If you are new to the term ‘Functional Training’, it simply refers to a method of exercise which involves training the body for the activities we perform every day.
Functional Training For Life
A squat is essentially the movement we use to get up out of a chair. A tricep dip replicates the joint action of getting out of the bath. These are examples of exercises with a very realistic purpose/ meaning behind them. Functional Training can be prescribed to anyone for a specific task – For example; Tennis Players will train functionally to improve their dynamic flexibility while retaining power and speed on the tennis court, a senior citizen may include Functional Training exercises as part of their workout to keep them strong enough to climb the stairs… It’s those kind of examples which make this particular method of exercise incredibly useful for everyone, from athletes to older adults, who need to stay mobile and strong enough for their everyday tasks.
Functional Training encourages our joints and muscles to work together in groups which means a positive impact on our balance, agility and total body strength… Worlds apart from the much more linear movements of standard Weight Training machines you find in the average gym which force your muscles to work independently of each other.
Functional Training & Natural Movements
When you stop to think about how we naturally move, performing exercises which mimic ‘free form’ movements makes perfect sense to include in your training regime. After all, even when we do something as natural as running, all the muscles in our body have a job to do simultaneously. Not convinced? Try running without using your arms! Shouldn’t our gym workouts then replicate and enhance the way we move naturally?
We live in a three dimensional world and our exercise programmes should reflect that fact. Your routine should include Multiplanar Exercises (which means working in different planes of movement), Rotational Exercises (which promote flexibility and twisting movements of the spine) and Posterior Chain Exercises (exercises which engage the muscles on the back of the body).
Think about natural, primal human movements, i.e. climbing, swimming, hunting for food, running cross country, climbing trees, avoiding danger, to name a few… None of these movements are ‘linear’ or ‘restrictive’. In order to really boost your strength and fitness, your exercise regime should replicate multi-joint, compound movements.
5 Functional Training Exercises
I have selected just five exercises to demonstrate how using functional exercises can condition your entire body. These exercises incorporate twisting, working against your own body weight, balancing and activating muscles you didn’t know you had to accelerate your workout progress.
It’s arguable two basic physical skills could be needed to potentially save your life. One is swimming and the other is being able to lift your own body weight. Pull-Ups are incredibly tough and require total body control to perform them well. They also focus on the development of the back, arms and core muscles.
Find a suitable horizontal bar. The gym or a park would be ideal. Use a shoulder wide grip, maintain a strong core and aim to pull your chin upward toward the bar. Avoid swinging the body and aim to stretch the arms on the way down for maximum benefit.
Start with just one and build up. If you are a gym member and struggling with the technique, ask a member of the gym team to help. They may have an ‘assisted pullup’ machine which uses weights to counterbalance your body, making it easier to learn the movement before you try it alone.
Push-Up to Lower Body Twist
Push-ups are a fantastic body weight exercise which are amazing for conditioning the arms and upper body. When you add a lower body rotation to the mix, you are increasing both your spine and hip mobility, plus adding a core workout which will guarantee you a stronger midsection.
Perform a full push-up. Lift one knee and rotate the body from the hips. Aim to lengthen the leg out straight to stretch the hamstring. Repeat with the other leg.
Quick tip: The body will rotate better if you bend the arm on the same side leg you are using – For example; if you lift your left knee, bend your left elbow as deeply as you can to enable a good body twist to the right.
Reverse Lunge to Press
Stepping backwards into a lunge requires balance, coordination and stability. Add a shoulder press to that exercise and we automatically increase the engagement of your core muscles and posterior chain strength.
Stand upright with appropriately sized dumbbells at shoulder height. Take a long and reasonably wide step backward. Ease the back knee to almost touch the floor while simultaneously pushing the weights upward, above the head.
Split Squat with Rotation
This exercise has it all… Shoulder strength development, spinal rotation for core strength and mobility. It consists of multiplanar movement for stability and a split squat for leg strength.
Stand wide with your feet at shoulder distance apart. Keep your arms straight, holding the dumbbell directly in front of your face. Turn the feet to the right, dropping the back knee to the floor in a lunge position. Maintaining an upright neutral spine; pivot back to face forward to your start position, then repeat on the opposite side.
Straight Arm Bridge
Earlier I mentioned the importance of engaging the ‘posterior chain’ muscles. This exercise is a fantastic example of this in action. The straight bridge works all the muscles on the back of the body. This includes the deep back muscles, the glutes (backside muscles), back of the arms, core, back of the thighs and even the calves. The straight bridge is the perfect anti ‘office back’ functional training exercise.
Sit on the floor and place your arms at the side of your body, palms down with your fingers pointing toward your toes. Straighten the legs and push down into the floor through your heels. Lift your entire body upward while maintaining straight arms and soft knees.
Added Benefits of Functional Training
In addition to everything I have mentioned, as these exercises use all the muscles in the body at the same time, they use up a tremendous amount of energy and oxygen. As a secondary gain; this kind of training offers a huge benefit to burning calories and boosting your fitness. If you structure these exercises together properly, you can create a highly effective H.I.I.T workout to see some amazing results!
H.I.I.T (High Intensity Interval Training) Workout
If you would like to perform these Functional Training exercises as a H.I.I.T workout, sequence the exercises back-to-back and aim to complete as many repetitions as you can inside 45 seconds. Maintain a strict rest time of 30-60 seconds between exercises and aim for up to three circuits.
Remember – If you are a beginner, take your time with these exercises and start slowly. They are really challenging, so work on your technique and build the weights and resistance up over time.