Functional training, also referred to as functional exercise is any workout that adapts or develops exercises that allow individuals to perform activities of everyday life more easily and without risk of injury.
The truth is that just because you can lift heavy at the gym and do 20 minutes of HIIT every other day, does not mean that the next time you lift your 65-pound suitcase on your way to the airport that you won’t throw your back out.
Functional fitness focuses on training the body in such a way that it can handle day to day real-life activities, like lugging groceries, picking up kids and others.
So, instead of focusing on lifting a certain amount of weight, or the proper form of a particular exercise, functional fitness trains us to become better at real-life positions and to perform everyday activities that we are all tasked with.
Your typical weight training or strength training workout isolates specific muscles, but, neglects to train the body to use multiple muscle groups together, but, functional exercise does integrate different muscles and through proper form and motion teaches them to work together.
This yields an overall fitness to the entire body working in unison.
While many people focus on weights, weight machines, and compound exercises, they neglect to address a fundamental need we humans have for day to day life and that is balance. Balance training exercises, like the one-legged squat, is more useful for everyday life than leg pressing 500 pounds.
Because stability is what serves you in everyday life, like when you have to reach for something in a high cabinet or walking up and down a flight of stairs. Balance is an integral part of everyday life, including, regular tasks of walking, using the stairs and reaching for something, but, it goes beyond that.
Did you know that a balance system that functions properly can help humans to see clearly while moving, orient themselves in terms of gravity, assess direction and speed of movement, and also allows them to make adjustments to posture and stability while doing daily activities?
Training your body to control and balance its own weight can serve you when you are young and as you age because it makes you stronger, more stable and therefore allows you to avoid falls, which, are some of the most common injuries seen in seniors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 adults age 65 or older suffer a fall that results in moderate to severe injuries, including, the debilitating hip fracture or the very serious head trauma, both of which can increase the risks of early death.
One of the drawbacks of typical strength training workouts is that they leave an isolated weakness in the body that then becomes detrimental in day to day movement. While you strengthen certain muscles, like the arms and shoulders, you may inadvertently neglect to train others and that creates a pattern of compensation, which, means that when you use them together to perform daily activities one works harder than the other and that type of strain can cause injury.
Functional exercises teach isolated muscles to work together and thus when you pick up that suitcase, or your child, or reach for something on a high shelf you won’t tweak a weak muscle that is not properly trained. Workouts that include, bending, pushing, pulling, lifting, sitting, reaching, balance, twisting, and those that mimic day to day life engage the core muscles while at the same time targeting other muscles of the body providing an overall “functional” state of fitness.
Functional training goes beyond the above to mitigate bone loss through movements that support body weight and that helps to prevent osteoporosis. The multi-joint, multi-plane movements engage the body’s stabilizers that help to improve coordination, challenge the brain and ultimately serve you to cope with your day to day activities to become more functional.
Check back next Sunday to learn about the essential components and examples of functional exercises.