Functional training is a term we hear a lot about these days when talking about exercise. It is not one of those ‘fitness fads’ that come and go; it is a type of training that has proven to be a simple, effective way of improving your body’s ability to move and perform basic daily tasks. It involves doing exercises that combines the use of various muscles groups and joints allowing you to improve your strength and apply it in a practical way.
1) Lower Impact Moves
Functional exercises include many low impact movements that are beneficial to anyone with prior injuries; as well as a great starting point if you are a ‘newbie’. It can be overwhelming when wondering what exercises to start with and going back to the basics -push, pull, lift, bend and press movements are great starting points for any exercise program. You learn great technique form the start which is an important basis when you start to apply progressive overload principles (i.e adding more resistance to your workout!)
2) Your daily physical tasks become easier
Picking up kids, lifting shopping bags, moving furniture, gardening are some examples of tasks that require you to perform large movements and using more than one set of muscles and joints at once. By incorporating functional exercises into your workout your muscles get stronger , your joint range of movement increases and your muscles start to ‘remember’ these movements – so when you need to repeat it again your brain and muscles coordinate and your body can perform with more ease and less effort.
3) Better posture; less backache and headaches
There is a major emphasis on correct technique when performing functional exercises as you are often just using body weight as the main form of resistance and thus you are not always balanced or ‘assisted’ by a machine. The benefit to this is your body has to ‘support itself’ and you need to concentrate on your stability, use your core, think about your head and neck alignment and correct what imbalances may be occurring in your posture. You have the opportunity to potentially improve your posture as the exercises implemented through functional training will recruit and strengthen these specific muscles.
4) Reduce your chance of falls/ injuries
By repeating everyday life movements your body is more likely able to cope with any daily stresses. When training in a functional manner, your working muscles are strengthened as are surrounding ligaments too, which is the area that can often become injured (often due to tightness or weakness) The stabilisers that help to correct movement patterns are strengthened and will assist to reduce incorrect load or movement of a particular joint. Functional training improves your coordination with these repetitive movements thus potentially reducing your chance of a fall.
Feel happier and more capable!
All the benefits listed above combined with improved cardiovascular fitness lead to a happier state of mind. When you are able to do things with more ease – whether it’s the daily chores or your individual workout you feel more confident, capable and thus have more motivation to maintain what you are doing. Consistency is the key with exercise – and when you can successfully perform basic functional movements it motivates you to keep challenging yourself and trying new things!
Examples of Functional exercises
Squats are functional exercise because it trains the muscles you use when you are sitting up and down from a chair or picking up objects from the floor.
Push-ups are a great exercise to develop upper-body pressing strength. It improves your core strength and develops shoulder stability.
Pull ups use most of the muscles in your upper body (between your waist and neck!) and also develops your grip strength when pulling up your body weight in one swift movement
Rowing (on a machine) works 8 primary muscle groups: quads, hamstrings, glutes, lats, core, deltoids, triceps and biceps. In addition rowing is a fantastic cardiovascular workout -it is low impact and is great for injury prevention because the seated support reduces load on the hips, knees and ankles. The alternative resistance based rows mimics a ‘pulling’ action and strengthens your upper body whilst improving core stability as you ‘row’.
Lunges are unilateral exercises, meaning that they train one side of your body independently from the other. Training one side at a time vastly improves your balance and coordination. Add in a step to your lunge and you are training the movement of walking!