If you’re currently in the market for a new workout program that fits into your lifestyle, chances are you’ve heard of “functional training.” Unlike other marketing terms used to hype the latest and greatest fitness fad, functional training rings true to its name. Functional training incorporates specific compound exercises to strengthen muscle groups which are applied for everyday activities. Functional training is something that everyone should incorporate into their training program, to perform better and enhance your quality of life.
What Is Functional Training?
The main word in functional training, is function. Function, means purpose, therefore, functional training is training for a specific purpose. That purpose being to build more strength, balance, and stability recruited to perform common movement patterns while performing everyday activities.
Functional Training Incorporates Compound Movements
Functional training incorporates compound movements; multi-jointed movements, which require more than one muscle group to be used throughout an exercise. Compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and push press can improve mobility, strength, and functionality. These types of exercises, mimic specific movement patterns used for everyday activities such as hip rotation, muscle stabilizers, flexor muscles, and ensure your joints are moving through a full range of motion. How often do you pull down weight from above your head, behind your neck? Probably never. How often do you lift something heavy off the floor? More often than using your biceps to curl a jar of pickles, is my guess.
Functional training requires free weights, not exercise machines. Machines are great for isolation movements, and do have their place, but the entire purpose of functional training, is to build more functional strength with intent. Functional training builds more core strength, improves stability, and helps prevent muscular imbalances, which is something an exercise machine can not do. In fact, exercise machines will make your postural imbalances more pronounced if you limit yourself to machine’s only. That’s why everyone should incorporate some aspects of functional fitness into their training program. That’s not to say that isolation exercises do not have a purpose. They can help strengthen weaker muscle groups when needed to improve muscular imbalances, or rehab injuries. However, bilateral isolated movements, can cause further muscular imbalance, as opposed to unilateral movements.
What Are Some Functional Training Benefits
Functional Training Helps Build Strength and Stability
Compound movements such as squats and deadlifts recruit multiple muscle groups and joints to help build more functional strength. These movements specifically target the hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps, yet require core strength, stability, and upper body strength to push and pull weight seamlessly, similar to everyday movements. By incorporating functional movements, your body is collectively working as a whole, as opposed to being isolated to optimize function.
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Functional Training Reduces Your Risk Of Injury
When you train for purpose, you also reduce your risk for injury. Imagine you are picking up a heavy piece of furniture. If you don’t use your legs, in a squatting or deadlifting motion to lift it up from the floor you’ll likely bend over and use, and potentially strain your lower back muscles. Improper lifting can also lead to more severe and serious injuries, such as disc herniation, which can require surgical intervention and cause chronic lower back pain. Functional training will prepare you for real-life scenarios by recruiting more muscle groups and stabilizing muscles to improve core strength and mobility to manage and maneuver with better form.
Functional Training Improves Mobility
It’s true that if you don’t move it, you will lose it. Mobility is crucial, especially as we age. If you incorporate functional movements into your training, you’ll strengthen your body as a collective unit, which will improve stability, posture, and balance. Isolated movements such as leg extensions, only work the quadricep, which in real life, rarely ever happens. Any movement with your legs, such as walking, squatting, or running utilizes multiple muscle groups such as your glutes, hamstrings, and core. Isolated movements, will only utilize that specific targeted muscle, without exercising your joints full range of motion. Squatting and deadlifting, will put your body into a position that utilizes your joints, stabilizing muscles, and core muscles, and improve total functionality.
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Functional Training Improves Postural Imbalances
Your body is composed of several intra-operating components that are co-dependent of each other. If one component has an issue it causes a disruption to the entire system, creating overcompensation of supporting muscle groups. For example, if your hip is tight, it will affect your quads, hamstrings, and distal knee, making it nearly impossible for your body to perform while running or walking putting you at risk for injury.
Compound movements require a certain amount of focus, core strength, coordination, and balance. This is why functional training is so crucial to improving postural and muscular imbalances. We develop muscle and postural imbalances as we progress through life. Small imbalances are created from certain lifestyle factors found in our environment such as sleeping on one side, working at a desk in a certain position, and carrying your bag on a preferred shoulder. They can also occur from rehabbing old injuries, poor exercise form, and only using weight machines, with no exercise variability.
However, isolation movements should be used in conjunction with functional training, to fix any imbalances by strengthening a particular muscle group.
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Functional Training: Takeaway
Functional training can transfer performance from the weight room directly to the real world. In addition to helping you stay in shape, functional training can dramatically improve your balance, stability, mobility and core strength. Adding a few functional movement components to your workout will help improve your total body function. Each component of functional training is pretty important when it comes to everyday life, helping you move comfortably, confidently and purposefully throughout the day.
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