Functional Training: Where the Rubber Hits the Road
With traditional workouts the results of our efforts are easy to measure. A bodybuilder can throw a tape measure around his bicep; a runner can track time and distance; we can step on a scale or tell if our clothes are fitting differently. But with functional training we’re using an entirely different criteria to judge whether our workouts have been effective. It’s all about how our body reacts and deals with real-life stresses.
Those stresses can cover a wide range depending on the individual. For some it may be as simple as being able to sit or stand for long periods and remain pain-free. For the “weekend warrior” it means no aches and pains on Monday morning. The whole idea behind functional training it to have your body prepared for whatever twists and turns life throws at you…whether that’s chasing after your kids or surviving a few hours of manual labor.
In recent years the workouts my wife and I do have shifted to include more and more functional training. She begins each morning with a long walk with her dog, then follows that up with a trip to the Club in the afternoon. She loves taking classes and raves about the great workouts she gets in Core Fusion and Power Sculpt. Lately I’ve been getting most of my exercise at the track, running, doing sprint drills, and finishing up with a few calisthenics.
Recently we put our training programs to the test during a family vacation to British Columbia. Our two sons, both in their early 20s and very active, wanted to do some day hiking. I was in charge of planning our excursions, and my goal was to find some treks that would be challenging enough to keep the kids interested but not so tough that mom and dad would be holding them back. After doing a substantial amount of web surfing I came up with a pair of outings that I thought would fit those parameters.
The first took us up a very steep canyon to a beautiful backcountry waterfall. The High Falls Creek Trail gained over 2000 feet of elevation, most of it in the first mile. Many sections had chains and cables attached to the rocks so you could pull your way up and over the rocky outcroppings. You could venture off the trail a few feet and be treated to some vertigo-inducing drop-offs with nothing for hundreds of feet below you. There were also views of the Squamish River below us and snow-capped peaks around us, but the real payoff was the falls. It started with a long cascade that tumbled down a narrow slot canyon before roaring over the edge and crashing down into the main canyon far below.
Rather than back-tracking back down the cliffs we opted to continue up the canyon for several more miles. Eventually we reached a logging road that switchbacked down the mountain and returned us to our car. The round-trip added up to about eight miles of hiking, and everyone survived this first excursion with no complaints of being tired or sore. Score one for functional training! That gave me confidence that we were going to be able to handle the excursion I had planned for later in the week.
Our second hike was slated to be on the Juan de Fuca Trail which runs parallel to the Pacific Coast where the mountains meet the sea. Although there was no net elevation gain, it consisted of a relentless chain of uphills and downhills as you make your way through the many canyons that drain this section of forest. The section I chose is usually done as an overnight backpacking trip, but I figured that with light packs and an early start we would be able to navigate it’s 16 miles in a day without too much trouble.
Although the forecast called for cloudy skies, our hike began with a steady light rain falling. Over the past few days we had heard a lot of complaints about how much rain had fallen in June and how little sunshine southern BC had received this spring, but this was the first real evidence of it that we had seen. We all had waterproof jackets so we decided to trust the forecast and continue on as planned. It wasn’t cold so a little bit of rain wasn’t going to slow us down!
The scenery was beautiful…through forest, over small streams and log bridges, down onto deserted beaches, back into the woods, over bigger creeks and suspension bridges, down to tide pools, the views were always changing. And as we’d hoped the weather gradually improved and the rain ended. But the one thing that didn’t change and never improved was the mud…the trail was a mess! With all the June rains and the protection of the forest canopy above the trail never had a chance to dry out.
Depending on the topography some sections were in decent shape, and early on a lot of the bad sections had elevated boardwalks going over them. But as we got further away from the trailhead the boardwalks disappeared, the ascents and descents got steeper, and the mud got deeper. Our pace slowed. Every kilometer we’d pass a trail marker and in some of the really bad sections it would take us close to 30 minutes to navigate one of these 1000 meter sections. The family was not happy and ready to mutiny. But we had no options…there was no place to bail out and we’d left the car at the other end of the trail. So forward we pressed.
Many hours later our tired, muddy clan finally reached the parking lot where our car awaited us. The last several miles had been rough…nobody was talking or paying attention to the scenery. We were all in “get me out of this hell-hole” mode. Although this is one of Vancouver Islands most popular hiking trails, in 16 miles we had passed only one other couple. I guess everyone else had gotten the memo about the trail conditions!
I would like to say that due to our workout regimens we emerged from this ordeal unscathed–but that would be a lie. The next day we all had sore calves–and any trip down a set of stairs or steps was sure to produce a chorus of “ouch, ow, ow, ouch, ow, ouch”. But given the rigours that we’d put ourselves through on that trail, I think we acquitted ourselves pretty darn well. The soreness only lasted a few days, and I’m sure in another week or two my family will be speaking to me again!
By Tony Giovannoni