Functional Training: Exercise Buzz Words

Do you speak “gym-ese”? It’s the language everyone uses while walking around the gym. You know, dropping words like “reps”, “sets”, “maximum heart rate”, “HIIT”, or “functional training.” If you don’t speak the language, it all sounds like a bunch of garbly gook. I thought I’d take a few blog posts to break down the buzz words and give you an idea of why they’re being spoken.

You may be able to do a super heavy bench press or squat twice your body weight, but taking your toddler in and out of the car throws your back out every time. Functional training is training that helps you “function” in daily life activities with strength and endurance. The training usually includes utilizing muscles in a way that makes them work together, incorporates stabilizing muscles, and usually requires core support and control. Being able to do heavy bench press and squats definitely indicates strength, but when done individually, they isolate particular muscle groups. A bench press and a squat are both very important exercises and can be part of a functional training program, but you might see the squat partnered with rotation of the torso and a reach of the arms. This kind of movement might simulate picking up rocks in your landscaping and putting them in a wheelbarrow. Picking a toddler up out of a car requires strength of the back, arms, and hamstrings. Choosing exercises that utilize those muscles together in a similar action would “functionally train” you for that daily activity.

Functional training, while it’s definitely a strength building training, doesn’t always use weights or equipment. Functional training often just uses bodyweight, focusing on form and control. Injuries that occur during daily activities often come about because people lack core control and don’t know how to properly engage important supportive stabilizing muscles that help you to function safely even with highly repetitive movement. You might see the use of big stability balls, smaller weighted medicine balls or BOSU balls (half of a ball on a round board.) These tools help you to train muscles to work together to keep balance and shift weight with control.

Functional training isn’t just for preventing injury, it can help you do your favorite activities longer! For instance, if you are a downhill skier, you know that without some functional training, your first time out on the hills may be a lot shorter or include many more breaks than your last runs of the season. If you condition your body pre-season with the use of functional training, you’ll hit the mountain with the ability to go longer and harder. A functional training program for skiers would include a lot of leg exercises with weight shifting to strengthen the core muscles that will keep you strong on your skies no matter what kind of snow you’re looking at.

Because Functional training requires concentration and control to keep perfect form, it is often a lot harder than it looks. The movements are usually performed until you can no longer keep form and doesn’t focus as much on how many repetitions you get in. The goal is to create strength in good form and endurance to do the activities of choice for a long period of time. With functional training, you gradually add reps and time to your movements to increase both strength and endurance.

Try this Functional Training workout keeping these things in mind:
1) Always draw the belly button toward the spine to engage the core.
2) Move at a speed that allows you to perform the movement perfectly.
3) Do as many as you can maintaining the first two tips.

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