The key to zeroing in on a fitness program is finding one that works for you. Not one that’s currently in style or one that’s going to have you huffing and puffing and wishing you were dead ten minutes into it; but one that fits your lifestyle, needs and goals. This is precisely why I love functional training; you can work functional training into your fitness routine no matter what your current level of fitness is. Functional workouts target multiple muscle groups and train them into performing everyday activities that include better pushing, pulling, bending, throwing, swinging and catching better. These exercises activate multiple muscle groups, improve your mobility and balance, and strengthen your core better than let’s say, unilateral exercises.
Personally, I’d recommend functional training to anyone looking to improve their balance, posture, strength and agility, but let’s take a look at why this workout might work for you and what it involves.
Unlike traditional weight training exercises that are mainly unilateral, i.e., they use only use single muscles or limbs, functional workouts work multiple muscle groups and use multiple muscle joints. Why does this matter? Because, daily tasks such as bending over to pick something off the floor or reaching up to get something off a high shelf, or even mowing a lawn, use multiple joints. As you can see, most daily tasks require bilateral movements; meaning the movement of two limbs in order to complete a task. And since the entire focus of functional training is bilateral exercises and efficacy of movements, it actually helps you move better.
Let’s say you bend down to pick something off the floor. That movement right there is a squat. Functional movements are set in natural, working movements. The most common functional movements include:
- Horizontal pushing– Pushing a weight away from you. Examples of these include sled push, push-ups and its variants, chest press etc.
- Vertical pushing– Pushing a weight away from you in a vertical (overhead) direction. Examples of these include high incline bench press, overhead shoulder press and lateral raises
- Horizontal pulling– Pulling a weight towards your torso. Examples of these include seated cable rows, bent over rows, inverted rows etc.
- Vertical pulling– Pulling a weight downward toward your torso. Examples of these include chin-ups, lateral pull-downs, pull-ups etc.
- Quad movements- (Image– https://legionsupplements-legionathletics.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Quadriceps-Anatomy.jpg) The four muscles at the front of your thigh are what make up your quadriceps or quads as they’re commonly known. These movements primarily work your quads. Examples of these include front squats and its variations, lunges and leg press
- Hip and hamstring movements- (Image- http://www.centerworks.com/wp-content/uploads/Hamstrings..jpg) Hamstring muscles are the three muscles located at the back of your thigh. Examples of these include deadlifts, glute-ham raises, leg curls etc.
- Hip hinge movements- (Image- https://ascentpt.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/exercise-of-the-week-hip-hinge/) Remember how we talked about bending over to pick something up? That simple movement of squatting and bending over is a hip hinge movement. Hip hinge movements are absolutely essential and used in almost exercises known to man. The movement requires keeping the feet apart at a hip-wide distance, slightly bending the knees and bending over at the hip, all the while maintaining a neutral back. Examples of these include deadlifts, single leg kettlebell rows, sumo deadlifts etc.
This is the best part. Getting to work and putting everything you’ve learnt into action. You walk into your gym and head straight for the…what? Recognizing functional equipment and how it can be used or what it can do for you is a great way to get started on a functional training program. Here’s a quick overview of some of the equipment used in functional training workouts:
- Kettlebells– Probably my most favorite functional equipment. I’m known as the ‘crazy kettlebell lady’ at my gym and I couldn’t be more proud. You’ll always find me by the kettlebell rack swinging away and that’s just the way I like it. Kettlebell workouts help to improve your grip, strengthen your forearms and give you a good cardiovascular workout in under 30 minutes. Some of my favorite kettlebell exercises include the clean and press, kettlebell swing, double kettlebell swing, kettlebell bell jerk and Turkish get up to name a few.
- TRX Suspension Trainers– For a complete core and back workout. Improve your joint stability and core strength with TRX low rows, TRX chest press, TRX leg extension and TRX hamstring runners.
- Macebells- Macebells are great for overall strength and conditioning. Maceball tire smashes are probably one of the best ways to get your heart rate pumping. But try some variations such as throwing over a macebell over your shoulder and bringing it back forward, or grave diggers and half-moons. Here’s a handy video to get you started: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRXI8xC7J8w
- Medicine Balls- Another favorite! Medicine balls are so versatile. Excellent to build core strength. Try starting with simple medicine ball smashes, sumo squats with medicine balls and medicine ball wall smashes.
- Swiss Balls- Good for core and full body strength. Build a strong core by using the Swiss ball for standing rollouts, two-point planks, reverse crunches and wall ball squats.
- Cable Machines- Great for a balanced, total body workout. Use cable machines for cable squats, reverse flies and chest flies.
- Resistance Bands– Strength training without weights? It’s possible with resistance bands. Use these for bench presses, lateral raises, squats and back flyes.
- Sand bags– Often neglected, sand bags are a great way to build serious strength and conditioning. Use sandbags for squats, lunges and stiff leg deadlift.
So there you have it! Functional training in a nutshell. Remember, always consult with a health and fitness professional before embarking on any fitness regimen and always, always be sure to give it your all. You can’t fail if you never give up!