When people lose the ability to perform everyday tasks, life can become very frustrating. Not being able to get up or down the stairs without discomfort, or rise out of a chair without the help of arms and hands, can limit the quality of life’s experiences. The experience of not being able to do the things that were easy before can create extreme discontent. Limited strength, balance, flexibility and endurance are all problems that limit a person’s physical independence, and therefore can affect his or her quality of life.
Functional training helps the body improve the execution of everyday life activities. More and more people are starting to see the benefits of functional training and are incorporating it in their exercise programs. They understand the value of prevention versus recovery. Functional training finds its origin in physical therapy and has been used by physical therapists and other specialists for a long time. It is most often used in the rehabilitation process of people who have movement limitations such as restricted range of motion of joints and muscles after injury. People who are bouncing back from accidents or recent surgeries are often advised to engage in functional training with their rehabilitation specialist, as well as hit the gym as soon as they are cleared for exercise.
A great way to start a functional training program is to have an expert perform a Functional Movement Screen (FMS). A FMS is an assessment of the movement patterns that are most important to the daily and natural functioning of the body. The person tested receives a score, which is used to establish and document a baseline and measure improvements. A FMS includes: Hurdle Step, Deep Squat, In-Line Lunge, Active Straight Leg Raise, Trunk Stability, Shoulder Mobility, Push Up and Rotary Stability tests. Physical therapists and qualified trainers can perform these screens and give a person a good indication of their “weak spots” or physical imbalances. They can also help with the design and coaching of a program that will help individuals towards better balance, stability and overall physical performance.
A functional movement program is very personal. Not everybody has the same weaknesses or strengths and it is important to tailor the workout to the specific needs and goals of each individual. The exercises of functional training mimic the movements a person engages in for daily functioning. For some clients the focus may be; achieving full range of motion of the joints. For others it may include; conditioning, balance, strength or endurance training.
Functional training stands in close relationship to the daily tasks a person has to perform. A construction worker will probably have different training needs than a nurse or an office person. Whatever the need, functional training can help a person improve how his or her body handles the demands of everyday activities.
Many of the exercises in functional fitness are complex exercises. This means that there is more than one movement involved in the exercise, and it often covers more than one plane of motion. Exercises such as the medicine ball squat with an overhead lift, the hip extension with a reverse fly, or the lunge with with a back row are popular functional fitness exercises. They use multiple muscles and joints simultaneously to enhance elements like a person’s endurance, posture, stability, strength, coordination, balance, and agility.
Equipment used for functional exercises include suspension equipment, cable machines, barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls, kettle-bells, resistance tubes, whole body vibration equipment, sandbags, balance disks, bosu and physio-balls, rocker and wobble boards and many other training aids. Before engaging in functional training make sure to check with a health professional. If functional movement is painful or very difficult, contact your doctor or a licensed physical therapist. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
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