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Form Follows Function: The Degradation of Form through Function

Many have heard the common axiom "form follows function". It is widely used in today's society however, there is much debate as to what it means. Depending on whom you talk to, the phrase can have several different meanings and applications. It historical roots date back to the 1900s and was applied by Louis Sullivan to architecture1of that time. To an architect, form following function, was defined through pioneering large skyscrapers or bridges that would hold true to their respectable functions. For example, in constructing a bridge a considerable amount of planning, calculations, and understanding of the variables that can affect the bridge are imperative to maintaining structural integrity. I think you can guess the result if you forgo functional consideration.

Forming the Good

From a health professional perspective "form follows function" manifests significant implications of the human body. Understanding functions of the human body is critical to creating correct form, or in other words, proper posture. Evolution of the human being has been identified through form following function. As human mammals, we have developed our bipedal erect standing posture based on adaptations to better meet the demands of our lifestyles. The human body is a miraculous structure that through many stages has progressed to create the functional capacities we have today. The process begins as early as infancy, through developing the motor skills to crawl, stand, and eventually walk. As we continue to grow, fine motor skills are developed to accomplish more complex functions. Through repetitive integration of different movement patterns we refine and create efficiency in movement. It should be noted that movements require time and repetitive reinforcement to establish neuromuscular efficiency to establish the movement pattern. We did not learn to walk through deciding to use our legs. Rather, through constant attempts and falls the function was refined. Similarly, the complexity of advanced movements such as a golf swing or baseball swing requires the repeated practice and integration to perfect the swings.

Forming the Ugly

As a functional human, we have the ability to perform a remarkable amount of movements. However, movements and patterns can be severely restricted through environments that inhibit and/or limit movement in our lifestyle. It is a bit frightening, to see advances in all aspects of life, except in regards to our own form. As humans we have eliminated all planning and implementation of posture and have deviated from optimal alignment to conform to our daily functions. If we review the current trends in musculoskeletal disorders, or even obesity, it is obvious that we are de-evolving according to our form following our function. An example is work-related musculoskeletal disorders, which have become the largest illness in occupations, representing one third of all work related diseases2. The immense numbers do not even include all other aspects that contribute to musculoskeletal disorders. Our postures have fallen crippled to poor mechanics established through our technologically savvy lifestyles endured through occupations, activities of daily living, and poor exercise habits. As we increase our poor posture and bad alignment through everyday pursuits we are contributing to poor musculoskeletal health and ultimately a decreased quality of life.

Despite trends indicating increases in poor form associated with our daily lives, there are obstacles we can overcome to prevent poor form and posture in our daily functions.

The National Posture Institute's 4 Points of Posture Program™

The four points of posture are simplified mental imagery cues that can be used to learn and establish a better postural alignment.

  1. Stand Tall
    - Visualize the vertebral column lengthening and growing taller

  2. Hold Chest/Shoulder High
    - Visualize opening up the chest and creating a geometric 90 angle of the shoulders and leveling out the shoulders

  3. Retract Scapulae
    - Visualize holding a pencil between the scapulas (Shoulder blades)

  4. Contract Abdominals
    - Visualize drawing the belly button toward the spine and isometrically contracting the core musculature.

The four points of posture can be implemented into your posture to construct a more optimal alignment. Any alignment issues, such as deviations, dysfunctions, or asymmetries can be improved through applying the four points of posture.

Whether we look at a bridge, a building, a playground, or the human body the function determines the form. If we allow our body to conform to the function, whether it is being through poor sitting posture, faulty execution of exercise movements, or performing unsafe household activities, health issues will result. Whether it is modern architecture or your posture, we should be aware of our alignment in every aspect of life. It is evident that humans are subjected to the axiom "form follows function". Whether it is through good posture or poor posture the decision is up to you. Always be conscious of you posture; do not let you form be a poor representation of your function.




  1. "Art: Louis Sullivan: Skyscraper Poet - TIME." Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews - TIME.com. TIME, 12 Nov. 1956. Web. 22 May 2011. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,824593,00.html>.
  2. Punnett, L. "Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders: the Epidemiologic Evidence and the Debate." Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology 14.1 (2004): 13-23. Print.
  3. Todd, M. E. Thinking Body. [S.l.]: [s.n.], 1991. Print.


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