Functional Range Conditioning

Last Sunday, I went to a couple seminars at CrossFit Nickel City.  The first seminar was not something I was familiar with, but had definitely heard of: Functional Range Conditioning.  It was led by a local sports therapist who currently works directly as a massage therapist for one of our local professional teams, among having an impressive background in fitness, in general.

He started off explaining what functional range conditioning means and how it started, name dropping Steve Maxwell and Dr. Andreo Spina.  There was a lot of scientific research thrown around and I won’t lie, much of which I didn’t quite take away.  I did, however take away one thing.  Essentially, Dr. Spina is the creator of this idea of Functional Range Conditioning.

In short, Functional Range Conditioning is applying scientific research to mobility, defined as flexibility and strength when it comes to your joints.  As most people know, flexibility is important, but we want to work to increase our end range of motion under control.  An example he used was yogis.  Sure, they can stretch their leg behind their head with assistance of their hands, but what’s their range of motion under control without outside assistance?

Here’s the explanation, as taken from the FRC website, which you can visit in order to see the curve mentioned:

FRC® uses scientific training methods to expand this curve thus capturing control of the outer ranges of motion = IMPROVED MOBILITY. Thus through specific, and safe training methods we are able to ‘capture’ passive ranges of motion and convert them into USABLE, active ranges.

Okay, enough explanation, how do we use this with our fitness routines and why do we want to incorporate it?  Simple: You do it because you want to be active into your 80s and you do it often, ideally on a daily basis.  Just like everything else you do for training, you can’t just try it once and have it be impactful.

We focused on three specific joints during the one-hour seminar: the neck, shoulders, and hips.  Before starting with the first movement, he explained that some pinching and cramping is normal, acute pain is not, but discomfort is something you will experience.  These movements were abbreviated as CARs: controlled articular rotations.  As he told us repeatedly, these are not sexy movements (believe me – J came too, and I did not once think he looked sexy doing these!)  They are slow and controlled – you do them with a purpose, which requires focus.

Starting with the neck, the movement was essentially neck circles clockwise and counterclockwise.  With each repetition, you tried to increase your range of motion (ROM) while every other part of your body was on “lock down”, including your core – tight, but still breathing deeply.  For me, I didn’t have any issues within my neck, though I did experience some pinching when I faced the ceiling on the outside of my ROM.

For the shoulders, same as above as far as locking everything down and maintaining a slow, controlled movement.  You lift your arm straight in front of you, overhead, and bringing it around the body, similar to a backwards stroke.  After a few repetitions, reverse the direction.  I didn’t experience any pinching or cramping during the shoulder rotations, but my arm did extend out to the side at the upper portion of my range.  Below is a decent video demonstrating this movement, which we did about 8 times in each direction, on each arm.

My favorite movement we learned was for the hips, but I’m sure that doesn’t surprise anyone.  My hips have always been my weak point so any help I can get to strengthen and increase my mobility, I’ll take.  This was very difficult for me.  As I lifted my knee up, I was fine, but as I opened my hip to the side to my max ROM, the pinching and cramping started.  Neither leg was better or worse than the other – they both sucked, and going in the opposite direction is very non-intuitive and awkward.  Below is another video, though as he moves his leg backwards, he loses the “lock” in his torso.  From my understanding of class, you only push as far as you can without losing that “lock”.  If you need to turn your body to the side at any point, lessen the range you’re trying to cover.

After learning a couple different variations on the exercises, the seminar concluded.  I could feel a world of difference in my body from the half hour we spent doing these CARs.  I did not walk into the class feeling awful, tight, or sore in any way but that just goes to show that you don’t know you’re feeling “worse” until you experience the “better”.  Trust me when I say that you want to feel that “better” experience.

While I sometimes skimp on warm-ups before short runs and I might not practice the little things as often as I should, I find seminars like this a welcome reminder of why I need to do those little things.  Do I want to be a recreational runner long into my retirement years?  Yes, and then some!  I don’t want to be 50 looking towards a joint replacement, dealing with arthritis, or finding degenerative changes in my spine.  These exercises aren’t for my body right now (though they help), but rather movements to keep my body healthy for life.

If you’re in the Western New York area, I recommend following CrossFit Nickel City on Facebook for future seminars, even if checking out a CrossFit class isn’t your thing.  They occur about once every 4-6 weeks, are free, open to the public, usually on a Sunday afternoon, and led by knowledgeable and experienced sports therapists on a variety of topics from prehab, to recovery, to nutrition, and everything in between.  Plus, you get to meet other people interested in the same things you are.  Does it get any better than that? You would be surprised at what you can learn in just one hour… don’t you owe it to your body?


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Just a 20-something homegrown Buffalo sports loving, distance running, gin drinking kind of girl.

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