What’s is functional training and how it can benefit
While functional training has become somewhat of a buzzword over the last couple decades, it’s certainly not new. Once an popular training method, it took a backseat to bodybuilding in the era of Arnold Schwarzenegger and ‘pumping iron,’ but saw a resurgence in the ‘90s, when the those bigger physiques became problematic for many sports.
This created a demand for an alternative method of training – one that could rehabilitate injuries and improve performance without building too much muscle. It was at this point that functional training re-emerged and became more accessible to the general population. Information that was once only available to experienced specialists at conferences and seminars could be found in fitness magazines and, eventually, on the Internet and online platforms like YouTube.
What is functional training?
When we talk about functional training, we’re referring to a type of training that focuses on developing functional strength that is specific to a given activity – it could be a sport, an activity of daily living, or even a work task. And rather than aiming to increase the force-producing capability of a muscle, more focus is placed on enhancing the overall coordination between the nervous system and various muscular systems.
This type of training differs from others because it’s about more about movement patterns than muscles. The four pillars of human movement are locomotion, level changes, pushing and pulling, and rotation – basic movements that most people perform in everyday life and sports. Training functionally requires working on these movement patterns in ways that benefit your chosen activity. For example, running is performed in all three planes of motion, and the human gait cycle requires single-leg stability and rotation. To train functionally for it, then, you might consider doing, single-leg squats, speed skaters, transverse cable twist, and stability ball hip lifts.
It’s important to remember that functional training progress is mainly evaluated by movement quality. So while you’ll still want to use training variables like load, sets, and repetitions, much of your emphasis should be placed on how well you’re performing the movement, then adding complexity and progressing to adding external resistance.
4 reasons to engage in functional training
While everyone has their own reason for training for functional strength, there are a few key benefits that make it an attractive option.
1. You don’t need lots of space or equipment
Since functional training is more about movement than equipment, you can get started with a few basic training tools and some open space. This means that anyone can turn a space into a functional training area and get a great workout in half an hour. It’s the ideal approach for people who have a busy schedule, travel often, or prefer to train at home with minimal equipment.
2. You will get stronger without getting ‘big’
While this is a key benefit for athletes in weight class sports, it’s also a plus for people who want to gain strength without gaining too much size. Since functional training works on the synergistic actions between muscle groups, the body distributes the work and places less stress on any one particular muscle.
3. You will see performance improvements
Functional training is all about specificity. This means considering the specific demands of the activity you’re training for and developing a training program that focuses on improving the body’s response to those demands. It’s not about trying to replicate those exact sport skills in the gym, but about strengthening movement patterns and muscle groups that transferable to those skills.
4. You can improve proprioception
In comparison with traditional strength training and bodybuilding, functional training is thought to produce more meaningful information for the body. This is because it engages both the muscular and central nervous systems. If you were training for a run, a reaching lunge would be more appropriate than a seated leg curl exercise. Why? Because the lunge requires the body to process more information from various muscle groups and its environment in a way that is similar to the motion of running. The leg curl, on the other hand, uses a seated position and a fixed pattern of movement, so the body requires minimal information to be able to perform the exercise.
Common functional training equipment
As we noted above, one benefit to functional training is the simplicity of the equipment. Here are some of the key tools commonly used in this type of training.
● Dumbbells can be used to load any functional exercise. They produce freedom of movement, which requires stabilization from each limb.
● Resistance bands and pulleys are the only tools that can provide resistance horizontally or diagonally. They resist slow, heavy movements and light, explosive ones. Bands are the most versatile tool, since they’re portable and can attach nearly anywhere.
● Stability balls bring some instability to training, helping improve stability at various joints and supporting the body in positions that it can’t normally maintain.
● Medicine balls are best used for throws for power development, but they are a great tool to load various functional training exercises.
● Kettlebells can be used in many different ways, from strength exercises like a front squat to metabolic protocols involving swings. Since they have thicker handles and a unique center of mass, they challenge wrist stability and grip strength.
● Suspension systems are both portable and versatile, increasing the demand for stabilization and movement coordination.
Whether you’re working out at home or going to the gym, incorporating some functional training into your exercise regimen can help you improve the way your body moves for the activities that are important to you.