Functional Strength

“The key to functional exercise is integration. It’s about teaching all the muscles to work together rather than isolating them to work independently.” says Greg Roskopf, MS, a biomechanics consultant with a company called Muscle Activation Techniques. (He works with athletes) . hogs

So when thinking about exercise or training we need to make sure that the muscles we work with are ones that match our life styles. And as well as that – when we have a job that places physical demands on our bodies and that job is based in the outdoors , we find that as the seasons change so do the demands on our muscles.


Whereas a month ago I was hauling buckets of warm water to fill frozen stock tanks for animals, now I am dragging hoses to fill the same tanks.  All winter I throw hay down from the loft and break the bale and distribute it amongst the cattle. In the summer I will work at baling the hay and lifting hundreds of whole bales up into the loft.

As the days allow us longer outside our fitness increases and soon I will be working for hours at a time in the gardens, bending my backs a lot more, and walking miles further  than I do in the winter. Many of these changes are slow so we get the chance to train our muscles to work differently again.

But some of these changes in farm exercises come along very quickly.

All bodies will do better with these changes in routine if they have been maintained and tuned – exercised and stretched over the winter in preparation for the jump in spring work. A body is a body,  muscle tissue and fibers and blood and dense bones and we need to take good care of our bodies. Feed the beast as we used to say in the theater.

Eat your chosen diet well.(No problem there).  Eat seasonally – the food will actually match your needs – for instance the vitamins and minerals and roughage in the fresh dark greens we eat in the spring are essential after a dark winter.

Have a simple series of exercises that maintain your core strength. (For me this is the Salute to the Sun – yoga  – and in the winter all the walking that comes with travel – my chosen goal is 13,000 steps a day in the winter).

Drink water (my biggest downfall – as I am a “cup of tea” drinker!).

And don’t forget your mind – give yourself 10 minutes a day of silent brain workout – either in meditation or list making or active thinking. Whatever suits you.

Just like I tell all my workers that part of their work with the animals is to stand and watch the animals for a while – noting changes.  To watch them with your brain in gear. We also need to apply this watching and thinking to our own selves. Check our muscles, check our mind, note changes and work on solutions.

Do this quietly. No need to make a song and dance about it. Just match your solutions to the functions you expect your brain and body to cope with.


I have noted that I am tireder in the mornings this season, a little sadder, less physically co-ordinated, so I have tweaked my diet adding more protein and more greens to every meal and I am using Lent to make other short term changes.  Though I am not a practicing Catholic now,  from childhood I was trained to the 40 day fast by a very strict Catholic mother and, because of her training,  I find 40 days a very manageable time frame. Though of course I don’t fast!! But I will increase my usual physical workout just a little for that same period.

I will be working on the muscles in my back and core and arms so they all DO work together when the gardening starts. These objectives are a very productive way to get me through the March blues. And remember the quote at the top of the page. Functional strength. Integration.

The sun is out and I think we might get ample sunlight today. It will not be overly warm 38F/3C but the winds will not be as strong.

I hope you have a lovely day.

Love celi

63 Comments on “Functional Strength

  1. I just want to say that although I eat well, I just broke my foot because I have osteoporosis. My muscles have lost their strength too from it. I had to add Vitamins D3/K2 and Calcium pills to supplement my diet although I thought I could eat well enough, it wasn’t so. I’m 61 and thought I was fairly fit but I broke my foot by nothing more than lifting up on my tippytoes one day. My blood tests showed my Calcium was fine btw, but obviously it wasn’t so. I struggled with trying to build up my muscles, so your post today reminded me of that so I wanted to share.

    • Oh, Cheryl- I’m so sorry to hear of your break. Something so small as a misstep can be just dreadful and set you back both physically and mentally for weeks. I hope you have loads of lovely people around you to love on you and care for you during your convilecnce!

    • My mother had a similar discovery of osteoporosis. Tripped over the throw rug – didn’t even fall down, caught herself up but broke a vertebra. Not as terrible as it sounded when the doctor announced it to us – but still horribly painful and for something so utterly normal and forgettable as a quick 3 step stumble over a loose rug. Get Checked everyone!

