Human movement can be reduced to three basic categories: pushing, pulling, and hip extension (squatting, jumping, running, and even riding a bike). Functional fitness begins with learning good form for this essential repertoire and then gradually adding weight and difficulty to build stability and strength. Doing these exercises correctly with five pounds, in other words, is better than doing them poorly with 100. In the words of Gray Cook, one of the founding fathers of functional training, "Don't add strength to dysfunction."
The most surprising functional-training advance of the past 15 years is the understanding that knee pain nearly always begins with weak hips – specifically, the stabilizer muscles aligning the upper leg, from the hip down into the knee. Walking lunges, a kind of exaggerated striding motion, build solid leg joints for everything from the deep knee bends of powder skiing to walking up a flight of stairs. For the walking lunge, simply take one big step forward, plant your foot, and bend your forward knee 90 degrees while bringing the rear knee low enough to almost touch the floor. Repeat with the other foot.
- Plant your lead foot far enough forward that, as you lower into each lunge, your shin bone remains nearly perpendicular to the floor and the kneecap never extends over your foot.
- Do not rock back and forth with your upper body. Instead, remain perfectly upright with good posture, using abdominal muscles to keep your spine neutral.
Credit: Photograph by Terrence Darvin
- Weighted lunge: Add weight to each hand at your side while lunging.