Functional Training Basics
Ok, you may be relatively fit, but fit for what? That’s the question aimed at many gym-goers by proponents of Functional Exercise. Our Ethos is simply: Exercise should have a higher purpose than (just) making you look good.
It should, for example, make you stronger, and more lithe in performing the duties & actions of your everyday life, which a lot of gym (machine-based) exercises simply do not.
Functional exercise, as its name implies, mimics the motions you perform in your ordinary everyday routine or in playing your favorite sports. Many hours in the gym building big biceps may earn you an admiring wink from other bodybuilders ..but that strength won’t necessarily protect you from a back injury the next time you catch your running jumping child.
Why? – When you exercise with most standard gym machines, you are locked into a fixed position. A belt or bar or padded seat keeps you stable while you perform a simple motion, – one meant to exercise a single muscle.
Seated on a bench, say, doing biceps curls, you are cranking a camshaft connected to a weight. That’s fine for building size on the one muscle, but how often in real life do you lift weights while seated?
In real-life when you lift the rubbish bag for example, you’re standing up. Your body isn’t locked. As you flex your biceps, you may be turning at the waist or bending. You may be standing on an unstable surface a wet floor or an uneven curb that forces you to fight for balance. Under these conditions when you have to lift, your body must suddenly recruit many different muscles all at once, not just ones that lift the weight, but others to keep you stable while you’re lifting. It’s no wonder that machine-trained bodies frequently suffer unexpected injuries.
Traditional gym wisdom also says you shouldn’t flex your spine while lifting. This is a fairly silly idea from a functional viewpoint, as nearly all real-world activity from picking up your kids, playing golf, getting in and out of a car, all involves flexion of the spine.
Machines, it is true are “safe on the back” whilst you are exercising, but much less so afterwards, as an unexercised back is a too easily injured back.
The key is to understand the biomechanics involved and exercise in a biomechanically “natural” way. Proponents of functional exercise use movements that demand simultaneous use of many muscles.
Furthermore, they add instability. Instead of doing arm curls while seated at a machine for example, they would do them while standing, possibly even on one leg with dumbbells.
They might also perform curls while lunging, twisting, or teetering on a core-board. Besides making you stronger for real-world situations, such exercise promotes faster weight loss:
The more muscles you recruit, the more calories you burn.
Another advantage of this is usually the need for much less weight to be lifted, for the same results, i.e. as an easy example, compare your maximum bench press weight with your maximum double dumbell press weight figures. The difference is the functional exercise effect. And, functional exercise doesn’t require much equipment, nor is it expensive.
Needless to say, anybody with a big investment in gym machines aren’t ecstatic about functional exercise, as its possible to easily train elite athletes, thro to grandmas and post-coma patients, all without a machine in sight.
……………..Kev Grant is a REPS3 Qualified Personal Trainer based in Ibiza
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