like weight training, and they say to do weight training 3x a week, but maybe that was the wrong approach and I would have made faster gains if I had done them every day.

  2. Crane Stance

Right here you see that in crane stance the hip flexor is raising one leg while remaining standing on the other bent leg.

Being overweight means that I need much stronger hip flexors to lift my leg.  It doesn't mean I can't do it, but it does mean that the strength to do it needs to be developed.  It took me a long time to be able to raise my leg this high.  In the first couple of years my foot was just about an inch off the ground.

That is area number one of the test where I could have had a "fail."  During our cycle training, if someone put their foot on the floor while we were doing this, we had to start at the beginning of the stance routine again.  I felt bad in the first few weeks of our training because I was one of the people who caused us to begin again a few times.  But in the later weeks of training I improved on this greatly.

3. Stepping into the sparring gear crotch piece.
There were two leg holes here.  In order to get this on it was necessary to use the hip flexors, while standing balanced on one leg and insert the foot into the hole.  The elastic bands made it tricky, especially if the foot got caught on one of them.  The openings look big enough for the feet, but they were slightly smaller, making it necessary to point the toe to get the foot through the leg hole.

I had considered  sitting down to put this and my sparring shoes on, but there are other problems with my being able to get up off the floor quickly.  I ascertained that I was losing less time doing it standing by going through the whole process of sitting on the floor and getting up from the floor (Maybe I'll do a whole post on the functional daily fitness ability of being able to spring up from the floor easily and well.)

Here we go.

This ain't gonna' be that easy!

Ugh!  Huff !  Puff!  Costing me precious seconds!  Costing me my black sash!!

First on my Kung Fu Fitness To-Do List -- Strengthen those Hip Flexors!!
Those of you who have been reading along on my blog know I was already on to these weak links in my physical conditioning.  I was already on the road to correcting the hip flexor issue because that warm-up routine I wrote about from Project Elastic Steel includes exercises for those hip flexors.

In fact, it's possible that because I was doing the Project Elastic Steel routine along with my cycle training in the last few weeks, I was improved enough to succeed on the crane stance and the bicycle crunches during my test.

The realization of these little weak links came a little late in the game while I was training.  Maybe I did too little too late for this test, but one of the great gains I made by putting myself to the test of this very tough cycle training is that I discovered things about myself and I'm smarter now and know exactly what I need to do and can do to improve.

I hope I've convinced you that this was not an unimportant or trivial aspect of the test.  I still think it's a shame that it cost me so much because I did so well in other areas.  I was, after all, capable of doing it, at least to the minimum required.  Nevertheless, it is all good to know!


Cynicgirl said...

Interesting post, and I see your point with the response from my comment yesterday.

Sometimes you have to look at the details in order to see the big picture.

glrogers11 said...

Nice article! I have been looking into functional fitness as a substitute for weightlifting, which has never worked for me.