The benefits of functional training

Functional training has its roots in physical therapy. The idea is simple and basically involves training for specific movements by doing similar movements. An example for this is a basketball player who is trying to increase his high-jump. A traditional approach would have him doing leg extensions, leg curls and leg presses. A functional approach however would simply have him doing regular squats and jump-squats.

Functional training often involves weight baring activities with a lots of emphasize on core stabilization. Functional training also teaches your body’s neuromuscular system to recruit your muscles in a more efficient way, and more often than not, movements originate at your core. An example for this is a martial artist. If he simply lifts his leg and uses his quadriceps to kick his opponent he will not be able to generate a lot of power. Through functional training he can be taught to create a lot more power by starting the movement with a trunk rotation originating at the core. If performed properly, this type of training leads to strength increases increased joint stabilization and muscular balance. This in turn helps prevent injuries.

Where there are different opinions however, there will always be a debate. Functional training advocates will say that by doing traditional, fixed exercises on a single plane of motion, you will not improve your overall performance when executing full body movements over all three planes of motion. Not only are you increasing your muscular strength and endurance while engaging in functional training, but you are teaching your body a motor skill. Your body learns how to use all the different muscles in conjunction with each other to perform the motion in the most efficient way.

The other side will counter saying that by isolating each muscle; you can train it more effectively and make it stronger. And stronger muscles = better performance. Functional exercises also offer a higher risk of injury.

Although this is an extremely difficult concept to prove or disprove, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a study that had been conducted by Spennewyn in 2008, in which fixed variable training was compared to functional free motion training. The results of this study were very impressive. Functional trainers had a 58% greater increase in strength over the fixed form participants. Their balance improvements were 196% higher than their fixed form counterparts. Additionally, they also reported an overall decrease in joint pain by 30%.

While one favorable study alone may not prove without a doubt that functional training is superior to traditional training, it is a strong indicator.

Some of the most common strength training equipment used for functional training is:

–    Functional Trainers (Adjustable cable machines)
–    Kettle Bells
–    Exercise Balls,
–    Sandbags
–    TRX Suspension Trainers
–    Medicine Balls
–    Dumbbells
–    Barbells
–    Body-weight

It is very important that when you engage in a functional training regime, you make sure that you are using correct form. Functional exercises brig huge benefit along with them but can also result in serious injury if performed incorrectly.

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