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How To Incorporate Functional Training

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How To Incorporate Functional Training

When you go about your day, take note of your movement patterns. Are you bending down frequently? How about reaching up high or twisting your body? Understanding how you move daily can help you create a functional training exercise plan.

“No one should just run their body on auto-pilot during their workout,” says Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer Aaron Feldman. “There should be purpose and intention behind everything you do.” 

Feldman discusses the benefits of functional training and provides functional exercise examples to help get you started.

Functional Training Fundamentals

Functional training exercises are full-body movements in multiple planes of motion that mirror activities you do in daily life, such as squatting, pushing, pulling or twisting. 

“Function means purpose,” says Feldman. “Functional training means you’re training for a purpose. That purpose could be increased speed for a 5K, losing body fat to reach an optimal level of health or even getting to the point where you’re moving pain-free.”

Most functional training exercises can be done with just your body weight. If performed correctly and on a regular basis, functional training can improve joint mobility, stability and motor patterns. 

Set Your Goals

When developing a plan, it’s important to identify your goals. 

“A high school athlete may be working on improving their baseball pitch, while older adults may be working towards maintaining a quality of life as they age,” says Feldman.

Ask yourself, “Is this exercise helping me achieve my goal?” If the answer is no, Feldman says it’s time to adjust your routine.

Develop Your Plan 

Once you’ve established your goal, it’s time to create a plan. If you’re new to functional training, try incorporating exercises that focus on the basic movements you do in your daily life.

  • Squats: You squat every time you pick something up off the floor.
  • Lunges: A lunge is an exaggerated form of walking. 
  • Twisting: You twist your torso to get out of your car or up from your desk chair.
  • Pushing: You push with your arms and chest to shut the car door.

Below are additional exercises everyone can do to work multiple muscle groups at once

Woodchop. Using a medicine ball, kettlebell or dumbbell, stand up straight, with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the ball or weight above your head with your arms straight. Bend at the waist and swing the ball or weight down between your legs, back to center and down to the other side.

Side-chop. For an added variation on the woodchop, try swinging the ball or weight from one side to the other. Stand holding the ball above you and to one side. As you bend forward, rotate your torso to the other side, swinging the ball or weight to the outside of your legs and back up. Similarly, you can perform this exercise starting with the ball held out in front of your torso, bending and swinging it to one side, back to center and down to the other side.

Stair climb with bicep curl. Mixing two exercises together can also improve functional movement. Using a stair climber or stairs in your home, climb up the stairs while performing bicep curls. If you are doing this on a staircase, when you get to the top, turn and walk down the stairs, holding the dumbbells to your side. Do not attempt to do bicep curls while walking down the stairs.

Back row lunge. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, get into the lunge position with your feet pointing straight ahead, your left leg behind you and your right knee over your right ankle. Lower your chest toward your right thigh and keep your back flat. Straighten your right leg while squeezing your shoulder blades together into the row position. Return to start position. Repeat on your left leg.

“Everyone should take a self-inventory of their exercise program and ask if it’s functional to the goals they have,” says Feldman. “If not, consider scheduling a session with a professional fitness trainer who can help you develop a plan that works for you.”

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