Functional training involves exercises which mainly focus on the strengthening of abdominal muscles and back muscles. As core strength increases so does balance and efficiency which reduces injuries.
Functional training involves primal movement patterns and multi-planar ranges of motion. These are movements that children do naturally. This improves coordination by re-training the muscles to work together in more efficient patterns. Instead of using fixed pathway machines in one plane of movement, free weights are used along with other equipment. This stabilizes the joints and allows a far greater range of movement.
Functional training is especially useful in our sedentary lives. We are not designed to sit at desks for up to 10 hours a day nor have we evolved to sit in cars and trains. Neanderthal man would have remained active throughout the day, hunting and gathering food, rarely sitting for any length of time.
This means that our hip flexors fail to develop and the gluteus (Gluteus Maximus Medias and Minimus) are not utilized. Calves tend to shorten from wearing heels and flexibility decreases. This makes anything even walking more difficult as the hip flexors do not properly engage.
Functional training helps to alleviate problems caused by a bad posture, it prevents injuries later in life and improves back strength enormously. Lifting objects and bending become easier and fitness improves.
Even fit people and regular gym users can get injured if they do not incorporate some functional training in their routine. Training chest and biceps causes a rounded posture and weakened back. Using fixed pathway machines does not use the core which weakens further. Functional training can lead to better muscular balance and joint stability, in turn decreasing your risk of injury as a result. Lifting heavy weights without having good core strength will make injuries very likely.
Runners often have knee problems due to overload of forces on certain structures in the knee joint or surrounding region – namely the ilio-tibial band and patella-femoral joint. This is usually caused by problems in the hips.
As with every fitness program, once your body adapts to the program, gains slow down, so challenge yourself by varying the routine every 4-6 weeks.
Expect slow steady progress, an increase in coordination, strength and balance if used on a regular basis. Weightlifters often find it much harder than they would expect at first, using their own body motion to train, improve and extend. It is perfect for anyone no matter how fit, and has its roots in rehabilitation of people with injuries. In fact many of the pieces of equipment used including ViPRs were first used in rehab patients.
There is a large variety of equipment that can be used, all are easily portable and frankly a good deal more fun than fixed pathway machines.
Kettlebells, dumbbells, suspension kits such as TRX’s, gymnastic rings and even cable machines are very effective. It is even possible to do a functional workout in the park without any equipment.
A common myth about functional training is that it leads to an increase in muscle mass. Actually the muscle that is created by functional training is leaner and stronger, the ligaments and tendons are more effective than that created with generic bodybuilder type training regimes.
Another misconception is that functional training leads to a decrease in flexibility. On the contrary, functional workouts increase flexibility and often do not need to involve a stretch at the end of the session. The clean and jerk for example stretches all the major muscles, the overhead squat is great at increasing flexibility in the Lats. The stiff leg deadlift increases flexibility in the hamstrings.
To get started with functional training, carry out some research and locate a good trainer or coach. Once you learn all the basic moves, it’s time to start your new regime for a leaner, fitter stronger body.
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About the Author: Nadia Tejani lives in Surrey and works as a Personal Trainer specialising in weight management and obesity. She is also a Sports Massage Therapist and fitness model. Nadia runs marathons and does Olympic weightlifting and she has been competing nationally in Natural Figure (Bodybuilding) competitions since 2008. Nadia has a degree in Pharmacology and is qualified in Nutrition. She sticks to a strict clean vegetarian diet and practise what she preaches! Nadia has 3 dogs, a tiny horse and 2 pygmy goats.