With Feline Agility – Part 2 of 2

Cats, Functional Training, and Bandwagon Jumping Part 2

Coach Izzy

Blame the shoes!How many Sports Specific Training experts do you know who will gladly give machines a scornful look but ignore sports specific does not mean sports mimicking? For example, throwing a punch to a moving opponent requires a motor pattern that is completely different to that of throwing a punch with resistance coming from opposing directions (as in punching holding dumbbells, kettlebells, cables, bands, etc.) Will this interfere with the performance of the athlete? You bet! Yet it is common to see people engaging in this Sports Specific, Real Life Training to improve their punching power.

I’m sure that at this point you can see that there’s a lot more to generating a faulty motor pattern than simply the choice of equipment. Ditto for the balance and motor unit recruitment issues. The mimicking training folly is just the tip of the iceberg of many factors that can generate faulty motor patterns, or affect balance, or neuromuscular recruitment. This is another HUGE topic, and best served by future articles.

Going back to Michi the cat, let’s consider that it’s a specimen with a complex nervous system. The wisdom of the experts and gurus would have predicted that this cat–never exposed to the demands of balancing its center of gravity over a narrow surface–should be incapable of conquering the banister due to an underdeveloped neural system—and I’m not making that expression up. I heard some fitness colleagues use it to point at the dangers of training with machines.

Yet the opposite was observed. Michi did not need to be placed on physioballs, or wobble boards, or other functional elements to recruit his nervous system. In the two and half years of his life (what would that be in cat years?) and never getting exposure to anything that demanded the balancing finesse that would protect his nine lives, Michi needed nothing more than the desire to explore to put him on that banister.

And yes, I understand that Michi is a cat. A feline, a quadruped mammal with a structure different from humans. That is not the point of the topic though.

What I try to emphasize is that it takes a whole lot more than just a training modality, or a period under certain training conditions to mess up healthy recruitment patterns, which is what many experts and gurus are trying to have their worshiping devotees believe.

Can the human nervous system deteriorate in certain abilities and functions? Absolutely! But from observation, it takes quite a bit of time to get there, usually a lifetime or excessive, determined abuse.

Barefooted runningTake for instance our ability to sense through our feet. Our feet are our main sensors of the forces entering our bodies and how to fine tune for them. After many generations of wearing shoes and with the ever expanding flattening and hardening of our paths through concrete and paving, our feet have decreased their once heightened sense to detect subtle variations of terrain and the ability to adjust the joints of the feet to accommodate them.

It is the price we pay for our adaptation to our modern concrete jungle and one that has magnified the issues brought by different shapes of foot arches, and leg-length discrepancies. Take also into account the increased life span of humans into the deterioration process and things start to fall into place. This is another subject worthy of thorough exploration in different articles.

Trying to extrapolate these observations to Michi the cat, had Michi been the 30th generation in a generation of cats never exposed to conditions that demanded a heightened sense of balance, I would speculate that his physical ability to climb the banister and walk it with casual ease would be compromised but not lost. There is this instinct embed in our genetic code that brings this ability back through necessity and cannot be taken lightly.

So go ahead, don’t be discouraged to try newer things or simpler approaches just because some radical guru told you that you would turn into a useless lump of meat, incapable of recruiting “the nervous system”.  More often than not, those observations come from just repeating what another equally fanatical guru said, or poor understanding of the interactions of the demands of the environment and the human body.

The popular sad excuse of I tried using this stupid (insert hated piece of equipment or exercise here) and got nothing out of it simply means I have no understanding whatsoever of the mechanics or how to apply them, and when I winged it I failed.

Your structure, its health, along with the current state of your physical conditioning, goals and mental readiness are what dictate what would be beneficial for you at the moment, not a preachy, self-righteous expert trying to convert you into yet another band-wagon jumping fanatic.

Coach Izzy

Read Part 1

About The Author


Coach Izzy has been part of the Strength and Conditioning field for over 25 years. He speaks of the advantages of self-sufficiency and the drawbacks of relying on the liner approaches the health world seems fond of.