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Functional Training- what is it? How can it benefit you ?

Someone asked me the other day “What are you training for …?”  To which I responded Life … Health and fitness has always been my passion and although I am not actively competing in sport or for a particular event, exercise plays a big part in my life both in my career and socially - So today I thought I would talk about Functional Training , what is it? Why should you incorporate it ? what are the benefits of this.

Functional training. It ranks among the buzziest of fitness buzz-terms. But what the heck do trainers mean when they call training “functional?” Isn’t all training performing some sort of function?

In a word, yes. But functional training as it pertains to improving your fitness is a bit more nuanced than that. “Ideally, functional training conditions you to perform the actions of daily life [more effectively and efficiently].

In short, functional training helps you build strength, power, and mobility that translates beyond the gym. It’s “real world” fitness.

Functional training as it’s more widely known today emerged from the rehabilitation of soldiers who returned from World War I with injuries that had cost them basic daily functions such as walking, bending, sitting, and standing. The physical therapy they received emphasized, among other things, core strength and mobility, which are essential for virtually all movement.

Over the years, bodybuilding, powerlifting, and other fitness disciplines have drawn the focus away from improving real-life movement to serving specific fitness objectives, such as creating defined, muscular physiques. But modern fitness ideology has renewed its focus on function, focusing on compound (multi-joint) movements instead of isolation (single muscle group) exercises. In so doing, it has expanded its equipment arsenal to include relatively recent innovations like slosh pipes, battling ropes, sandbags, kettlebells, and suspension trainers along with more traditional tools like medicine ball, barbells, and dumbbells.

Functional training focuses on movements, not muscles

There are two primary problems from a functional perspective with most typical gym routines. The first is that they they train individual muscle groups (biceps, pecs, quads, hamstrings, etc.) instead of movement patterns (e.g., pushing, pulling, lifting, stepping, walking, crawling, jumping, squatting). Second, they typically occur in a single plane of motion: the sagittal, which involves forward and backward movements and encompasses most classic exercises like the squat, biceps curl, and even running.

Here’s the thing: Human movement doesn’t usually recruit one muscle group at a time, and it certainly isn’t limited to one plane of motion. Indeed, it occurs in three planes of motion: the previously mentioned sagittal, the frontal (side-to-side), and the transverse (rotational).

But there’s more to functional training than simply incorporating more compound movements like the squat, and more “non-sagittal” exercises like the lateral lunge and dumbbell reverse chop into your routine. An effective functional training program also favors free weights over machines, focuses on working muscles through full ranges of motion (that means no “half rep” curls or presses), and incorporates plenty of instability work.

Functional training emphasizes unilateral movement

When Bosu balls came along in the late ’90s, they immediately became one of the go-to tools for functional training. The thinking was that performing movements like squats and presses on an unstable surface—be it a Bosu ball, wobble board, balance disc, or similar device—would build greater stability and balance. And that thinking was correct—to an extent.

That brings me to unilateral (single limb) training, a cornerstone of functional training. If you’ve ever done the Bulgarian split squat, single-leg straight-leg deadlift, single-arm bent over row, or alternating shoulder press, you’ve done unilateral training. (Bilateral training, by contrast, trains two limbs simultaneously—think biceps curl, bench press, or back squat.)

Not only can unilateral training help iron out muscle imbalances, but it also adds an element of instability that cultivates the kind of balance that translates to the real world (where the ground generally doesn’t wobble beneath you).

Think push ups, squats, step ups bear crawls  and ask yourself what are you training for ?

Why ?

I personally love Functional Training as it can help adults across all ages improve movement efficiency through  movement patterns like pushing, pulling, hinging, squatting, rotating, carrying and gait patterns (walking and running), functional training improves so many aspects of your day to day movement patterns  provides the strength, stability, power, mobility, endurance and flexibility.