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What is functional training?

Michael Winter
June 30, 2014
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In the fitness world, the term "functional training" is often bantered around, with most people not knowing what this actually means in relation to what they do or how this may affect their training or general day to day movement patterns. Wikipedia defines functional movements as "…movements based on real-world situational biomechanics. They usually involve multi-planar, multi-joint movements which place demand on the body's core musculature and innervation."So what does this mean in today’s society?To exercise functionally, we need to perform movements that imitate the actions we do on a daily basis. For example –• Lifting children• Doing the washing• Carrying the groceries,• Mowing the lawn• General household dutiesThere is a role in using weights as long as they incorporate funtional movements or at least, by the end of the routine, have invioved all three planes of movement as will be explained.Functional training attempts to imitate the day –to- day movements of the individual. If you analyse 99% of people’s movement they will move along three planes:1.Sagittal Plane (divides your body into left and right) : Movements to the side of the body, moving to or away from your mid-line. E.g Lateral Raises2. Frontal Plane (divides the body into front and back) : These movements involve the push-pull motions and/or rotational movements. Common actions you may know of e.g. the bench press and the woodchop are included in this plane.3. Transverse plane (divides the body into top and bottom): These movements include knee and hip flexion and front raises. Functional training originated as a form of injury rehabilitation with exercises that are relevant to the movements of everyday life. Many traditional workout programs limit performance in specific hobbies, sports or daily movements, but functional fitness develops basic motor patterns to work at a higher capacity. Each functional exercise uses complete muscle activation and a purposeful movement pattern which allows for maximum strength gains.Traditional weight training often only works one muscle at a time which is contradictory to the normal coordinated effort used to complete most activities. This type of training is more likely to lead to overuse injuries, muscular imbalances, and limit movement and strength gains.The table below gives you a summary of the differences between tradtional weight training and functional training. I am sure after reading this you will realise that the benefits of functional training far outweigh those of traditional weight training for most if not all people.Traditional TrainingFunctional Training Focuses on one muscle at a time Seated or supported position Overuses forward/backward plane of motion Slow movement speeds for machine reps Not related to movements of everyday life Results in tightening of muscles Un-challenging postural situations Range of motion restricted Develop more bulging, bulky, swollen muscles Can lead to muscular imbalances/overuse issues Controlled and less effective movement pattern Shortening of muscle tissue Use of many muscles simultaneously Need to stabilize self Uses all three planes of motion equally Mirrors movement of every day life Core muscles actively engaged Allows for maximum strength capacity Improves posture and body position Complete activation of muscles Longer more natural looking muscles Helps prevent injuries Purposeful movement pattern Lengthening of muscle tissueAt Alive Personal Training, functional training is what we do. There are no machines. The programs are mutli-planar and work over more than one group of joints. This creates a much more effective and beneficial program. We like to challenge clients to “switch on their core” by changing their base of stability and their center of gravity. The equipment we use can be as simple as a hill, a step or ones own body and we can also involve equipment such as Fitballs, BOSU balls or the TRX.

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