“Functional Fitness” has been all the rage when it comes to both individual and group training for quite some time now. And for good reason, there are a host of benefits of functional training which I will touch on in a moment. A “functional training area” dotted with racks, bars, bands, kettlebells, boxes, battle ropes and weighted bags is now a prerequisite for gyms. And let’s not forget the variety of balls you’ll find, but don’t expect any of them to bounce!
Many gyms, particularly small group training gyms have moved away from traditional pin loaded weight machines and cardio equipment and offer functional training as their core service. Not only does the equipment offer an endless assortment of exercises which can be performed, it also costs 1/6 of the price to fit out a gym with this style of equipment so expect the trend to continue as more and more warehouses are transformed into sweat factories.
What is functional training?
Functional training is exercising in a manner that will help develop strength and/or mobility to make everyday movement easier and safer. For example, improving your ability to bend and pick something up from the ground or reach and twist to place a heavy object on a shelf. These types of everyday movements cause numerous injury setbacks in sedentary people due to a lack of strength and mobility in the muscles required to perform these movements. Functional training helps to counteract this risk.
Due to the rise in popularity of functional training, gyms and personal trainers alike are incorporating this style of training into their group classes in the form of “functional fitness classes.” At Geelong’s Gym our TRIBE Fit small group training program fits this description nicely with a mixture of functional exercises in a high intensity class environment. While functional training might be saving lower backs from unwanted pain, undertaking functional training in a HIIT (high intensity interval training) style class brings with it a new set of risks. Doing as many reps as you can during a specified time then moving onto the next exercise while you’re still heaving and gasping only to complete another round of maximum reps can easily turn your functional training into dysfunctional training.
Avoiding dysfunctional training
Undertaking functional training under fatigue can lead to poor technique particularly when an individual hasn’t established a strength and endurance base. This is one of the reasons why I encourage every new client that comes through the door to set the following priorities when they are first getting started:
- Address muscular imbalances & tightness
Addressing muscular imbalances and poor flexibility starts with pre-exercise screening. In a way, personal trainers use every exercise as a screening tool, constantly monitoring form and ensuring the right muscles are being used to complete the exercise. This is particularly important when first starting out. Screening can also include flexibility assessments and strength testing. Initial workouts should then focus on basic movements such as squatting, pushing, pulling and core activation exercises to further determine weaknesses, left/right side imbalances and areas of poor flexibility which can then be addressed through a program.
- Develop strength in key movements
As you are progressing through the first few weeks and feeling better with basic movements you can begin to gradually increase the load whilst maintaining correct form. Increasing load is not all about piling on the weights. There are many ways to increase load from slowing down your reps and increasing the time under tension to adding a degree of instability to an exercise to require more balance and core strength. The aim is to progress to the point where more than 8 repetitions of a movement is getting hard to do properly.
- Develop muscular endurance
Now that you’ve been working on a strength base you can include some sessions into your weekly routine that will test your muscular endurance and make you sweat a little more. You can do this by super-setting exercises or continuing a single exercise for a set time and increasing your reps. An example would be doing a step up on the same leg for 45 seconds then switching to the other leg. When you know that you can repeatedly complete a basic movement with the correct form you can be confident you have the endurance to take on almost any program.
A step by step approach
Without moving through the above three steps you’re more likely to expose yourself to the risk of injury and setbacks which is the last thing that you want when starting out. Forming a good functional movement base will give yourself the best chance of success down the road. Don’t be the person who goes from couch to 6-week challenge and ends up burning more cash than calories with all the extra physio appointments required to treat the aches and pains of dysfunctional training!