I used to call him "Regular Randy." Every Monday he did exercises for his chest and back. Tuesday was for thighs and butt. Wednesday he focused on biceps and triceps. Every routine Randy did was designed to isolate one or two individual bodyparts. He built a strong looking physique and over time he had a lot of people adopt his targeted muscle approach.
After five years Randy suddenly stopped coming to the gym, so I asked around to find out what happened. His girlfriend told me he threw his back out while unloading groceries. I stood there a little stunned, how could a built, 6 foot tall guy that regularly bench presses over 200 pounds, be brought down by a groceries? What was in that bag?
The grocery bag that did him in held a few vegetables, a couple gallons of milk and some cheese. It weighed less than 40 pounds. What happened was fairly typical. Randy bent down to grab the bag, but when he stood up, he twisted his body in a way he never trained for in the gym. He hadn't done anything to teach his muscles how to work together and when they were called into action for something a little strenuous, they failed.
It took Randy almost three months of medicine and specialized therapy before he could get back to working out. When he did, I noticed a dramatic change in his workout program. Gone were the isolated workouts targeting specific muscles. Now Randy was engaged in exercises that integrated multiple muscle groups and taught ways for everything to work together. It's called Functional Training or Functional Fitness.
There are five important components of functional training and they're often broken down into the word SMART. It stands for Strength, Movement, Application, Reconditioning and Transfer. Here's how each one is applied.
The ultimate goal of any resistance training program is to build strength. The difference with a functional training program is that the exercises force you to use core and smaller stabilizer muscles to complete a rep. For example, if you were to do bicep curls, you would do them standing up. That forces you to keep your core tight, balance yourself and make sure your body isn't swinging to do the exercise properly.
Sitting down at a machine isolates the biceps well, but it does nothing to help build the smaller stabilizing muscles and over time leads to imbalances. Strong muscles get stronger and weak muscles continue to be ignored while you build a pattern of compensation.
Movements should not be short or limited. Functional training exercises are designed to carry your body through a complete range of motion.
Plan what you're training for to make sure the exercises apply. A client that plans on climbing a mountain will train differently than someone who's wants to get strong enough to ditch their walker. Very few traditional isolation exercises help in real-world situations. Make sure any exercises you've chosen are applicable to your goals.
You will experience a period of adjustment and reconditioning if you've only done traditional training. You may have to use lighter weights, perform fewer sets or reduce the work in other ways while you train your muscles to work together. When you expand your movements, you'll need some time for your core and smaller stabilizer muscles to catch up. Think of reconditioning as a time when you're retraining your body for how it should be moving, not necessarily the way it has been moving.
Finally, take some time to regularly test yourself and make sure the results you're getting transfer to the goals you've set.
Remember that the ultimate goal of a functional fitness program is to train your body how to handle real-world situations. It's much more neurologically demanding than typical machine exercises and you can't use the common "train to failure" mentality. When performing functional fitness exercises, your set is over when you can't complete another rep without perfect form.
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