Functional training is an approach to exercise geared to improving your performance of daily activities as well as your workout performance. Full-body functional exercises can improve your range of motion, posture and balance while strengthening your abdominal muscles, pelvis, and back muscles.
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Muscles Work in Groups
While single-muscle exercises such as a bicep curl can strengthen your arms, a functional exercise such as a push-up uses several muscle groups at once and requires that you stabilize your core during the exercise. This process more closely mimics the regular challenges that your body goes through daily, such as getting in and out of your vehicle. When you use these types of exercises, you achieve better bodily awareness and improved neuromuscular coordination, notes the American College of Sports Medicine.
Several types of full-body functional training exercises exist. Obstacle courses are one form. Other forms include crossfit, which is a combination of gymnastics, calisthenics and weightlifting. Kettleballs, cast iron balls with handles, are also functional training exercise devices that you use to perform exercises such as rocking the ball between your legs, works multiple arm, back and core muscles. Additional types of full-body functional exercises include barbell dead lifts, dumbbell front squats, balance board walking and one-foot stands. Exercises that use your body weight alone, like pushups, pullups, squats, planks and stair climbing, are ideal ways to do functional training with minimal equipment.
Functional Training vs. Machine Exercises
Functional training stays within your body's bio-mechanical limitations, meaning that these exercises use natural movements that respect your individual muscle, joint and skeletal structure. By contrast, exercises performed on a machine limit and dictate the direction and range of motion without regard to individual anatomical differences. Machines also negate the need to balance the weight and stabilize the body, diminishing the functional benefits of the exercise.
Not for Everyone
If you are new to exercise, take a gradual approach to functional training. Focus on building core muscle strength and aerobic endurance before graduating to more complex and demanding exercises. If you have musculoskeletal problems or other concerns, speak with your health care provider about the pros and cons of full-body functional training before you begin an independent or personal trainer-supervised program.