Question: I have heard the term “functional training” used when describing workouts but I am unsure exactly what this means? Could you explain in laymen terms what functional training is?
Functional training is a big buzz word in the fitness community. It personally is the only way I train myself, my personal training clients and in my boot camp classes. By definition – Function training is a classification of exercise which involves training the body for the activities performed in daily life. Whether we are talking nutrition or fitness – I always like to look at the big picture. In my opinion many people have it all wrong when it comes to working out. The focus should not be about how much you can bench press or how long you can run – rather the focus should be on building a body that is capable of doing real-life activities in real-life positions. Don’t get me wrong – running and/or using strength machines are still good for you but it’s also good to condition your body so you can excel in life.
Here’s a scenario:
Yesterday, you had a great workout at the gym. On each of the strength machines, you lifted more weight than ever before and ran at a faster pace on the treadmill.
Today, you lift a 20+ pound suitcase to carry it downstairs — and throw your back out.
What likely happened is this: You go to the gym 3 times a week, go through a circuit of strength machines and either head to the elliptical or treadmill. While all that is great, you are not focusing on your functional fitness. You have strengthened certain muscles by using machines but you have not taught your muscles to work together. By laying or sitting against a pad/bench – you do not activate your core or any stabilizing muscles. You might be toned and ready for the beach, but are you ready to lift your toddler out of his/her car seat, carry a suitcase or any other “real” life motions we make daily?
Working out has evolved beyond just cardiovascular and strength. While these are certainly important components to fitness, workouts are now being done with Bosus, kettlebells, stability balls, etc. These apparatus’s not only help with our strength and cardiovascular fitness but our balance, flexibility, agility, speed – all while shaping our bodies to its optimal state.
At the end of the day – people want results and when incorporating functional tools – you get results.
Let me share the beauty of my favorite workout tools.
The BOSU (both sides up) consists of two sides – an inflated, blue dome and a flat, platform. You can perform strength and cardiovascular exercises with the Bosu. By standing or kneeling on the BOSU, your body learns how to compensate for times when optimal body positioning is lost. Traditional strength exercises can be performed when standing or kneeling on the BOSU such squats, push-ups, bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, bent over row, shoulder presses, etc. These then become total body exercises because of the instability of the BOSU. To take your workouts to another level you can flip the BOSU so the flat side is facing up. By standing on the flat surface you created even more instability. Performing the same exercises listed above will activate even more muscle groups.
Jogging on the BOSU, for example, activates the entire leg from the ankle through the calf, thighs and pelvic floor. The muscles of the core are activated in order for you to maintain balance. The soft domed side of the BOSU provides just enough instability to make squats up and over the dome, toe taps, hill climbers, etc. more challenging. Flipping the BOSU so the flat side is facing up will provide even more of a challenge while activating even more muscle groups. when performing numerous exercises.
The Kettlebell is a cannonball with a suitcase handle welded to the top. It focuses on muscle integration rather than isolation. Nearly every drill recruits multiple muscle groups to work in unison. The body is trained as a whole and particular emphasis is focused on the core and back muscles. When your body is forced to recruit more muscles – you not only incorporate cardiovascular but you will burn more calories.
#3. Stability Ball
The Stability Ball is a heavy-duty, inflatable ball. Most people think only ab exercises can be performed on them but in fact you can perform upper and lower body exercises also. Maintaining proper alignment on the ball stimulates the body’s natural motor reflexes and encourages the body to react as a whole, integrated unit. You will see a variety of stability ball sizes. If you opt to purchase one – on the back it will guide you to which ball suites you best based on your height. I recommend choosing the smallest one they offer. The smaller the ball – the more your body is forced to balance the harder your body has to work which in turn has you burning more calories.
#4. Your own body weight
Our body provides us with one of the best “machines” – and the best part is – it’s free. By doing body weight exercises you are allowing your body to move in its preferred path of motion. You will learn how to move your body in a controlled and efficient manner and provide you with the skills you will need once you graduate to more advanced forms of working out.
Lacey Lee is the owner of Lacey Lee Fitness in Norfolk, VA. She is a personal trainer, bootcamp instructor and nutritional counselor. It is her goal to make sure everyone has the tools and support to establish and maintain a healthy lifestyle that is realistic for everyday living. For more information on Lacey and the services she offers, visit her website