      • One does not need to have osteoporosis to do ‘that rug thing’. I managed nearly six months ago and ended up with a side of horribly painful broken ribs and things like muscle strength and proper stamina are still in the future now. And my bone strength according to tests is OK!!! As I have never enjoyed good balance the Nordic ski walk will be in my future: had not thought of the obvious. Thanks Patrecia! OK: I am actually studying this at various unis at the moment: D3/K2 is a ‘given’ need for most of us even on good diets but oddly the use of Calcium in the form of tablets has come under question just lately from long-term studies: natural is better, pills may make it worse. [Read up yourself!] Yoga and meditation: yes, yes, yes! Great useful post . . .

  2. I always overdue it in the spring… but my body knows that and knows what to expect. It just complains louder every year.

  3. where do you find the time?…As for fitness I have ( well about 2 months ago) just taken up Nordic Walking which I do three days a week. At 77 years of age I have to do things gently even though my mind say' go full pelt'. We have had some lovely sunny days just recently and it is wonderful to be out walking. You might think that this is quite normal but I have always hated walking..its boring I iused to I habe my mp4 player and I have the trees and the birds..its wonderful…..even if I do ache by the time I get back as my athritus in my right knee does not agree with walking and lets me know it….but we plod on!  

    Sent: Friday, March 03, 2017 at 2:56 PM

    • Oh the one with the poles? That sounds like a perfect example of developing functional strength. Walking is great, isn’t it – especially with music in your ears!

  4. I absolutely swear by Yoga! Fortunately I discovered it when I was quite young and have been practicing it most of my life. I’m a big proponent of all sorts of exercise and sports, but feel that Yoga is the absolutely best for keeping the body lithe, limber and strong. My second favorite is swimming, as it is easy on the body. My Blue Heeler, Dolly, and I swim for an hour or more daily in our nearby lake in the summer. It’s a great respite after working the day on the farm. And then i head for the hammock with a glass of wine and a book! Yep, looking forward to those days to come! 🙂

    • I also started young – in fact I was 12 when I went to my first yoga class – it was at our school and lasted a term. In those days we wore leotards to class. In fact I seldom go to yoga classes – I just do what i do every morning before getting into the shower. c

      • Wow! Yoga at 12! You were very fortunate to have started that young! I think I was 18 or 19. Sun Salutations are said to stretch and limber up every muscle in the body, so doing a few sun salutations in the morning gets the body ready for the day!

  5. So first.. the green. my eyes were drawn to the green.. o that color.. and the tree buds.. life just waiting to pop open.. sigh!

    I am currently minus 21 today with a bitter cold chill your bones wind with a overcast day that is so grey that it leaches the color out of everything.

    Second.. what a great post Miss C, its got a lot of depth to it.. I feel like I need to roll and mull some of those words and thoughts this morning while I do my work.. such good advice in many ways..

  6. I have just got back from shopping Woolies end of summer sale …. depressed 😦 I think I need 40 days of disciplined workout on the farmy. Interestingly I listened to a Biokentesist speaking on the radio this week, nay saying the theory that everyone should walk 10,000 steps a day, he says it can be quite counter productive for some people. Ah well, listen to everybody and take what you need I suppose. Laura

    • yes – he is doing the rounds with his theory that fellow – and if course 10,000 is one of those round easy to remember numbers. However if it gets people up and moving then it can’t be a bad thing. And this is what I mean about listening to your own body and not making a song and dance (like he is) – I know what is a good number for me. For me – more is definitely better . – not less. Why did the shopping make you depressed? c

  7. For forty years Yoga has kept me in good shape, mentally and physically . However, I have been doing less and less because of injuries and pain. Now I am starting again very slowly.

