Functional Training 101

by Aaron Sidenberg | March 1, 2013
Aaron Sidenberg

Fitness trainer Aaron Sidenberg demonstrates a functional training exercise. PHOTOS BY LAUREL MYERS

No matter what gym you go to or which fitness magazine you pick up, it is almost impossible to avoid the words “functional training.” What’s all the hype about and what does functional training mean?

Although the term has gained popularity over the last few years, it is nothing new in the fitness world; in fact it is bringing us back to the basics. The term refers to training your body to be more effective in its day-to-day use. It’s as important to athletes as it is to the Average Joe because it’s geared toward making each individual perform at his/her peak performance levels.

Functional training is multi-directional, it incorporates multiple movements in one exercise more often than not, and programs are typically designed to have a tailored feel to them. The exercises performed usually resemble or mimic the movements in a particular sport or job.

They improve our ability to go through a range of motions with more strength, speed and flexibility. By strengthening our muscles through a more dynamic movement, we are able to recruit more muscle fibres, allowing workouts to be more efficient.

With our North American lifestyle of always being on the move and wanting the quick fix, functional training allows most people to see results in their training and improvements in their everyday lives with an almost instant gratification. What more could you ask for?

If you aren’t quite sold on the concept, how about these reasons? The more muscles you recruit while you workout equates to a higher metabolism, helping you to burn fat while at rest as you continually build your overall strength and improve your endurance.

Functional training is also a great way to rehabilitate after any injury for a faster recovery, and also plays a strong role in injury prevention.

Whether you train for sport or are the weekend warrior trying to stay fit, functional training means a more efficient and effective workout. Those who train functionally usually find themselves spending less time doing the dreaded cardio sessions as it is incorporated into their workouts. The more muscles being recruited means a greater demand for oxygen, which by default causes both our aerobic and anaerobic energy systems to work almost simultaneously.

Additionally, because this type of training allows the body to continue to build muscle while improving the aerobic system, you are less likely to see the catabolic effects of the hour-long cardio sessions. Keep in mind the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism stays, even while you are sedentary.

So how can you incorporate functional movements into your workouts? Try taking away the bench while doing your shoulder press to force the core to engage. Still too easy? Add in a squat and twist from side to side as you alternate your presses (sequence shown at left).

Many functional movements can be performed in the privacy of your own home while doing body weight exercises. Modify your pushup to be more dynamic by adding an alternating knee drive at the top of your pushup.

The bottom line is this: functional training prepares you for your life. If you want to get the look and the feel of being fit, try modifying your routine, incorporating more dynamic moves and less isolation. Be better than yesterday. Train with function in mind.

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Aaron Sidenberg has a bachelor of science in sport and physical education and is the owner/operator of The Basement on King.

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