Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Principles of functional training

I am going to discuss one of the many principles of functional training.  First of all, what is "functional training".  Think of "functional" as the things we do in our everyday normal life; reaching, bending, leaning, turning, twisting, stooping, and constantly changing directions.  When we do these types of movements we are moving in three different planes (sagital, frontal, and transverse), and this is described as three-dimensional.  Functional training is performing exercises that utilize the majority of these movements.

However, when I look around the gym I am amazed by how many people train in a one-dimensional direction (mainly sagital - forward and bicep curl, chest press, forward lunge).  I believe most people think that in order to make significant muscle gains you have to be stationary and lifting heavy weights. Of course if you are trying to become a bodybuilder, then this method would probably be most suitable.  However, for the majority of us who just want to stay healthy, tone muscle for everyday use or athletic performance, this method serves little purpose.  We need to integrate movement patterns by training in all three planes.  This means we need to add side-to side movements (side lunges, side shuffles, bounding side-to-side, etc) along with rotational (medicine ball rotation slams, partner medicine ball exercises where you rotate to hand the ball off, TRX crossing balance lunge, TRX oblique crunches, etc) movements. 

There are two training cycles as described by Joseph F. Signorile, PhD:
   1.  Physiological Training Cycle
   2.  Translational Training Cycle

According to Signorile, the physiological training cycle focuses on improving primary components of fitness, such as strength, flexibility, and aerobic capacity - through traditional methods.  In comparison, the translational training cycle focuses more on increasing functional capacity through multidimensional motor-control tasks of increasing complexity.  In order to increase task complexity, you need to include multiple joints during the exercise/s, alter the base of support of the exercise (narrow feet vs. wide feet stance), using multi directions (think soccer movements), and multitasking (combining several exercises together).

Here is an example of the difference between training cycles using a forward lunge exercise.

During the physiological training cycle, a person will lunge forward (may use dumbbells for added resistance) and return to starting position, and repeat.  During the translational training cycle, the exercise becomes multidirectional by trying to improve motor control and coordination.  In this example, the person will lunge forward and then bend over to pick up an object (cones, medicine ball, etc).  This will require exceptional balance and multiple joints will be used.  The person would also be moving in two planes (sagital and transverse - rotating).

So next time you hit the gym for a workout, think about performing exercises that require coordination.  Excellent pieces of equipment to help you accomplish this are the TRX, superbands, free weights (aka: dumbbells, kettlebells).  Avoid using the machines for every exercise you perform.  Remember, most of our daily movements are not completed while resting on a bench. 

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