Most people work out to improve their body composition, but exercise can do more than that. It can make it easier to do everyday tasks like carrying a heavy bag of groceries up a flight of stairs or moving furniture around in your house. That’s why a type of workout known as functional training is growing in popularity. Functional training builds strength, but it does so by imitating the movements you do every day, so these movements become easier.
How Does Functional Strength Training Work?
Functional training focuses on compound movements that work more than one muscle group at the same time. When you strengthen your biceps using an exercise like biceps curls, you’re only focusing on a single muscle. This may build strength or endurance, depending upon the weight you use and the number of reps, but it’s an isolated exercise. It doesn’t increase the ability of your muscles to work together as a unit to do tasks such as bending over to lift a heavy box or shoveling a pile of snow. On the other hand, if you do biceps curls while doing squats or lunges at the same time, you’re building “functional strength,” strength that’s applicable to everyday life.
Other Benefits of Functional Strength Training
Functional training often works upper and lower body muscles at the same time. Working multiple muscle groups and recruiting lower body muscles burns more calories, especially if you minimize the rest between sets. Functional workouts are also more time expedient since you’re working multiple muscle groups simultaneously. It’s a more “natural” way to exercise. After all, aren’t your muscles made to work together?
When you work more than one muscle group simultaneously, it also adds an element of balance. Developing balance helps to reduce the risk of injury if you play sports, and it makes you more resistant to falls and injuries in everyday life. Static strength training using machines does little to improve your sense of balance.
You don’t need weight machines to do functional exercises. You can do them at home using hand weights or resistance bands. No gym required. It’s a way to get a total body workout that imitates movements you do every day while burning calories and increasing coordination, flexibility and balance.
Functional training is also a good way to add variety to a workout. It’s not the best for isolating particular muscle groups or for building bulk, but it builds “practical strength” that translates into real life benefits.
Functional exercises are particularly important if you strength train using weight machines. Many machines work a single muscle group, and they don’t always recruit the core and the smaller stabilizer muscles. In addition, they do some of the work for you. Functional strength training is a way to diversify your routine. Doing functional moves also adds variety by challenging your muscles in a different way. This can help you avoid plateaus and exercise burnout from doing the same exercises over and over again.
The Bottom Line?
Functional training is growing in popularity for a reason. It adds a new dimension to strength training – but be prepared. Even though you’re using lighter weights, these moves are challenging if you’ve never done them before. Usually, it’s people who have focused their workout exclusively around weight machines that find them the most challenging. The good news is you’ll develop greater functional strength over time, which will make it easier to do the tasks you do every day. Plus, you’ll get a more toned and defined body. Who wouldn’t want that?
ACE Fitness. “What is Functional Strength Training?”