Today there are so many different opinions on how one should exercise. Which type of training should I be doing is the big question? Do I perform slow reps, fast reps, do I use a bench or a physio ball, do I do one body part at a time? The answer is everyone should be training in a manner that relates to their individual goals. There is no set routine that equally benefits everyone who does it. Performing a typical gym program of random exercises 3 sets of 10 with 1 minute rests has limited benefits. Training primarily with machines without integrating free weights into a program is inefficient because you are moving resistance along a fixed axis and not free in space, as the body normally functions.
Functional training is defined as movements or exercises that improve a person’s ability to complete their activities of daily living with greater efficiency and effectiveness. A functional program targets specific movements then mimics those movements during exercise. A good program focuses on weak areas and sets specific goals. An example of a functional exercise is having a tennis player lunge to a chop or a young mother squat to a twist.
It is important that the body is exercised in a functional manner in order to build appropriate muscle, joint strength, balance and flexibility in all planes of motion. It is crucial to include multi joint and multi-planar exercises, this recruits the body’s stabilizers to synergistically facilitate movement. Doing this ensures that the nervous system is working properly and using all parts of the body in the appropriate manner with the correct muscles firing at the right time.
Core stability, flexibility and balance are key factors when designing a functional exercise routine. It is important to maintain posture while being able to move all joints in a full range of motion. Training with free weights and challenging the surrounding environment promotes balance and stability, which is necessary if you expect to see benefits outside of the gym. Keep in mind it is more important to be able to control your own body weight and concentrate on form, balance and core endurance than to move heavy weights.
A functional core routine consists of dynamic movements, challenges the center of gravity and isometric exercises. To completely train the core, you must also include dynamic stabilization, isometric and proprioceptive movements not just for the mid section but the entire trunk. Medicine balls, balance boards, foam rollers and physio balls are great tools for core training and should be integrated into every program. It is a fact that training on the physio ball(challenged environment) is superior to traditional floor exercises 1 . As a person ages, balance and stability become compromised. If balance and stability are not addressed, they will consistently degrade. A weak core contributes to poor stability and inhibits proper limb movements causing muscle imbalances in the kinetic chain. This is why falls are common in the geriatric population. Many back and hip injuries are related to weak core muscles. There are many small muscles in the core that the general population knows little about or addresses during exercise. MRI images show atrophy in these small muscles in most spinal injuries.2-6 These little muscles need to be trained in order to maintain a healthy spine.2-6 Without stability, even the strongest person can not effectively propel a force into the environment.
Flexibility is a very important facet of any exercise program, but is often over looked. In my opinion, lack of flexibility is the root of many problems. The body’s movements are hampered when flexibility and posture are distorted. Active, dynamic, static and PNF stretching are key factors and should all be included in any training program. When a muscle is tight, it limits the muscle’s ability to contract properly, causing inefficient movements and risk of injury. Without flexibility the body’s movement becomes limited, and good results are difficult to achieve.
This article has explained the key components of a functional program and its benefits. Traditional weight lifting is a thing of the past and has been proven to produce limited results compared to a functional program. The fact is the only way to enhance movement is to mimic the movement in the gym until it becomes autonomous in every day life. Before initiating any exercise program, one should always consult a physician, as well as a qualified fitness professional. This insures that they are addressing their specific needs and goals.
Q) Should I do slow repetitions or fast?
A) You base the speed of the repetition on the speed of the required activity.
The body needs to be trained at the same or a higher velocity during exercise to benefit a particular activity. A sprinter doesn’t jog to increase their speed.
In my opinion slow training is good for form training, rehabilitation and hypertrophy.
Q)My friend works out at the local gym and mostly uses machines. He has been doing the same routine forever and has gotten good results. Is this program good for me?
A)NO! Any exercise program will produce results whether it is done right or wrong if you stick to it. Unfortunately when exercise is done incorrectly the harmful effects may not be noticed until the damage is done. By exercising functionally you will systematically attain your goals and insure that your time in the gym is spent safely and efficiently. Just because someone looks good does not mean they are an expert.
Q) Can functional training benefit anyone?
A) Yes. Functional workouts are beneficial for any athletic level or age group. By training functionally your time in the gym is spent more efficiently. When you train in this fashion you will see drastic improvement in overall health and performance not just appearance.
Q) Shouldn’t I do cardio and lose weight before I start a functional program?
You should have a functional training program that concentrates on raising and lower your heart rate. The program should first use body weight exercises then advance to free weights. This promotes lean muscle mass, skeletal intergrity and healthy cardiac function. Muscle mass accelerates fat loss.
Q) My friend tells me to do 3-5 sets 10-12 reps to failure with 1 minute rest intervals.
A) This is what everyone who thinks of the gym envisions. Unless you are a body builder this is not a good program. If you train in a functional fashion you burn more calories and get more benefit from your sessions outside of the gym.
Q) Aren’t aerobic classes and the treadmill enough?
A) NO! A weight training program that includes balance, core stability strength and cardiac conditioning builds lean muscle mass. When you build muscle you burn more calories at rest and during daily activities. Which would mean by adding resistance to your program you actually will burn more calories doing the same aerobic class or distance on the treadmill.
Q) Should I stretch before or after exercise or an event?
A) Evidence demonstrates that static stretching before an activity is not beneficial to prevent injury. If you want to avoid injury you need to be flexible by stretching regularly and not just before activity. Active and dynamic stretches with a short warm up mimicking activity before, P.N.F and static stretching at the end help remove waste from the muscles.
Q) Why have none of my doctors told me to stretch and exercise to alleviate pain?
A) Unfortunately we live in a society of doctors that prescribe meds for everything imaginable. Everyone wants immediate gratification (pill) not a long term solution(exercise). The fact is most people would ignore the doctor’s request to stretch and exercise then seek a new doctor for a simpler solution. Most minor health problems can be eliminated by moderate exercising but people choose to take meds because they are lazy.
Q) I injured my knee and my doctor told me to rest it for a while. Do I?
A) This is the worst thing you can do. Pampering an injury for extended periods causes muscle atrophy and decreased blood flow. All injuries should be functionally rehabilitated under careful supervision.
Q) Should I cut carbs out of my diet?
A) NO! Cut high glycemic carbs out only. Carbohydrates are essential for cellular function. Eating carbs that do not spike insulin levels is healthy and effective for weight loss.
Q) My doctor told me to walk to get some exercise for my aches. Is walking enough?
A) NO WAY. If walking were enough basically everyone would be healthy we all walk. If you have pain chances are there is a biomechanical issue. My first suggestion would be to stretch. More walking will only aggravate the issue you need to correct the imbalance first not just walk more.
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