FRC – What is Functional Range Conditioning?

Written by Cam Watkins

What is Functional Range Conditioning?

In this Blog I will explain what FRC is all about and why I flew to the other side of the world to become certified as an FRC practitioner.

The entire system comes under the title Functional Range Systems (FRS). Under which there is Functional Range Conditioning (FRC), Functional Range Assessment (FRA) and Functional Release (FR).

It is a very practical way of looking at the body. A way of understanding why we may be in pain and/or not functioning well or feeling good and what we need to be doing on a daily basis to be feeling better. It’s an approach that makes sense.

This is a sophisticated, evidenced based system. The FRA is the system for assessing joint function and health. The FR provides a framework for manual therapy and begin the process for the restoration of dysfunctional joints or tissues and then the FRC, which is the foundation of the whole system provides the fundamental approach for improving mobility and overall joint function. Put simply by the founder of FRS Dr Andreo Spina: “this is a process for getting stuff working good’.

Mobility vs Flexibility

The first thing to establish, is the difference between flexibility and mobility.

Flexibility being overall joint range of motion (ROM). This can be passive range rather than active range. The term flexibility does not describe anything to do with actual control of the joint. That is, you can have someone who is very flexible (where they may be able to get into impressive poses and positions), however, they may lack muscular control throughout that range of movement and more importantly may lack control at the ends of those ranges.

Mobility on the other hand is what Dr Spina refers to as, usable ROM. Controlled, coordinated ROM. Most importantly, with end range control. This factor being so important because, generally speaking its typically the end ranges of a movement, where injuries occur. If the joint is not being controlled, particularly at the end ranges, well then excessive load will be placed on the joint and potential injury will occur.

This system provides a framework for establishing an individual’s deficiencies. i.e. is it a lack of control throughout range, and lack of end range control, or is it simply a lack of range all together? i.e. stiffness or hypomobility (like the majority of the general population).

The intervention then of course will depend on that individual’s deficiencies and their particular goals. These goals might range from a normal human working a normal job who suffers some sort of pain, feels tight or stiff or just doesn’t feel that good and wants to feel better. More mobile. Or it could be an ultimate athlete, an elite netballer or footballer who gets a sore back, shoulder or anything and wants to perform to their potential, free of pain. They may have suffered an injury which created changes to their body that now affects their performance and how they’re feeling. Or perhaps an athlete who hasn’t necessarily suffered an injury but has some tightness or stiffness and wants to make sure their body is adequately prepared to deal with the specific requirements of their sport to prevent an injury from occurring. Generally speaking, improving strength and mobility is going be a step in the right direction.

An evolutionary approach

Now, the fundamental understanding is that a human being is an incredible biological adaptive machine. Our tissues adapt, very efficiently, depending on the demand placed on it. I have written a Blog in the past on the balance of load and capacity. If the load placed on a tissue greatly exceeds the capacity of that tissue, it will fail, and injury will occur. If the load reaches the edge of the capacity in a sensible fashion, and recovery is allowed for, the tissue will adapt and strengthen, increasing its capacity. Alternatively, if load placed on tissue is within that capacity, The capacity of that tissue will accommodate to the load and reduce over time. The tissue will get weaker. It’s a simple equation.

So, a question I find myself asking is: How did our bodies evolve? What is our body innately designed to do? Essentially it was designed to move, to hunt/ gather and to reproduce. Thus, our current lifestyle poses a challenge. This sitting business is relatively new to the human race.

Move it or Lose it!

Imagine a hypothetical situation where someone drives to work, they have a desk job, they drive home and then sit on the couch. If we focus on what might happen at the hips for instance if they were not to regularly stand up straight and stretch their hip flexors. You could safely assume that over time, their hips will adapt, and they will become tight through the hip flexors and restricted into hip extension. Simply because regular hip extension has not been asked of the structure, it would be a waste of energy for the body to maintain a range that is never being used. The body is far too efficient to maintain tissue length and joint ROM that’s not being used. The human body didn’t evolve this far by being wasteful with energy.

We could take a similar look at the back or shoulders in this same scenario.

The clique saying move it or lose it, simply could not be more appropriate. And this goes for all of our tissues. The astronaut heading out to space is a good example. As soon as they leave planet earth and the gravitational force, their bones stop laying down new bony tissue and their bones become weaker. They can come back osteoporotic.

So, we need to keep all of this mind. The bright side is, no matter what position you find yourself in right now, with a sensible approach you can turn it around and start the process heading back towards being mobile and feeling good. Simply start putting the stimulus into the structure, into the body and it will begin to adapt. If technically our body was designed to spend a large part of the day on foot, well simply you need to find every possible opportunity to get up and move. A standing desk is a good option. So is, a stretching routine in the morning and perhaps a walk after work. Simple strategies, which will likely help to get you feeling better in the short term, and perhaps more importantly, keeping you mobile in the long term.

So, this works for every system and every structure in our body. If you want to make sure you don’t have balance issues and prevent falls when your older, challenge your balance and proprioception system every day. It will improve.

Everything is adaptable. The muscles, ligaments, joints, and even nervous system and brain.

Stock and Flow

So similar to my previous description on load vs Capacity. The FRS uses the analogy of “Stock and Flow” (it’s a North American thing, sounded cool). With the premise, that “there are no overuse injuries. Simply a force that the structure was not prepared for”. So, if we are talking about joint health and capacity, you want to maximize your stocks. You want to dig a deep well and fill it up. Then you can “Flow”. Increase your stocks by building a big range of motion, and getting strong throughout the entire range, particularly at the ends of the range. This would be in line with the idea of “bullet Proofing” your joints, and then these guys say, “Let’s build a monster!” when talking about athletes and creating powerful, robust athletes with very resilient tissues, so as to reduce likelihood of injury.

This system also dives deep into movement control and skill acquisition. But that might be a blog for another month.

In the meantime, first let’s build a human. Let’s get our bodies, our tissues and joints functioning as they are designed to. Let’s get ourselves feeling good. Free of pain and moving well. From there we can create a monster and bullet proof our stuff! Our bodies are capable of amazing things and it would be a damn shame not to dip in to some of that potential that every single person is capable of.

Again, this system is not designed purely for elite athletes. If you want to feel better, please come on in for an assessment and let’s get to work.