  8. I love a cup of tea too. And a good walk. Ha I bet we are all counting our steps now! Have a fab day.

  9. I’ve always felt like nature has provided citrus for us in the winter, for that very reason. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s dreary – citrus is just the thing to perk up the body and the mind, help us feel sunny and cheerful. In CA of course it’s easy to get citrus in the wintertime, in fact even in Northern CA we are surrounded by neighbors with orange and lemon trees, so that’s always the winter project: Eat as much of it as possible, and preserve a lot for the days to come. I always make preserved lemons, enough for the entire year, and squeeze at least three pints of lemon juice for the freezer. The oranges we gorge on daily and make into bittersweet marmalade if there’s enough left over. Having all that vitamin C helps a lot, and the fiber doesn’t hurt (one orange has four grams of fiber, pretty good!). Add in the kale, chard, and spinach from the winter garden – and you’re golden. Though I must confess this particular winter was difficult, with all the rain we got here. I find that getting out for a walk or hike every day really helps my mood, and that wasn’t as easy this winter. Everything has been flooded and the hills have been quite muddy (clay mud – sole and soul sucking). It amazes me how many people do not eat seasonally. Strawberries and blueberries all winter, from Mexico or Chile. Not sustainable, and honestly you need a period of NOT having something to appreciate it when you DO have it. In my opinion. Maybe I’m getting old and curmudgeonly. Or maybe I just like the excuse to eat a pound of cherries in one sitting in June. 🙂
    Cheers, Elizabeth

    • Oh I so agree – how I wish we could grow citrus here – I would have piles of little cubes of lemon juice in the freezer too and the zest! I love everything about lemons. I do but them though – even though they are not local – I long for lemons in the winter. c

    • I do try to eat seasonally, but I also try to preserve fruit so I can enjoy it during winter – is that cheating? For example I go blueberry picking in the summer and preserve ice cream containers full in the freezer, to enjoy in my smoothies all winter. And preserved peaches, apricots and plums… of course you can buy them all tinned for probably much cheaper than it costs me to make them, but I like to know what is going in mine. Not too much sugar preferably. I do like my fruit 🙂

      • That is not cheating – that is PERFECT! Exactly how it should be. especially if you have picked them yourself – sounds idyllic.. If I only ate what I could only actually grow here I would probably have scurvy in the winter. It is a matter of me being sensible I suppose.. c

  10. My birthday FitBit has got me moving again. After the spinal surgery, I wasn’t able to walk far, and I let myself settle into a sluggish reluctance to move because too much movement hurt. I knew that I wasn’t yet capable of 10,000 a day, and set my goal at 5,000. Currently, I’m exceeding that by 2,000 a day, and that’s not ‘organised activity’, that’s just moving around and housework. My diet is better, and I am spending 10 minutes a day being ‘mindful’, simply aware of everything around me, praising it and being grateful for it and my ability to appreciate it. I find it helps me just as much as the physical activity. The brain is another kind of muscle and needs exercise too.

    • I bet you love your fitbit – it has graphs and mini spread sheets and columns and everything that you enjoy. I get all my footsteps in the normal course of a day too and if I walk between the barns I get a very good result. I am glad youa re enjoying yours. It gives us a daily clap and vibratory cheer and that in itself is worth it. c

      • You know me well! I love looking at the sleep cycle too, and trying to make sure that I get enough actual sleep amidst all the weirdness of the Husband’s shifts. And yes, I do enjoy the little light show at the day’s end when I’ve hit my targets 🙂

    • I don’t have a FitBit and I don’t think I will buy one, as I hate wearing things on my wrists. But I am quite curious to know how many steps I do on an average day. I walk a lot for my job – around the shop with customers, out in the factory as production/despatch manager, over to storage sheds to check on stock levels, and then repeat! Perhaps I could borrow a friends FitBit for a day, just to see. Maybe I don’t do as many as I think, or maybe I would be surprised how high it is!

      • I have known people who have broken the straps and so they just carry it in their pocket – works the same – or you could use your phone? some phones have that ability too. c

      • I think you might be surprised at your totals. I think I walk a lot less than you do, and I’m averaging 5,000-7,000 per day. You can also get pendant thingies to put your FitBit into, if you prefer to wear it that way…

  11. So much sage advice here. My yoga mat has been stretched out in front of me all morning. (since 5:30 a.m.) As soon as I finish writing a get well card, I will take a few minutes to walk up to the mailbox and drop it in while picking up yesterdays mail. It’s a half mile up. I usually add to that distance but the rain is coming. The yoga mat will be there when I get back. Reading this and your many other posts since we met, I feel like you have had many incarnations in this one lifetime. Theater to farmer and so much in between. What a fascinating book it would be. I would love to know all the you that have come in between. 🙂 Stay strong and healthy. You are much needed.

