Functional training is a term that’s being thrown around just about everywhere these days in the fitness world, just like food companies love to stamp “natural” or “vitamin fortified” on just about everything to try and make us believe it’s healthy for us, all sort of differing types of training and pieces of equipment are advertised as “functional” which, more often than not might not necessarily be the truth. So what is truly functional training and why do you need it? Read on to learn what could change the way your workouts forever.
Functional training is basically defined as performing exercises in the gym that have a high carryover to your everyday life or sport of choice. Most people today whether a home mom who has never lifted weights in her life or a construction worker who does heavy lifting all day, have this idea when they walk into the gym for the first time they should be doing bodybuiding type exercises. By this I mean trying to isolate specific muscle groups and doing the majority of their exercises laying or sitting on benches or locked into a certain piece of equipment or plane of motion. Though I feel that these types of exercises have some uses in the fitness world one needs to take a closer look at their goals and lifestyle before they just start blindly training like this more or less just because “everyone else is doing it”. The problem with this isolation training and always doing exercises from a fixed position is that this is not how our body works the other 23 hours or so that we are not in the gym that day. Think of some major bodybuilding exercises, the bench press, seated shoulder press, incline presses, seated rows, etc. now try and think of one time during the day where you performed the same motions. When did you lay down on your back before you pressed something? Or sat down before you pulled something toward you..something tells me not very often. This is where functional training comes in. Functional training is doing exercises, primarily from your feet, where your whole body has to work together to complete the movement…the way it was meant to be from the beginning, when there was no hammer strength equipment or incline benches and smith machines. It is necessary to include moves like this in your workout as it trains your whole body to work together whereas many bodybuilding type movements do not. People who do solely bodybuilding moves may add size and look strong but have spent so much time isolating that their body no longer knows how to work together as a unit, which almost guarantees a disfunctional core and stabilizer muscles which can lead to injury and perhaps lifelong problems. Training in the gym is supposed to make us healthier and to perform better in everyday life but why is it that so often that is not the case? I’m convinced a major reason is that the majority of exercises done in the gym don’t mirror anything we actually do in every day life. So here’s some tips for you…
1) Make sure you have some full body, unsupported moves in each workout, exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, pushups, inverted rows, standing single arm cable rows and presses are all a good place to start , beginners should always have an experienced trainer watching them to ensure proper form and to progress or regress the exercise as necessary to suit their level of fitness. Too much too soon is a top reason for injury in the gym.
2) Limit exercises done on the smith machine or any other machine where the plane of movement is locked in place, there is much more carryover to real life scenario’s in doing the free squat as compared to the smith squat, and a much greater benefit from having to use the stabilizer muscles. People who continually do presses on the smith machine are asking for injury.
3) Don’t let the exercise ball in the corner collect dust, hardcore bodybuilder’s are ashamed to even look at one but only if they knew how much they could benefit from using them. Think pushups are easy? Plunk your feet up on the ball and start doing some pushups, feel the difference when core stability comes into play. Think you’re real tough? Put your hands on the ball and try to do some pushups..you’ll quickly find out how much you can change an exercise with an exercise ball, and thus your core and stabilizing muscles, in play. This is just one example, many exercises can be made much more effective and challenging by simply adding an exercise ball to the movement.
My final thoughts..focus on improving function in the gym more than just doing whatever to add muscle or “tone”. Focusing on improving your function through using full body exercises with the core stabilizers firing will not only help get you that muscle (substitute tone or shape here for you ladies out there) when done properly and thus the body you’ve always wanted, but your liklihood for injury in and out of the gym will go down and everyday life will become easier. This is what the gym is supposed to do. The same can’t be said when focusing on muscle for just the sake of adding muscle (again..substitute tone here for the ladies, I know it makes you feel better) almost exclusively having those big or toned muscles that no longer know how to work together from repeatedly being trained in isolation and a core that only knows how to do crunches will lead to injury and though it might garner some attention on the outside, it will help very little in the activites of daily life or your sport of choice.
Story Added by Matt Mantai on 09th May 2012