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Functional Fitness Training Tips
The focus in fitness these days is functional exercises - exercises that simultaneously use multiple muscles and joints to improve muscular endurance, overall strength, coordination, balance, posture and agility to get a challenging, effective and fun full-body workout as well as prepare the body for every day, real world activities.
Below are examples of how to progress your Functional Fitness
LEVEL 1: Isolate and Educate
At this level, focus on muscle isolation and train the individual muscles selectively to build confidence and body awareness and increase the basic levels of muscle function. Exercises at this level are often performed supine (lying down with the face up) or prone (lying down with the face down), and as much of the body as possible remains in contact with the floor or bench to lessen the need for stabilizer muscle involvement. Therefore, these exercises are generally quite safe; just about anyone can learn to do them effectively with minimal risk of injury.
To enhance muscle awareness and education, gravity is usually the main form of resistance applied. Basic exercise at this level triggers the mind-body connection before outside stress (resistance) is added.
LEVEL 2: Add External Resistance
Use machines, weights, increased lever length, elastic bands or tubes while minimizing stabilizer involvement. In many cases, the actual exercise is the same as in level 1. In both level 1 and level 2, safety and alignment is the most important thing. It’s simply easier to perform these types of exercises safely and effectively while maintaining proper form.
LEVEL 3: Add Functional Training Positions
Select exercises that progress the body position to sitting or standing, both of which are more functional for most individuals. Sitting or standing reduces the base of support and increases stabilizer challenge. In most progressions, the targeted muscle group is still isolated as a primary mover while the stabilizers assist.
This is often the stage where you can begin to introduce free-weight exercises. Free-weight exercises are quite useful. For example, a variable-resistance gym bicep machine does not train the core muscles to help you pick up things, a free-weight bicep curl does.
LEVEL 4: Combine Increased Function and Resistance
Increasing the overload on the core stabilizer muscles in functional positions maximizes the resistance from gravity, external weights, Pilates, TRX®, bands or tubes. A lot of the exercises in this level are performed in a standing position to use the core stabilizer muscles. Pilates is a combination of all positions. These exercises begin overloading the muscles to prepare them for the stresses of daily living.
LEVEL 4: Use Multiple Muscle Groups with Increased Resistance and Core Challenge
In this level, multiple muscle groups and joint actions are used simultaneously or in combination. Resistance, balance, coordination and torso stability are progressed to an even higher level.
The emphasis at this level is challenging the core stabilizers to a greater degree. For example, doing an overhead press with dumbbells while performing a squat definitely challenges the core more than either of these exercises independently.
LEVEL 5: Add Balance and Increase Functional Challenge, Speed and Rotational Movement
At this level, exercises may require balancing on one leg, using a wobble board or stability ball, applying plyometric movements, rotating the spine while lifting or some other sport-specific maneuver or life skill. For example, training to improve one’s golf swing requires rotation, speed and power movements, as does training to vacuum one’s house. Risk of injury is potentially greater, so be careful! Depending on health history, fitness level and personal motivation make sure you don’t do these exercises with weights that are too heavy for you.
Increasing speed and rotation may be less safe but is how we live. Sensible progress to this level first produces aesthetic changes that eventually transition into needed “life skills.”