  12. insearchofitall is absolutely right. Your life would make quite an extraordinary memoir. I hope you’re taking notes, Cecilia, so that in your dotage you’ll be able to put it all together!
    P.S.How do you count your steps without a fitbit? Yes I thought that delightful photo was of Lady Astor not her Bobby! He looks mighty healthy that’s for sure.

  13. I really enjoyed reading this – it is so much like my own lifestyle as far as seasonal work and seasonal eating. I took a very bad fall at the burn pit the other day, feeling pain in my ankle as I heard cracking, popping and snapping on my roll to the bottom of the slope (I did let go of the heavy limb I was carrying!). I was just SURE I had broken my ankle or had torn ligaments. But no… it was a tad swollen, so I rested it for a couple of days, noting a little soreness but that was it. By day three I was back to good. I am convinced more all of the time that regular “farm work” exercise and eating well, makes us tough and strong. We are less likely to suffer illness and breaks as our bodies are conditioned. And it’s SO important to rest when we need to. Intuitively, that made sense to rest my foot/ankle a couple of days. It’s what the animals do ya know!!! 😀

    • OH no! Poor you rolling down the hill! Glad it was not serious and that a good rest fixed it. Do you remember when I cracked the tailbone – rest fixed it.. I am so pleased you are feeling better.. c

      • Thank you! I rarely stay down for long. But it is always wise to listen to your inner guide when it comes to injuries… the body knows what it needs to heal.

  14. I have had last year’s calendar on my desk since January 1, unable to part with it. Inspiration hit me yesterday, so I disassembled it, trimmed the pages and took it to our art teacher on campus. She was thrilled. It lives on. I told her the name of every animal as she looked through the pages..ha It’s Friday! I too got a little blue a couple of weeks ago, so I started a new crochet project. That always helps me. Have a great day C.

    • You know those little pot mitts you made for me ? Do you remember? one is red and one orange – well I have used them every day since you gave them to me – they are looking delightfully shabby. So not only does your crocheting make you feel better it makes me feel better too! c

  15. Your comments about being fit — for the job you are doing — rings so true. Now that my foot has healed, I am trying to regain the type of fitness I need for riding (which is all about the core), in addition to all the walking and lifting that comes along with ranch chores. I used to do a lot of yoga — it really is the best (for me) for core strengthening. I need to start incorporating a few sun salutations into my morning.

    • I am pleased that you are doing so well. I do The Sun because that is the only one I remember and it does stretch most everything. I have done a number of these most every morning for too many years to count. I always feel better afterwards.. c

  16. Yes to your great tips! Yoga and good food for me. And I take a mile and a half walk twice a day. I’m also a tea person and read that it counts in terms of fluid. But plain water is still a must. Wish you a lovely early spring.

  17. Wise advice to your workers — “stand and watch the animals for a while.” I’ve been doing more of that since I started visiting here. I often go back over many of the photographs you post, just looking; and the stories encourage that. They make the images more alive. So now when I see the animals where I live — squirrels in the yard, my neighbor’s dog, a hawk that appears over the tree tops towards evening, or even my cat watching birds through the windowor at the feeder — I think of watching them closely, as if they were my responsibility, a kind of natural work . Or as if they were both art objects and personalities. It seems that they are all these. And more.

  18. all very good advice! It’s wise to be aware of one’s body- it’s limits and it’s strengths!
    Have a lovely day!

  19. Being still and quietly taking note – excellent advice
    Taking a clue from symmetrical Nature (and yoga) make sure you use both sides of the body as equally as possible. If you haul or stretch with one arm, remember to do the same with the opposite.
    (So sun salute twice: once with left leg going back and then again with right – but you knew that, right? HA HA – you are so balanced in so many ways.)

  20. Very timely for me once again. I am too sedentary. I think I need to be herded into one of your yards!

  21. Very well put. I have been an athlete and exercise enthusiast all my life. Not as my livelihood, but for kicks I maintain 3 certifications from the ISSA (International Sports Science Association) but it wasn’t until I read “Core Performance” by Mark Verstegen that I understood what functional training is all about. I wish I would have applied this concept years ago and not spent so much time lifting tons of heavy weights and damaging my ligaments and tissues. At 57 I do a full body workout 1 to 2 times per week, stretch with yoga, bike, walk and swim and have more muscle and flexibility than I did when I was in my late twenties-early thirties. I also eat like a race horse, lean and mean.

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