Functional Range Conditioning Review: Progressive Adaptation

Two weekends ago, I had to opportunity to attend the Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) course that was hosted by the Diamondbacks here in Scottsdale at our spring training facility.  The course, which is part of the Functional Anatomy Seminars, was hosted by the creator and lead instructor of the Seminars, Dr. Andreo Spina.

The goal of the Functional Anatomy Seminars, according to their website, is to offer “an unparalleled curriculum in musculoskeletal management and enhancement for all health care practitioners and fitness specialists.”  The 2-day course is a content-heavy, hands-on course which forces the attendee to understand the science behind the program before actually trying the exercises and movements for him/herself.

Functional Range Conditioning is a technique that tries to drive a “usable” range-of-motion to the human body.  This type of training could lie somewhere between rehabilitation and training (in a classic sense of the word) on a spectrum that starts with assessment ends with training.  Healthy individuals should be the ones applying FRC to their routine, not necessarily those who have already been injured, or those who are in the midst of the rehabilitation process.

The application of FRC, in theory, will increase

  • Functional Mobility (articular strength and nueral-control)
  • Articular Resilience (load bearing capacity of the tissue)
  • Articular Health and Longevity

If the things listed above are achieved, then injury rates are sure to decrease.  Injury occurs when the load placed on a tissue EXCEEDS the tissue’s ability to absorb said load.  It makes sense.  If someone suffers a hamstring strain, it usually happens during deceleration.  The hamstrings function to eccentrically to slow the swing leg during gait.  And the same occurs during running or sprinting, just under a higher load (faster speeds).  So when the load exceeds the hamstring’s capability to absorb that load, injury occurs.  Pretty simple.

So then the question arises of “how can we increase the load bearing capacity of the tissue?”  Well, for one, all we really need to do is to start adding load (in the simplest terms).  This is one of the reason’s why we train.  It’s why we lift weights.  It’s why we condition.  The Principle of Progressive Adaptation states:

Incremental loads imparted on tissue results in adaptation of said tissue such that the load absorption capacity improves.

So we add load, a little at a time, and do that in some pretty smart and safe ways, and now we are on track to keeping our athletes healthy.  Of course, it’s easier said than done.  But that’s the idea!  So let’s get back on track and talk about Progressive Adaptation and how it applies to FRC.

One of the main talking points that Dr. Spina had was that we are all made up of “stuff”.  Muscles, connective tissue, fascia, bones, ligaments, whatever.  It’s just “stuff” that all acts together keep the human functioning properly (or as well as we train it to).  An important thing to remember regarding the principle of Progressive Adaptation is that the adaptation applies to more than just muscle.  We often think of this adaptation when we think about muscle hypertrophy, but it applies to all forms of connective tissue.  Apply a load, the body reacts, then the body adapts, and then the load is perceived differently (hopefully it’s easier).  It’s why the first time someone who has been sitting on the couch every night for the past 5 years might struggle to run a mile.  But, after a month of running consistently, that once hard-to-achieve mile is very doable, and probably fairly easy.

But the body is always seeking homeostasis.  If we apply a load, it will react and try to regain a sense of normalcy.  That’s why the load must progressively be increased.  That could be through volume, intensity, duration, etc.  But how does the tissue actually change?  What are we achieving?  Let’s look at the tissue change at a deeper level.

Tissue morphogenesis is what causes an organism to achieve its shape.  Mechanical forces cause a change in shape, size, direction, etc., of cells in the body.  This happen’s at all levels of the body.  If anyone is familiar with Davis’ Law, it refers to how soft tissue will adapt and change based on the demands placed on the body.  It is similar to Wolff’s Law, but the latter deals with osseus tissue.  The idea behind both is the same.  The body will adapt to the load, and therefore become more resistant to that same load (Progressive Adaptation anyone?!).

According to FRC,

Tissue tension transfers to integrins, which alters cytoskeletal form, which causes changes in cellular biochemistry.  This allows the cells to respond to soluble morphogens.  All of this equals localized cellular growth in response to load.

So in a very basic sense, the body will adapt to the stress we place on it.  If we constantly stress our muscles through lifting weights, we will get stronger.  If we challenge our aerobic system through running, we will become more adept at running.  And if we challenge the ranges of motion of which our body is capable, then we will have increased range of motion.  If you read my last two posts, I discussed “functional” training.  We discussed “functional movement” and how the goal is to move the way nature intended.  Functional Range Conditioning seeks to grant the body greater freedom during motion, greater directionality, and through this, decreased incidence of injury.

Now that we understand a little bit of the science behind the goals of FRC, we can start to discuss some of the techniques used by Dr. Spina and his staff.  Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of the review, where we will talk about Controlled Articular Rotation’s and FRC’s thoughts on stretching!

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