Functional Training - Training Inspired by Life
One of the latest “crazes” to hit the fitness industry is functional training. Functional training has made its way into mainstream fitness but is still relatively new to most athletes and general gym users. A lot of current training methods were developed back in the 60s and are still used today. Below is a brief overview of the traditional beliefs concerning performance training and some of the ways functional training can benefit you.
Back in the 1960s, Universal and Nautilus built and marketed resistance-training machines for gyms and home use. These resistance machines claimed to provide a superior training stimulus due to their ability to isolate muscle groups. This movement towards muscle isolation created the current bodybuilding model of training, which most people use today. This training model has enjoyed some success in performance enhancement and has become synonymous with weight training. However, the aesthetic emphasis of bodybuilding has not optimised many performance parameters to the satisfaction of most athletes and individuals looking for better function. For example, bodybuilders might look good, but it does not mean that they are necessarily fit or strong individuals. If you put a bodybuilder into an MMA fight, they would likely be beaten in minutes!
Lately, there has been a resurgence towards a more holistic approach to physical conditioning and the term, “functional training”. Functional training is not a new concept; it has been around since the beginning of exercise and training. The main distinction between functional training and bodybuilding training is that functional training trains movements, not isolated muscles.
Functional training is based on the concept of specificity, meaning you get what you train for. For example, if you train complex movements, you get better at moving. If you train one muscle, that muscle gets bigger. In simple terms, if one wants to get better and stronger at a certain activity, you would instinctively rehearse and train that activity, or at least parts of that activity. In sports, the best training for a particular sport is the sport itself! For example, marathon runners do not use a rowing machine to train for a marathon, and they don't do loads of bench presses either. Their primary training for running is running. Though a simplification, this pretty much sums up the concept of functional training.
Functional training is seen as a new training method in the fitness and sports industry. It has become popular mainly due to its focus on training movements, not muscles. Whether you're playing sports, working your golf swing, carrying your kids up the stairs or doing a grocery run, functional training more closely mimics the movements you’re trying to improve. This kind of movement-based training provides numerous benefits, both in terms of performance and overall fitness.
What are the benefits of functional training to day-to-day activities? How does functional training boost athletic performance?
Let's take a look at some of the benefits and advantages of functional training.
- Improved balance and stability optimise performance and function of your neuromuscular system - improving communication between your nerves and muscles.
- Boost sports performance, like increasing drive on a golf a swing.
- Reduce wear and tear on the body, thanks to a more holistic approach to training. Fewer injuries during training help your body to endure the stress of movement across all planes.
- Burn more calories thanks to greater muscle mass engagement.
- Functional training is safe, effective and fun; certainly a lot more fun than doing repetitive sets on an exercise machine. This is, objectively, the best feature of functional training. Functional training creates a playground-style training environment. Training can involve medicine balls, resistance bands, balance equipment, swiss balls, weights, kettlebells, suspension trainers, bodyweight exercises and many other things. This training approach can be tailored to all fitness levels, ages and athletic ability.
How to get the benefits from functional training and integrate it into your workout
There are some simple considerations that you need to take into account when you begin.
- Be specific or mimic the activity you are training for. Make sure to engage the same joints used in the movements you're preparing for. Remember to be mindful of speed and the angle of the movements as well. In simple terms, “train like you play/live”!
- Keep in natural. Do not allow yourself to be restricted or supported by external means. Specifically, don’t use weight machines or positions where your body is fully supported.
- Develop your training and focus from the inside out. The first thing to focus on is the core of your body, followed by the extremities, e.g. arms. You can start out by just using your body weight before adding extra resistance.
- Integrate controlled chaos if you are training for sport. Sport is unrehearsed and unpredictable! Take boxers for example; they cannot do all of their training simply by hitting a heavy bag for 12 rounds of 3 minutes. Bags do not move or hit back! To train effectively, you would need to incorporate sparring with different partners to teach your body how to react to the chaos of a real-world situation.
- Prepare your joints for movements in all directions. When training or exercising, you need to deal with multi-joint and multi-planar movements. Sports and real life are full of these movements. Very rarely do we use a single joint or plane of motion. Your training should involve all directions and movements through up, down, left, right, twists and bends.
Functional training addresses all of the training needs for today’s athletes and gym users. For those who to lose weight, functional training is an excellent way to increase cardio training and burn more calories, while developing a muscular body that performs as well as it looks.
As for injury rehabilitation, functional training is the best choice for accelerated recovery and can significantly reduce the likelihood of an injury occurring.
Athletes or individuals who enjoy playing sports will find that functional training is the newest and fastest way to enhance performance. Improvements take half the work (e.g. weights lifted) of more traditional methods.
For further information or ideas on what exercises or classes you could be doing at Habit and how to improve your athletic performance - to carry all the groceries in one trip - talk to a member of the team.
Jon Serni is a Personal Trainer at Habit Majestic and Habit Platinum in Wellington