Functional Muscle Training
Have you ever heard the term ‘functional muscle training’ and wondered what it means? If I said, in my opinion, it is the most important and effective way of exercising the muscles, keeping fit and making day to day chores and activities easier and even pleasurable, would you be interested in hearing more?
The reality is, for a large proportion of our community, exercise is pretty low on the ‘to do’ list. Our lives, while being flat out with work and family are very sedentary. We spend hours on end sitting and move very little. The result of our lifestyles is that we have poor core strength, weak pelvic floor muscles, poor muscle strength and general fitness. Due to our limited time for extra exercising, working out in a way which will compensate for our lack of activity will make general tasks easier and less likely to result in injury. For some people activities such as gardening, playing sport, lifting and carrying children, putting on shoes, getting dressed and putting shopping away are really difficult as a result of our lifestyles. Functional muscle training is all about making these tasks easier.
Functional exercises use movements which require a number of muscle groups to work together, just like how they are intended to work when doing ‘stuff’. These kind of exercises are called compound exercises because they combine more than 1 exercise together. The reason this kind of exercises is called ‘functional’ is due to how we move when carrying out day to day, functional tasks.
For example, think of a simple task such as carrying your shopping out to the car from the shop. What muscles are used to carry out this task safely?
- Quads, hamstrings and glutes- to bend down to pick the bag up off the floor.
- Lower back, core abdominals and obliques- to straighten up.
- Shoulder muscles such as deltoids, back muscles such as latissimus dorse, trapezius and arm muscles such as biceps and triceps- to carry the bag and put it in the car.
Carrying out exercises in the gym which focus on strengthening these muscles improve the efficiency of how they work together makes sense.
Functional strength exercises force us to use our stabilizing muscles such as our core abdominal muscles, muscles around the joints, such as knees and the rotator cuff (shoulders), whereas fixed exercises do not. So, put simply, functional strength exercises give us the type of strength that stops us from getting injured.
Group Fitness classes offer great compound functional muscle conditioning. For example, in a Sculpt class you might do an exercise such as a squat, add on a shoulder press with resistance, then add on a twist. This is a compound exercise and works the quads, obliques and shoulders. Other classes which offer great functional muscle training exercises are Body Pump, Pilates, FitBall, Aerosculpt, Body Step, Body Attack, Fit Box….. In fact, pretty much all our classes have a functional training component.
Cardio exercise such as cycling, running and walking are also compound exercises as they work many muscle groups together, just like how we move every day. These exercises also have the benefit of improving cardio vascular fitness and make tasks like walking up stairs or hills easier.
If my time was limited, I could only get to the gym once or twice a week, and I spent the rest of my time staring at a computer screen, I would make the focus of my training as functional as possible. This would mean walking up a flight of stairs would be easier and undertaking general tasks would be easier. Lifting heavy weights, working the muscles in isolation, is fine if your main goal is muscle growth. However, if time is limited, compound exercise is much more productive and gives results which will help keep you fit, injury free and mobile long into old age.
Here is an Les Mills article on this topic http://www.lesmills.com/knowledge/fitness-research/functional-strength/
Group Fitness Manager