Functional training is the 2018/19 buzz word of the fitness world. The benefits of functional training have been hailed by fitness professionals and athletes alike for improving strength, speed and stability. But yet few know what functional training actually is. In this post we’ll explain the fundamentals of functional training, alongside the benefits this particular type of training offers. We’ll also showcase some of our favourite functional training exercises!
What is Functional Training?
Functional training focuses on movements rather than muscles. Functional training aims to mimic real life movements such as pushing, pulling, bending, carrying, squatting and rotating. Carrying out these types of exercises consequently helps to improve your movement efficiency for daily activities.
In the past, fitness ideology has focused on training individual muscle groups (biceps, quads, glutes, pecs, etc.). More recently however, the focus of exercise has started to shift to improving real-life movement, focusing on movement patterns via compound movements (multi-muscle group exercises) rather than isolation/single muscle group exercises.
A second key element of functional training is that it occurs in three planes of motion; sagittal (forwards and backwards), frontal (side-to-side) and transverse (rotational). Typical gym workouts occur in a single plane of motion- sagittal, which includes such classic exercises as squatting, bicep curls and running. However, as human movement does not naturally occur in just one plane of movement, training in a single plane of motion can leave you vulnerable to injury when performing daily tasks.
Functional Training Benefits
The beauty of functional training is that it’s ideal for anyone! Due to the emphasis on multi-planar movements, involving power, strength and stability, functional training’s benefits go further than simply body conditioning, and can increase cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, agility, muscle endurance and fat loss. The following are some of the key functional training benefits:
- Designed to optimise movement
- Strengthens your core muscles
- Restores posture, muscle imbalances and dynamic stability
- Relieves Stress
- Burns fat
- Alleviates back pain
- Improves balance and coordination
- Suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels
Functional Training Exercises
Another plus to functional training is that due its nature, endless different exercises exist that you can incorporate into your training to keep your exercise routine fresh. Here are 3 functional training exercises for inspiration!
Step ups are a unilateral movement that help to balance out muscle imbalances between limbs whilst introducing an element of instability that boosts muscle engagement throughout the entire body.
Required equipment: a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells, plus a bench.
How do I do it?: Stand tall (with your shoulders back and down and your core engaged) holding a pair of dumbbells at each side. Place your left foot on the bench so your hip, knee and ankle are bent at a 90 degree angle. Keeping your chest up, push your body up through your left leg until it is straight (keeping your right foot elevated). Pause for a few seconds, then, whilst keeping control, lower your body back to the starting position. Perform multiple reps on both legs equally.
Russian twists work in the transverse plane, and target your obliques (your side core muscles).
How do I do it?: Sit tall on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Next, lean back (keeping your back straight) so that your upper body is at a 45 degree angle to the floor. Link your hands together in front of your chest, before bracing your core. Rotate your arms to one side of your body, before rotating them again in the opposite direction, to the opposite side; this is one rep. Aim for 20 reps or set a timer and keep twisting until time’s up!
Progression: If this exercise feels too easy for you, challenge yourself by lifting your feet up from the floor throughout the exercise. To increase difficulty even further, add some weight by holding a dumbbell in your hands as you twist.
Despite its simplicity, this exercise is super effective! Star jumps work in the frontal plane, and are a cardiovascular functional movement.
How do I do it?: Stand up with your knees and shoulders slightly bent, and feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees into a squat position and jump as high as you can, extending your legs and arms fully out to your sides to form a star shape. Next, bring your arms and legs back inwards as you begin the descent of your jump; this is one rep. Set a timer for one minute and repeat until the beep goes.
Progression: If this feels too easy, try holding some light dumbbells as you carry out the exercise; this will make your arms work that little bit harder! Remember however; the aim of this exercise is speed, so if you do decide to add weights, make sure to add ones light enough that you can still maintain speed.
At Beckwith Health Club we have a wide range of facilities perfect for functional training, including our brand new state of the art Spartan Rig. So, if you fancy giving functional training a try, sign up for our free trial and come down to Beckwith Health Club.