What is Functional Strength Training?
One of the biggest buzz words of recent time is “functional training”. We are going to look at the concept vs the hype and determined if this type of training is right for you. Although we are not going to look at specific types of functional training exercises, some of these include, TRX suspension training, ViPR, Kettle bells, Bosu balance drills and callisthenic- body weight exercises.
The concept of functional training when executed correctly is designed to place the body under similar stress while replicating and mimicking movements that apply to your everyday life or sport. The bodies adaptation to this type of exercise is intended to give you better cross over benefits when performing either your daily tasks or sport when compared to traditional training methods.
For example a production line worker who lifts and twists all day long will feel stronger, more stable and less prone to injury during their daily tasks if they are better trained through the same planes of movement as their work.Equally a recreational footballer who is functionally trained through the same multi-directional movements such as accelerating, decelerating, turning on the spot, jumping etc. will be better prepared come match day.
Functional strength training will typically work the whole body through a full range of movement and in a variety of different directions. The big difference here is that you are relying on your body to work one complete unit rather than isolating specific muscle groups.
If we contrast this with an exercise performed on a fixed resistance machine such as the chest press for example, A clients movement and direction are all controlled and pre-determined. If we then place the same client onto a bench to perform a dumbbell chest press you will quickly see that they have more control over the direction and movement of the weight.
What typically happens initially is new clients lack the coordination skills to lift the weight they are capable of. A lighter weight allows the body to develop its motor skills and learn the new movement pattern. This requires the body to recruit more muscles fibres as it learns and adapts.
A natural evolution from here then becomes functional strength training. Teaching the body to be strong and fluid in all of its movements, and working the body as one and in a more natural way.
Functional Training has been growing in popularity and diversity for the last 20 years. More recently the mainstream exerciser has become increasingly aware of functional strength training and the potential benefits. As a result every fitness brand, product and exercise class wants to be seen as “functional”.
Functional training is about function after all. You should consider what function you need it to serve or what cross over effect are you looking for. For example let’s take a postman who pushes a trolley all day on his rounds. A strong chest, upper back and rotational work through the core will be essential to help push and steer a heavy trolley for several miles a day, negotiating curbs, pot holes and cambers in the road. The postman’s functional training should mimic these actions as closely as possible to make him better able to cope with the demands but also reduce fatigue and overuse injury.
Is Functional Training for everyone?
Everyone can benefit from functional training and it can be a truly flexible and fun way to exercise.
People just starting out could consider beginning with fixed resistance machines for a short period. These will help introduce you to the initial movement patterns involved in strength training. The fact that these are more controlled makes them a much safer way of learning.
Anyone who has specific injuries should consult their trainer first to ensure that they are able to allocate them a suitable level of exercise.
Those who have been strength training for a while will take to Functional training very quickly and love the full body dynamic nature. If you decide to start with functional training just consider that it could take you a little longer for the body to learn the movement patterns involved. Once you get to grips with it you will be hooked.
Above all functional training is innovative and fun. To get the most form this type of training you should have a good discussion with your trainer about your day to day life and the key aspects you would like to improve/mimic. Taking a focused approach will help pinpoint the best way of developing your training. Remember its functional, so what function would you like it to serve?
Functional training does not replace more traditional methods of strength training but it does help to expand on these more traditional methods, making them more accessible to a greater number of people.
In fact I think the reason Functional Training appeals to so many is its ability to bridge the gap between the body builder stereotypes, helping the masses to greater understand the true benefits of strength training.
By Andy Strong