Functional exercise has been the latest buzz word of the fitness industry for the last couple of years. So what exactly is so great about functional exercise and what makes it so different from other types of training?
Before I delve into what functional exercise/training is let me explain what the current situation is in the fitness industry and why functional exercise is a true breath of fresh air to any trainer who understands how the body truly works.
The fitness industry has been heavily influenced by big corporations that want to sell their expensive machines. Unfortunately for gym uses from your weekend warriors to elite level athletes they have been able to convince people that using their latest exercise machines will turn you into some kind of god.
All you have to do is go to your local leisure centre or gym and you will see the whole floor covered with treadmills, cross trainers, weight machines and so on.
The big issue especially with fixed resistance machines is this…
Firstly, most of these machines require you to be sat down. This causes a concern because research has proven time and time again that when ever you are sat down or leaning on something your body down regulates the recruitment of the stabilizer system which means you are over developing the gross or prime mover muscles without integrating the stabilizer muscles.
The issue with this is that you may be able to build up tremendous amounts of strength while on the machine but when you come to use that strength be it in a day-to-day situation or in sport you will end up causing yourself significant damage. As your gross movers will be able to generate more force then your stabilizer system can handle.
As Paul Chek says’ you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe. In this metaphor the cannon is the gross movers and the canoe the stability system, obviously if you tried to fire a cannon from a canoe you are going to get very wet as the canoe wont be able to stabilize the forces generated from the cannon.
Secondly, using fixed resistance machines typically forces you to separate your body into body parts rather than integrating the body as a whole.
The issue with this is similar to the point above, if we take the leg press as an example you will typically see guys lifting tremendous amounts of weight on these devises thinking that they are building up their leg strength. This would be true only if the body worked in a segmented way.
Unfortunately what happens is that you build leg strength that is disproportionate to back and core strength again this means when you go into your work or sports environment you can end up blowing out your back because you haven’t got the integrity within your core musculature to stabilize the forces generated from your legs.
A good example to prove that this is true is to take someone who does a lot of bench pressing and put them on to a standing cable press. What you will find is that they can only press a fraction of the weight because they can’t integrate their legs with the core with the arms in order to press the weight.
Thirdly, Fixed resistance causes damage to tissues through pattern overload, this happens because the movement path of the weight is fixed which means that the tissues become to overloaded and can tear.
When doing an exercise with free weights the path of motion is varied this means that the load is shared by the entire muscle greatly reducing the chances of inflammation and tearing of the muscle.
Further more, as the bio-mechanics of the movement is altered it will lead to excessive stress on your joints this can be seen with the leg press or smith machine squat vs A barbell squat.
With the leg press the vast majority of the load is on the knees, which will force the hamstring and quadriceps to do the majority of the work. If you do a free weight squat however the force is equally shared between the hamstrings, quads and gluts which means the weight is proportionally shared between the hips and knees making the exercise not only safer but much more functional.
Fourthly, fixed resistance does not train any of the bio-motor abilities that are essential for all kinds of day-to-day and sporting activities.
The bio-motor abilities are: –
Every movement we do requires a certain level of each one of the above bio-motor abilities depending of what you are doing. When doing functional training a CHEK practitioner can manipulate the exercise so that the exercise will have a great carry over to your work or sporting environment. This in essence will boost performance and reduce risk of injury a win-win! I’ll be writing more on bio-motor abilities in a future post.
So what is functional exercise?
Well to me an exercise can be deemed to be functional if it requires you to maintain your own centre of gravity over your base of support, it has to integrate the body as one, it has to effectively utilize the bio-motor ability you are training and it has be able to help the client achieve their desired goal.
Most exercises that utilize free weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells, cables, medicine balls etc that are done off benches can be deemed to be a functional exercise. However the kicker here is that you have know what exercises to do and when.
Trying to progress yourself too quickly or selecting an exercise just because it looks cool without having the core control and the body awareness etc necessary to do a particular exercise will only lead to injury as functional exercises are a lot more dynamic and put more demand on your body.
This is where it can be a great idea to have a full CHEK assessment as CHEK trained professionals have unique training on how to find and identify potential problems in posture and body mechanics and correct them along with being able to select appropriate exercises specific to your current needs and abilities and will progress you accordingly.
In Health and Happiness
Certified CHEK Personal Trainer & Sports Massage Therapist