What is Functional Training?
You may have noticed the phrase Functional Training before and wondered what it means.
Functional Training is a colloquial term for movements that help to improve day to day activities. See this as a combination of 7 foundation movements: Plank, Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge, Lunge and Rotate. You'll combine at least 2 of these foundations in most daily movements and improving these will help reduce the risk of injury.
You probably know someone who has injured their lower back through twisting - putting on a seat belt, sneezing, reaching high. I for one injured my lower back around 8 years ago by tying up my spin shoes getting ready to teach!
In usual bodybuilding style of training, the body isn't challenged in many planes of motion and tends to be quite linear. A bench press - pushing the bar away from the chest in a straight line. A bicep curl, using only one joint to strengthen a small muscle group. By not challenging all 3 planes of motion you leave yourself at risk of not preparing your body to be able to accommodate forces in different directions.
This can also happen when you do not do any exercise (sedentary lifestyle) or sit in positions such as at a desk for a long time.
Where do you start with it all?
It's a bit of a tough place to start if you don't have much knowledge or have never tried anything like this.
Chances are, many of the movements you have completed before in training would be part of what we call functional movements. Things such as push ups which incorporates a push whilst maintaining a plank, or a pull up which incorporates a pull whilst maintaining a plank.
However there are many more movements or practises which can be incorporated into training which will help to improve performance and reduce injury.
It's worth mentioning that functional training incorporated into traditional weightlifting has been shown to improve movement quality - so before you worry about losing gains its worth considering that some movements may help you. Bicep curls, bench press etc still all serve a great purpose, but let's focus on how to improve as a whole.
Increasing your rotation and quality of rotation.
The body has approximately over 70%+ of muscle fibres which run in an oblique (sideways) direction. Think about a runner - lets say a sprinter such as Usain Bolt. If you were to watch him sprinting, you would notice that the body slightly rotates through each stride, especially around the obliques (surrounding the abs). By improving rotation you will improve stability, proprioception and the ability to shift body weight easier.
Improve your plank
The plank is considered the top dog of all foundation movements. By consciously engaging all muscles involved (quads, abs, hamstrings, glutes and shoulder girdle muscles to name a few) you will hold a much stronger plank. By improving this, you will likely see improvements to your ability to brace through heavy lifts which will enable quicker and more efficient progress.
Incorporate foundation movements into each workout
Now you don't have to include ALL 7 in one workout, but by focussing on a few elements together (and even combining them together such as a TRX Power Pull) you will be able to take a hollistic approach to your training, covering all essential movements. The benefit of this in the long run will help you to progress your fitness and reduce risk of injury in the long run.
It's been hard to keep this as a short, punchy blog post but I hope this helps to create a snapshot introduction to functional training. Over the next few weeks I will go into more detail about the foundational movements and how you can include them in your workouts.
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Pictured: TRX RIP Trainer