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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Functional Training

Don't let "functional" training confuse you.


Functional training is certainly a buzzword in the training world. In my opinion it is meaningless. Any sound training is functional. I mean if it's not functional, why do it at all? The most functional training of all is the heavy basic lifts that build the foundation for everything. Strength is the foundation of power, of endurance, and of movement. I can't really think of a physical activity that strength wouldn't improve. Nor can I think of an activity where strength would be a liability. I have never heard a coach say, "He (or she) would be a great (Fill in the blank here, football, volleyball, wrestler, running, jumpinig, throwing, basketball, baseball,....etc.) athlete if he (or she) wasn't so darn strong." Functional training isn't as complex as some like to make it seem. Get stronger and you will improve your function. The most efficient and effective way to get strong is to do some sort of squatting movement, some sort of pulling movement, and some sort of pressing movement. Pick weights up off of the floor and lift them over your head. Carry, push, or drag heavy weights. Go hard and heavy as you can, then recover and repeat. Practice your sport or activity along with lifting.
What could be more functional than that.

Functional training : Making the most of daily movements
Functional training may be the new mantra, but do you know what it is supposed to do?
Functional training is a buzz phrase in the fitness industry and, often, it gets widely interpreted. Many people confuse functional exercises with high-impact movements. Functional fitness is, as the name suggests, all about being fit for everything, through a combination of aerobic, anaerobic, agility, muscular endurance, strength and power training.
Postures that help improve the efficiency of daily movements, such as picking up something from the floor, lifting bags or children, pushing or pulling a sofa, and focus on training and developing your muscles to perform routine activities safely, help improve coordination, balance and stability and form a part of functional training. Most functional exercises tend to be compound movements that involve more than one joint action and two or more different muscle groups. For example a dead lift involves the glutes, hamstrings, calves, core, shoulders and arm muscles. By including a dead lift in your training routine you become more aware about safely picking up things from the floor without compromising the neutral alignment of your back. Functional exercises go beyond increasing the strength and power of the muscles; they work on improving coordination of various muscle groups and the nervous system.
Exercises that isolate joints and muscles are not functional training movements. These result in less functional improvement of the body. For example, squats will have a greater “transfer effect” of improving an individual’s ability to rise from a sofa than knee extensions on a leg extension machine.
In my experience, most faulty mechanics of bending and lifting patterns are due to weak core muscles. Functional exercises contribute to the improvement of the core (deep muscles in the abdominal area and the lower back) and exercises like the plank, side plank, and props like the Swiss ball, kettlebells, etc., should be included in training routines.
An efficient body needs not only strength; it needs the support of all components of training (strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness and core stability). For example, while lifting an infant you could hurt your spine for various reasons—lack of a strong core, which puts pressure on the lower back in the lifting phase, weak shoulder and cervical muscles could compromise the stability of the upper back. So another reason to include functional training in your workout would be to enhance coordination, agility and flexibility.
While functional training exercises help improve muscle definition, some may even burn more calories than a traditional weightlifting workout because the former rely on body weight as added resistance. This, in my opinion, is a true test of one’s strength. You should be strong enough to lift your own body weight. If you are not able to then either you might want to shed some kilos or build overall body strength. Research has shown that when people include functional exercises in their routine, it reduces the risk of injury.
Functional exercises are not limited to replicating everyday movements; they are also used to train sportspersons. For example, golfers and tennis players greatly benefit by including functional training in their routine. To replicate a good and strong swing, core exercises like the wood chop and dynamic variations of the plank are great, as they stabilize the pelvic- and aid-controlled trunk- rotation. For tennis, agility drills like using the ladder (an exercise prop) and overhead squats strengthen the legs and aid quick start and stop movements.
If you want to improve your overall fitness level, integrate these exercises in your workout.

Sumaya Dalmia is a wellness consultant, fitness expert and owner of Sumaya, a personal training studio in New Delhi.

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