We all perform regular activities and make repetitive movements in our daily lives. These movements can be fun activities like tennis, or a basic daily chore like squatting to pick up a book off the floor. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could improve these movements and increase your performance? This leads us to an important question: Should women’s exercise programs include functional training?
What Is Functional Training?
Webster’s Encyclopedia (2nd Edition, 1996) defines “functional” as “capable of operating or functioning”, or “capable of serving the purpose for which it was intended”. Therefore, it makes sense to define functional training as training that helps the body perform regular daily activities.
Physiotherapists originally developed this type of exercise for the purpose of rehab, and soon athletes discovered it could greatly improve their performance. But the rest of us can benefit from functional training too.
Performance: More Than Just Muscles
To understand what functional training is, we first need to understand what affects performance. Some factors that determine our performance are permanent, like genetics. And no matter what you do, or how hard you train, you’ll never be able to improve them. That doesn’t mean training is useless, however. It just means you need to set realistic goals and concentrate on improving the factors you can change.
Factors that determine performance include:
Power — If you want to increase power, you need to build strength (High Intensity Training is the most effective), increase your neuromuscular efficiency (increases speed), and flexibility (force is applied for a longer distance).
Agility — Improving agility can really give your performance a boost, but the exercises you do to build your agility must be specific to your goal. So, if you want to jump higher, practice jumping from the floor, not using fancy equipment, which causes you to use slightly different muscles and movements.
Cardio — Performance relies heavily on your cardio and respiratory systems. But when you build these systems, do so by mimicking the activities you wish to improve. So, if you want to be a better tennis player, use slow and moderate cardio, with short stints of high intensity cardio.
Sport Skill — Just because something is “similar”, it doesn’t mean it’s the same or will have the same effect. So, to improve a specific movement, you need to repeat it in exactly the same way you would normally perform it. This improves the right neuromuscular pathways, instead of just the muscles and tissue.
To improve your performance, you need to work on all four factors. And to do that, you’ll need functional training. It replicates the movements made during the activity you’re training for and improves the relationship between the nervous system and the muscles. In other words, functional training improves the entire movement and the specific neuromuscular paths involved, not just the muscles and joints like traditional exercises.
If you were to use functional training to make it easier to carry bags of groceries, for example, you would never exercise while sitting or lying down. Why? You would never carry a bag of groceries while sitting or lying down; both would be done while walking or standing.
This type of training has a few other benefits as well. Functional exercises use your spinal, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle joint stabilizers and neutralizers, as well as a strong and stable core. This promotes good posture and increases the efficiency of the movement, while lowering your risk of injury.
The chance of hurting yourself is also reduced because functional training increases your neuromuscular capacity, strength, and flexibility through exercise progressions. And these are vital for effective women’s fitness programs and for a better looking and functioning body.
Pretty good reasons for women’s exercise programs to include functional training, right?
Functional Training and Total Body Balance
The movements performed in functional training are the exact same movements and positions your body uses during normal daily activities. We also know that exercises that use the most muscles and joints, like lunges or standing dumbbell presses, will make us look the best. Put the two together and we can make some serious progress in a relatively short amount of time.
Squats are a great example of a functional exercise. They use a number of muscles at once (your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves), so we’ll get maximum results. However, we perform squats in our every day life, particularly when bending over to pick something up, so they’ll help you improve your daily performance, too.
Functional movements improve your balance, stability, and coordination, while helping you perform better. The trick to functional exercise is to teach all of the muscles to work together effectively, rather than isolating them and forcing them to work on their own. That’s why lifting should be performed while you’re standing and supporting your own weight.
Static Training VS Functional Training
When deciding whether women’s exercise programs should include functional training, you need to understand the difference between it and static training. As mentioned before, functional training greatly improves balance, stability, and coordination, which are all important for looking and performing at our best. Static, or machine training, is quite different.
Static training places your body under constant and variable tension and resistance, while tracking proper joint function. So, for example, when you perform a dumbbell bicep curl on a Swiss ball, the biceps have no tension in the top or bottom position, but are under maximum resistance when the dumbbell is perpendicular to the floor.
When you use a machine to perform bicep curls, your biceps endure tension throughout the movement. This tension varies throughout the exercise, depending on the muscle’s strength curve. This might sound better at first, but the best women’s exercise programs shouldn’t be limited to one type of movement or exercise.
Getting the Best of Both Worlds
Some experts argue that functional training is the way to the perfect body. Others say the secret is isolated exercise and static training. In reality, both of sides of this argument are right.
You see, true functional training means avoiding machines, split routines, single-joint exercise, and bodybuilding. Those who believe you should only use functional training feel other exercises have no real purpose, aside from aesthetic ones. Functional exercises, on the other hand, increase strength, muscle mass, sport performance, and work capacity, while improving the function and integrity of your joints.
These same “purists” argue that functional exercises are natural, while isolated exercises are not. This statement is true in some respects, but it isn’t always the case. First, the only real natural training is practice — anything else done to manipulate the body and improve performance is artificial. But don’t let this scare you.
Just because exercise is technically artificial doesn’t mean it’s useless. It just means you’re improving your body on purpose. And this will greatly improve your performance, not to mention your body shape.
Secondly, Any “good” exercise can be bad for you, if you use too much weight, do it too often, or use the wrong technique. And this can be a huge problem if you only ever use functional training. Here’s what I mean:
If you have a muscle imbalance or unnatural movement pattern, it means there is a weak muscle or joint. And if you only use functional training, your body will continue the same pattern, leading to injury. The only solution is to identify the problem, correct it using single joint exercises, and then use compound exercises to teach your muscles to move properly.
If you really want to look great, improve your performance, and have the most effective workout possible, you need to use a variety of the most effective exercises and movements. So, instead of looking at a movement as good or bad, choose exercises and equipment that will address your body’s unique needs and give you the results you’re looking for.
Women get better results when they do more functional training because it increases their heart rate, which burns fat and keeps them looking their best. But, that doesn’t mean you should ignore all other types of exercise. The best women’s exercise programs include functional training, as well as other movement types for a healthy and sexy body you can be proud of.