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FUNCTIONAL FITNESS TRAINING: WHAT IS IT & HOW TO DO IT

With the emergence of Crossfit and TRX suspension training in the last few years, functional strength and fitness training has become an industry buzz word. But what exactly is it and how can you use it to enhance your own routine? Keep reading to find out.

Did you know there are over 640 skeletal muscles in the human body? The problem is only 10 or so of these have been desingated the chosen few to be worked out - chest, biceps, triceps, abdominals etc.

Perhaps because these are the mucles 'on show' and can be most readily seen by the naked eye. The reality is, your body is meant to function optimally with these 640 muscles working together like a well-oiled machine. The answer? Functional training.

Functional training is the new training style totuted by exercise profesisonals where your strength and fitness gains 'carry over' to real-life everyday sitautions. In essence you're no longer training for vanity reasons with no real goal in mind. Instead, you're training for the benefit of improving your quality of life. Is your training 'functional'? Get started and ask yourself these 4 simple questions below to find out! 

Is My Training Progressive?

If you're not continually striving to better your previous workouts, your results and you motivation can take a hit. Progressive training steadily increases the strength and fitness demands from workout to workout. Continually challenge your body to learn and apat by varying the speed and plane of movement, repeptition range, weight, exerise order, time, and number of sets to keep things fresh and fun.

Is My Training Goal Orientated?

The principle of specificty states that you train like you play/live. Before you embark on an exercise program, you need to decide what your goals are, and then you need to determine which methods of training are going to help you support and accomplish them.

Is My Training Proprioceptive?

Are you training in an environment that teaches your central nervous system how to communicate more efficiently with the rest of the body? Proprioception training improves your ability to percieve position, pattern and speed of the body in time and space, by gathering more accurate information and quikcly delivering it to the brain. Your reaction time to unpredictable and sudden chnages in situations improves hand-eye-foot coordination, technical skills, speed strength and power, which is ideal for sport-specific training.

Is My Training Multi-Directional?

Instead of lifting in the typical planes of movement, to the front and to the side, do you move the weight in diaganols, circles, and at varied angles? When you factor in different planes of movement into your workouts, your body is required to adapt to a greater range of movement, and many more muscle, tendons, ligaments and joints are recruited to to complete the movements, thereby improvng your body's efficiency.     

How Did You Do?

If you answered 'yes' to all the above questions, then you are making great progress towards an effective functional strength and fitness training program. If you answered 'no', then keep reading!

WHAT IS FUNCTIONAL TRAINING?

In a nutshell, functional training can be thought of in terms of a movement range. As humans living out our day to day lives, we perform a wide range of movements, such as twisitng, bending, pulling, pushing, running, lfting, jumping, climbing and standing. In functional training, it is as important to train the specific movement, as it is to train the muscles used in the movement.

The brain and central nervous system (CNS), which controls muscular movements, thinks in terms of 'all or nothing' - whole motions, not individual muscles. The primary goal of functional training is to transfer the improvements in strength achieved in one movement to enhancing the performance of another movement by activating the entire neuromuscular system.  

What makes an exercise 'functional' is its ability to train your whole body to mimic everyday life and sport specific activities. The leg extension machine is not considered a functional exercise because there is no movement in everyday life, or in sport where you 'isolate' just your quadriceps muscle without also activating your hamstrings, hip muscles to extend your leg from from the knee joint down.

On the flip side, the squat is a highly functional exercise because it actively recruits your entire body in the movement - everything from the muscles that make up your leg (quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes) right through to your core and upper body which help stabilise the bar are working here.

Plus, the actual squat movement is a highly functional movement pattern as you're constantly squatting down, whether to pick or getting in and out of a chair. The result? You'll stay more mobile, flexible and strong as you get older and reduce your risk of injury. Fianlly, the squat build coordination, balance and mental stamina.

THE SQUAT: THE KING OF FUNCTIONAL EXERCISES

Working the muscles of the things, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, lower legs and lower back to stabilise the torso, the squat is the closest you can get to a full body exercise. Watch the short instructinal video below to hone your technique.

 

Once you've mastered the squat technique, take a look at these 4 advanced squat variations below. Practice makes perfect!

Squat & Reach - Swissball

Stand with your feet staright ahead and shoulder width apart while holding the ball in front of you at hip level. With your abs braced and back straight, lower yourself down into a squat position by bending your knees to 90 degrees, simultaneously bringing the ball up and overhead. Return to starting position completing 20-25 reps.

Single Leg Lunges - Swissball or chair

Stand in front of the ball or chair. Place one foot on the ball or chair with leg extended and hands on your hips. With your core braced and back straight, lower yourself down by bending your knee to 90 degrees. Complete 20-25 reps on each leg.

Chair Squat

Stand in front of the chair with your feet parallel and hip width apart. Place your hands on your wasit, or if you prefer you can hold a pair of dumbells. Bend your knees and sit back, pushing your butt out, lowering yourself towards the chair as if you were going to sit down. Continue to bend your knees, keeping your spine neutral (refer to video), until you almost touch the chair. Squeeze your buttocks and press into your heels to return to the start position. Complete 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions.

CHOOSE YOUR MODE OF RESISTANCE

Machines have thier place in an exercise eprogram and offer benefits such as allowing you to perfect correct technqiue, injury recovery and allow you to lift more weight than if you were using free weights. Unfortunately, machines don't provide a good fit for everybody.  

Free weights and kettlebells on the other hand, highlight and can help correct imbalances in the body. They also make weight lifting more like a sport by challenging your balance, coordination, and full body stabilisation. The optimal formula is a combination of body weight, free weights and machines. Working with tools which deliberately create instability, such as the wobble board and Swiss ball are particualry good for functional training and improving balance.

Everyone has the ability to improve their balance, which reduces the risk of falling and injury. If you are just starting to work on your balance, a great exercise to start with is the tandem stance - a static hold position. To practice this, stand near a support, such as a chair, for safety (though try not to use it if you can!). Place one foot directly in front of the other, keeping your feet perfectly straight and fix your eyes on an object in front of you.When you can successfully hold the positon for 30 seconds, try closing your eyes to increase the level of difficulty (not so easy now, right!).