It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, what you’ve achieved and what you know – if you are a fitness trainer and instructor it is vital to remain open to new ideas, thoughts and inspiration. It can be too easy easy to get locked into your own ways. Being receptive to variation and variety is always a good thing.

So I try and attend workshops and courses from time to time. It can be a bit hit and miss and not every one is a winner. Several might pass by before I encounter something that grabs me, but when I am grabbed it makes it all worth it!

That isn’t to denigrate some courses, those that don’t ignite a bulb in my head will still strike a chord with others. I suppose it’s just the law of inevitability that if you are embedded in any industry long enough (as I certainly have been!) the frequency of discoveries and breakthroughs tend to diminish.

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If you trawl the fitness conventions, the magazines, books, websites and DVDs you can’t fail to have encountered the word ‘Functional’. It has become a buzz word in the same way that ‘Core‘ did.

Sometimes these words become so commonly bandied about that their genuine meaning and definition in a fitness sense becomes lost. And as a result the use of the word, particularly in publicity and marketing, often doesn’t seem to be altogether accurate.

A few years ago I worked with Dr Mark Bellamy and his creation, Powerbag. We assembled a huge repertoire of everyday moves and applied them to these weighty, wobbly sandbags. It was great fun identifying all those tasks and movements we take for granted such as picking shopping up at odd angles.

With Powerbag we lifted, twisted, pull, pushed, pressed, threw, caught, swung, bashed and generally applied these unstable weights to movements we put our bodies through every day. They mimicked, built on and enhanced our day-to-day physical exertions and contortions and was beneficial, fun and functional!

The mainstream industry didn’t exactly rush to embrace this obvious simplicity and sound methodology. Performing exercises on the floor was all the rage and Pilates was in the limelight. However the elite sporting circles, police forces and the Armed Services were all very quick to see what Mark was on about and they rapidly adopted this form of training.

A little time later I was pleased to hear a Marvin Burton  sing from the same hymn sheet as Dr. Bellamy and myself and espouse the same fundamental theories and findings.

He was keen to explain the crucial benefits this form of functional training to a part of the body that is critical to quality movement, often damaged and little understood when it comes to conditioning – the back.

Back pain is big business and for good reason. It affects a staggering number of people during the course of their lives, it can be crippling to individuals and it doesn’t do economies much good either with millions working days lost to back related immobility.

We are all hugely dependent on a healthy back.

The alternative is painful and frustrating incapacity. I even chose to address this subject in one of my DVDs. It might not be the ‘sexiest’ workout subject (and neither was the title of that DVD!) but it is a hugely important one. It isn’t necessarily within the instructors remit to cure a client’s bad back but to prevent it in the first place.

We’ve all heard of the bodybuilder and athlete who throw massive weights around, but one day his back goes while he’s cleaning his teeth or opening his sock draw. By contrast there are labourers working the shovel on the same side for years on end and never even suffered a ‘ping’..

Pilates has also built popularity off back care. Its story is an elite and glamorous one;  Joseph Pilates’ moves were designed in the 1920’s for injured dancers and performed in his New York Studio. Then the ethos grew, moves were developed by modern day Pilates converts and quickly Pilates took off.

The back problem protocol has been a rather simple and unsatisfactory “Go easy or do Pilates”. But of course the ideal is to avoid ever getting to that stage by keeping the body bending and reaching as the spine it designed to.

‘Neutral spine’, which has become another industry buzz word, is all very well when you’re on the floor or standing still but how neutral is your spine when you’re walking, gardening, playing sport, dancing cooking, holding a child or sleeping? Never is the answer. So getting stronger and more agile at what you do a lot of already must be more appropriate and truly functional.

Some great simple back mobility exercises:

Squat & reach forward

Squat & reach forward

Reach & Rotate in Squat

Reach & rotate squat

Side Reach

Squat and reach to side

Reach Over & Curtsey

Reach Over & Curtsey


So Marvin equipped us with dumbbells and got us to reach and squat, twist and squat, forward back, sideways and every way. Basically the spine was working as it does all day long, in that natural twist and bend action, just as it does each time one foot goes in front of the other when we walk.

I felt my back worked in places that  back extensions or dead lifts cannot emulate. That’s more like it – a good, honest, workout for everyone whose life involves standing up and moving around.

There are many courses and classes out there engaging, inspiring, energising and benefiting huge numbers of people. But if you want a healthy back for life, arm it with the strength and mobility it deserves and is capable of.

Next time you go to the squat press, change direction and pick up some dumbbells. Lunge and twist and touch the floor, squat and reach sideways, squat and touch the floor in front whilst looking up and behind you… Your back and butt will serve you well and look great for years to come!

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