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A HIGHER LEVEL OF TRAINING
Functional Training

by Mark Zaloudek

Why do you exercise?

There are a lot of reasons to exercise and in the end all are good. If you are an elite athlete you exercise to better perform resulting in better paychecks. If you are like most people you exercise to lose weight, look better, feel energized, improve your health, or perhaps because someone said you should.

Elite athletes hire trainers to help them improve their skills. This level of training is more than running on a treadmill or doing dumbbell squats. This level of training is to improve efficiency in their movements. A runner may be instructed in arm swing, head position or pelvic orientation while running a 100 yard dash for example. Slight alterations can be the winning difference.

This type training is called functional training. But it’s not just for elite athletes. Virtually every trainer should teach you proper form. A functional trainer will not only teach you form but has an eye on enhancing and maximizing your performance.

So whether you are a professional athlete or recreational athlete who wants quicker 5k run time, a better golf swing or you have an old injury that stops you from exercising, a functional trainer can identify and design a routine to help you.

 THE WHY'S OF FUNCTIONAL TRAINING

The exercises that you undertake every time you work out should be more than just chores that help to burn calories or build muscle. They are the basic movements that, when combined, allow you to perform all your daily activities more efficiently, help you avoid injuries and keep you at the highest level of function during each stage of your life.

Don’t leave now but try to digest this paragraph and I’ll simplify it. Each complex or even simple exercise repetition reinforces the duration, intensity and sequencing of muscle contractions and relaxations within the nervous system for that movement pattern. Your nervous system is continually relearning movement patterns via feedback from its sensory receptors.

Okay, good you’re still awake. Think of a toddler learning to walk. There are more falls per step than forward progress. The toddler’s brain is developing a complex network of coordinated movements that will last a lifetime. Balance, position, arm swing, foot position, ankle stability, hip flexion with simultaneous extension on the opposite side, trunk position and rotation, etc, etc.

Once our toddler reaches a certain age he has walking down pat at least in the sense that he no longer falls frequently and his forward progress far exceeds the number of falls. However if he became a speed walker functional training could improve his stride.

Back to the gym. If you perform the same exercise over and over congratulations you are probably maintaining your fitness level. But you are doing nothing to progress it? You are not enhancing fitness, strength, balance, flexibility, aerobic capacity, posture, endurance, stamina, energy, etc.  It’s almost like saying if you’re green you’re growing but if you’re ripe you’re rotting. But not quite.

Functional training is not just about getting better it’s also about correcting and repairing. Let’s look at the four areas that a functional trainer thrives:

FUNCTIONAL TRAINING ENHANCES PERFORMANCE

Again do you want longer golf drives? How about running a faster marathon? How about enhancing body contours? How about being able to do more sit-ups (or a sit-up)? Whatever physical endeavor you’d like to improve the job of a functional trainer is to get you there.

It starts with a movement pattern assessment. From there a program is designed and your functional trainer works closely to develop the patterns, muscles and skills necessary to advance.

FUNCTIONAL TRAINING REHABS REMNANTS OF OLD INJURIES

The first in line when injured should probably be your physician or chiropractor to determine the nature and extent of the injury. The second in line would be your physical therapist to get you stable and through the crisis portion. The third should be a skilled functional trainer to assure the injury won’t lead to later complications through faulty movement patterns.

Let me give an example to help explain. If you twist your ankle you are still going to walk, right? But because it hurts to walk you are going to alter the way you walk. If you walk that way long enough you WILL develop new walking patterns. Just like out toddler your brain is adapting and learning. We are training ourselves to avoid discomfort. This training, IS BAD TRAINING.

I’ve seen clients who had difficulty raising their arm above 90 degrees because of shoulder injuries sustained years ago.  Oh, they could do it but even the most untrained eye could see a contorted convolution of movements that made no sense except to a brain that had relearned very poor mechanics.

Correct movement patterns can be overwritten for any number of reasons. Poor postural habits and improper motions can rewrite the movement pattern gradually so that proper patterns from childhood are replaced in adulthood. Physical trauma from sports and accidents involving an impact or fall are beyond control but often result in a replaced movement pattern.

FUNCTIONAL TRAINING COMPENSATES THE ILL EFFECTS OF AGING

The role of the functional trainers changes as your needs change. At any age the functional trainer assesses movement patterns. An active child or teenager seldom needs aerobic training. Their heart and lungs are fresh and efficient. This is a good time if the child excels in a sport to consider sport specific functional training.

Into twenties strength training is probably most appropriate for the vast majority. This is a good time to lay foundation for a curvaceous figure. Into thirties and forties probably a combination of aerobic and resistance with an eye on flexibility and posture. Fifties more aerobic, strength and flexibility with an eye posture and movement assessment. Sixties and beyond mild aerobic, strength, flexibility, posture and now balance become vital to optimal performance of daily routines and non-routine activities.

FUNCTIONAL TRAINING OVERCOMES IMBALANCES CAUSED BY REPETITIVE MOTION

Doing the same thing incorrectly over and over will again establish improper movement patterns.  Every muscle has an opposing muscle. If with the help of your biceps muscle you bend your arm at the elbow you’ll have to engage the opposing triceps muscle to straighten it. Your knees, your hips, your ankles, in fact, every movable joint in your body is set up this way because without an opposing muscle that performs the opposite movement you’d get stuck in one position and your life would be over.

Now think about working on an assembly line or sitting at your computer and doing the same things or holding the same position for hours on end.

Overworked muscles from the workplace or the gym can become so much stronger than their respective counterparts that they no longer work harmoniously as they were designed. When a movement pattern becomes detrimental to the overall health of the individual, it creates inefficiency and becomes a dysfunction.

THE RESULT

Movement dysfunction commonly results in back, pain, neck pain, poor posture, shoulder problems, carpal tunnel, knee arthritis, hip pain and more. The worst possible scenario that the same person with a movement dysfunction does the wrong exercises. Without knowing all too many people perform exercises that actually embellishes the dysfunction.

The hallmark of Functional Movement Training is that it is focused on training the body to better perform the motions that carry it throughout life. Exercises that challenge the whole body force major muscle groups to work together and maintain both strength and flexibility.

The practice of proper movement patterns builds awareness, coordination and control. The primary goal of Functional Movement Training is to regain the ease of motion that comes from neuromuscular efficiency and proper joint mechanics.

The principle benefits are improved performance and reduced internal friction on joints that must last a lifetime. Better balance, greater flexibility, and increased core strength and stability are just a few of the additional benefits of Functional Movement Training.