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The Importance of Functional Training.

Just what is Functional Training?

Functional training is anything that you may choose to work on training-wise that helps you better your balance, stability, endurance, strength and flexibility for your daily life.   You see many types of people in the gym, and everyone is doing something that they think will make them look better, feel better, or just plain show off.   Then you have the person in the corner doing single leg Romanian deadlifts or single leg squats. You may think to yourself “What in the world are they doing?” Well, I’ll tell you it’s tougher than it looks.


All too often we’re caught up in what the magazines say will give you that ripped sets of abs,  the five pound increase in lean body mass, or the 10 lb reduction in body fat.  Well, what happens behind the scenes when were at home, moving boxes, painting the house, or mowing the lawn? Ripped abdominals don’t really help that much, neither does being 6% body fat! What really helps us accomplish these very real everyday tasks are usually not incredible feats of strength, but the ability of our muscles to stabilize and support our skeleton.  You could be the strongest person in the world, but what good would it do if you couldn’t control it?


That brings me to core strength. I’m sure everyone has heard of it. Core training doesn’t have to be something done on a Bosu or stability ball.  Exercises such as the single leg Romanian deadlift, pushup with rotation, and the squat to single arm over head db press are all great examples of core strengthening exercises.  Think about how often we have to reach high into a closet to get something off the shelf, or how often we have to carry a heavy box down the basement steps. If we didn’t have core and stabilization strength, we could easily have a pretty bad injury.  Functional training should be apart of every persons life, whether you are a mother of three who just wants to be in shape, to the competitive body builder trying to break a plateau or just add some interesting change of pace to their program.


“Why is it so important?” you may ask. Well, there will come a time when we can’t squat 405 lbs for reps  or stay  on the treadmill running for 45 minutes every day.   Those repetitive movements can place intense and undue strain on certain muscles of the body causing joint dysfunction and muscular imbalances.  We need our bodies to be  stable for the rest of our lives.

Through working with all types of people through the last few years I have seen incredible imbalances in posture and distorted movement patterns caused from overworked muscles.  One of the best examples would have to be abdominal training. I have seen several people do hundreds of situps and crunches every work out and have many of them ask me about what they can do for their back pain. I ask them how often they train their glutes, spinal erectors and middle/lower trapezius.  Most of the time their answer is never. What could possibly be happening is from doing so many crunches, they have tightened and shortened their abdominals  which in turn has lengthened and weakened their opposites, the supporting muscles of the back and hip. What that becomes is a postural distortion that causes the posterior muscles to work over time to correct pull of the abdominal muscles.   Would you do leg extensions without putting hamstring curls in your routine? Probably not.    That’s  where functional training comes in. You need to train the opposite muscles evenly to keep balance in the body.


Functional training should also help you towards your goal. If you are a golfer, then you don’t need to train like a body builder and if you are a bodybuilder or figure competitor then you shouldn’t be training like a marathon runner. Everyone needs to train according to the capability and capacity of their own body.  A golfer and a bodybuilder both need incredible core strength, but a golfer relies more on rotational  torso control than  the bodybuilder does. So, the golfer would need more functional  cable exercises than the  bodybuilder would, and the bodybuilder would need higher volume, heavier weight compound motions than the golfer would.


But now, remember the single leg Romanian deadlift?  It is an exercise that can benefit anyone.  From a golfer to a bodybuilder to my 60 year young aunt!  What it strengthens is the hip and lumbar spine. An incredibly important area in every day life and bodybuilding/sports.  The glute complex and its opposite the adductors, the quads and their opposite the hamstrings, to the  spinal erectors, TFL calves, tibialis, and peroneals just to name a few are all put to work to stabilize the torso during the movement.  Golfers and all sports players know how important it is to have  well-trained, explosive and stable hips, but do we as body builders put them to use as much?  Probably not in the ways of rotation and lateral motion but in stabilization for squats, deadlifts etc, we use them a lot. Think of how hard it was when you first started squatting or doing heavy walking lunges. Your knees were probably all over the place. What a single leg Romanian deadlift or single leg  squat will do is strengthen your hip area so you can stabilize better to lift heavier weights and not get injured.  Sure you may only use 10 to 25 lbs but what if adding this functional exercise to your warmup brings up your squat by 25 lbs? Id say give it a try! What have you got to lose?


So, in closing, wheteher you’re the bodybuilder or a trainee just looking to get more fit, consider adding functional training exercises to your routine.  Your, balance, strength and flexibility will increase and your body will thank you.




Joe Daniels NASM-CPT, PES