Functional Fitness Training

Functional Fitness TrainingIf you want to improve your lifestyle then you should be training to the principals of functional fitness. If you find it hard to cope with what’s required of you on a day to day basis you need to start training and do something about it.

If your in this category then Functional Fitness Training might be the answer.

The term functional fitness describes a process of training, not the end result.  It is relative to your specific needs.  For instance my needs as a 26 year old are very different to that of a 50 year old female.

It’s very easy to confuse functional fitness for your lifestyle with sport specific training. Yes, being in great physical condition is indirectly beneficial to most sporting endeavors, but each sport will have an intricate skills set that will need to be trained for or in other words you still need to integrate relevant training to improve your physical ability as well as rely on whatever natural talent you’re blessed with by genetics.  But remember, if your not an elite level footballer then your lifestyle does not perhaps require you to to have the physical attributes that come along with that profession.  However that said, can you ever be in too good a shape?  I doubt it.  Just make sure you first tick off the requirements of your professional and recreational pursuits first, then begin to take on the world!

Functional Fitness Training isn’t new.  It’s about taking things back to basics and stripping back the fads in the fitness industry today.  Functional Fitness is about the basics of human movement in its purest form.  It is about encouraging our bodies to move as effectively as when we would plow the fields every day and not sit hunched over a steering wheel on the way to work, at a desk all day at work and at the coffee table at night.

Functional fitness is about using all of your body at once.  This means the practical application of this type of training is endless.  Functional fitness is about teaching all of your muscles to work together rather than in isolation.

Here are some great guidelines to follow from the US based functional training expert Vern Gambetta.

Simple to Complex: Start simple, progressing to more complex exercises only after mastering the basic movements of each exercise.

Known to Unknown: The training environment should begin with controlled, low-neuromuscular-demand exercises and then proceed to less-controlled, more proprioceptively challenging environments.

Low Force to High Force: Train lower-force, more controlled movements until you can master those movements, then proceed to higher-force, ballistic movements.

Static to Dynamic: Start with exercises in a stationary stance, then as those movements are mastered, add more dynamic movements.

Lying to Sitting to Kneeling to Standing (Two legs) to Standing (One Leg): This essentially takes into account all the previous steps in the progression. Lying and sitting are very controlled and proprioceptively less challenging than going to standing and then standing on one leg.

Functional Fitness is designed to help you get the most out of your body. To help you become more efficient and enable  you to cope with the tasks of your day to day life much easier.

Functional Fitness is just as much about teaching your body to move effectively and efficiently as it is about improving performance.  There is no point working on the performance outcomes of an exercise until that exercise can be performed effectively and efficiently.  Take a 100 metre sprint time trial.  You would aim for the best time over a distance until you had learnt the most effective running technique, starting position, etc.  This way you will give your body the best potential of achieving the optimum result.

The concept is simple, just train your muscles to accelerate, slowdown and stabilize, to do this statically and dynamically, both fast and slow. Use compound (multi-joint) movements in various directions and at different speeds.

From elite athletes to seniors functional fitness is the best way for you to cope with the activities of your day to day lifestyle.

Before you should tackle this type of training you need to ask yourself a few things.  This is not to discount your self from this type of training, but possibly to add other elements into your training.  You need to know what your lacking, what you need to work on most.  So that the elements you are going to need to work on are worked on.

Posture and body alignment – Does your body align itself effectively.  Does your body sit the way it should?  Chances are all of us have somethings we need to work on here.  As we age small dysfunctions appear due to injury, our profession etc.  This doesn’t mean we should throw in the towel.  It means we should acknowledge this and add things to our training that will improve these imbalances and therefore improve our overall performance and condition.

Coordination – There is no point attempting to do a squat standing on a fit ball if you cannot first perform a normal squat correctly as your coordination wont allow it.  Once again, don’t give up, or revert to machine weight etc (as these don’t require coordination and balance).  Simply start slower and integrate exercises that will improve your balance and once again, improve your overall condition.

Flexibility – Can you touch your toes?  Ok that may not be entirely relevant but how are you going to improve your performance if you cannot work through the most advantageous range of movement for a specific joint.

Balance – If you want to get yourself into the positions that will require core stabilization you will need an element of balance.  Balance is also essential in your progression to more difficult exercises.

Core Strength – A strong core is the key to increased sporting performance.

So now that we know the elements that we need to work on, how can we progress fundamental exercises to be far more challenging for our balance or core? By moving from stable positions for exercises to unstable positions, we place more demand on our bodies and force the elements we are looking to improve to be challenged. Think of progressing from a deadlift as the balanced exercise, to say a single legged deadlift as the progression.
Progressions of exercises are limitless with some professional guidance. Single arm deadlift, Kettlebell deadlift there are many ways to make things tougher. And these progressions are in no way limited to just the deadlift.

So what does this all mean? Well, would you consider a seated machine chest press to have a high degree of transference to your day to day life or to a sport you’re involved in? Or would you be far better served with a staggered stance cable chest press? The standing chest press allows you to utilize the muscles of your core and rotate through a more natural plane of movement, where a seated machine chest press will not engage the same postural muscles and the transference to real life situations is diminished.  Like wise the functional exercises you choose as part of your training plan need to have an amount of transference.  Is there really any point besides the party trick aspect of being able to do a bicep curl whilst standing on a swiss ball? Unless you are a circus performer, this would have very limited transference to real world situations.

If an exercise machine requires you to be seated into a fixed position, or lying fixed on a bench to a position then it will not allow you to move through alternating planes of movements.  If you can not move through alternating planes of movement then it is unlikely you are working in a real world situation.

Bodybuilding training has developed extensively over the past 20 years and is extremely effective at building bulk and muscle but this size is rarely transferred into usable strength and increased athletic ability.  So if you are using this type of stimulus to increase your performance hopefully this post has encouraged you to rethink the way you are training.  However if you are using that type of training for aesthetics alone then don’t move over to functional fitness training.  Aesthetics are a result, but not the focus.  By integrating elements of core and balance training into your strength training sessions we can see a far greater improvement in your overall functioning and performance.

So, do you already train to the principles of functional fitness? What sort of benefits have you seen? What are the exercises that you have seen the greatest benefit from?  I would love to hear about your experiences.  Check back on this post often, as you can see it’s a long one, and it will be continually evolving!

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