Functional Range Conditioning blog header
This two-day seminar was led by Dr Andreo Spina, assisted by his instructors Dewey Nielsen, Hunter Cook and Bryan Marugg.

In Andreo's words, FRC is "a system of training which applies scientific methods to the acquisition and maintenance of:
1. Functional mobility
2. Articular resilience
3. Articular health & longevity"

Functional mobility is defined as "the ability to actively achieve a range of motion". This differentiates it from flexibility which is "useless range", or a range of motion that one has no control over.

The FRC seminar couldn't come at a better time: I've been doing a lot of reading recently on training for health (as opposed to training for performance) driven mostly by my personal interests, but also because most of my clients just want to live happy, healthy lives. They couldn't care less about lifting the world in the gym. So finding a system that can "make your shit work nice" was just what I needed.

Below are the 4 main lessons I took away from this great weekend of learning.

 

Lesson 1: The body is much more complex than we think

Andreo made it clear that our current understanding of physiology and the lines we draw between muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and other connective tissue are at best, arbitrary. They work great on corpses where we can decide to cut out this part or that part based on how it looks. But that doesn't work on living bodies. Each connective tissue blends seamlessly into the next, displaying a continuous process rather than clear-cut separations between elements. All tissues are interconnected. In Andreo's words, it's just "a whole bunch of stuff".

On a neurological level, things get even more complex. We have more than 100 billions neurons interacting with each other at any given instant, in turn controlling trillions of muscle cells, each made of around a hundred thousand sarcomeres (basic contractile unit). 

And if you think that you're reinforcing the same muscle patterns when you practice a given movement, you're dead wrong. Let's take the squat for example. If you were to check for muscle activation on a set, each repetition would give you a different result as to what muscle fires first, what part of that muscle fires more intensely than the others, for how long, etc...

In short, there's a lot of things going on and we're still very far from understanding exactly how everything works and interacts. Trying to break it down into simple biomechanics is a failed attempt at representing the complexity of human movement.

 
 
bird in water
Movement ≠ Mathematics
 
 
For those reasons, FRC focuses on working each joint individually. If we can provide the best "hardware" to our nervous system, it will take care of the rest. It has evolved over millions of years into what it is today and trying to influence it directly is playing way above our pay grade because of how little we actually understand about it.

Focus on the joints and just "make your shit work nice".

 

Lesson 2: Force is the language of cells

We know that to make a muscle grow, we need to impose progressively heavier loads on it while remaining below the load bearing capacity of that muscle. What Spina exposed during his lectures was that this is true for ALL connective tissues. Tendons, ligaments, bones, etc. Mechanical stimuli is a potent biological regulator that leads to responses such as cell growth, cell differentiation or even programmed cell death.

So when we stop applying force to a cell or a give area of our body, our system adapts by discarding the receptors in that area to avoid wasting energy on inactive cells. That's why astronauts' bones get weaker (no gravity to fight against), why bones density increases with weight training and why your leg in a cast just goes to waste after a while.

If we want to maintain healthy living joints/muscles/tissues/cells, we need to apply force to them daily. In other words, "use it or lose it".

 

Lesson 3: Mobility training isn't sexy

As cool as Hunter makes it look on instagram, mobility training is NOT fun. What it takes to acquire the necessary ROM, strength and control to perform such tricks will scare away even the most dedicated gym goers. It requires focus, intensity and above all else an ability to tolerate discomfort and cramping during the specific exercises.

Mobility training might not be as "fun" as doing squats, pull ups or other such exercises. But the FRC system is based on the very principles that are used to get you strong in the gym. Progressive overload through specific exercises will lead to increased usable range of motion in your joint while increasing their health and longevity. All you need is consistent work over long periods of time.

 

Lesson 4: It's not only for elite athletes

Through it's broad and inclusive principles, this system can be applied to all populations, regardless of training and/or conditioning levels. By taking the appropriate steps and finding the correct progressions for each individual, it's a safe way to improve joint health and function, whether you are an NFL lineman or an office worker.
 
Spina CARs
Dr Spina demonstrating controlled articular rotations (CARs)
 
Despite being hard and demanding, mobility training can make your life better for many years to come.

If I can reduce my risk of injuries and live the rest of my life pain-free, I'm willing to put in the work. Are you?

If you're interested in learning more about mobility training and how to apply it to your own body, leave a comment or contact me for a free consultation today!

Sean is a personal trainer and strength coach who loves teaching beginners how to safely get stronger in the gym. He lives in Vancouver BC with his wife Lynne, and their children. Sean has a keen eye for good movement and encourages a positive lifestyle to support good training results.

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