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Functional Training for Longevity

Abstract: Functional Training

Over the last 30 years, traditional training has primarily focused on training specific body parts often in single fixed planes of motion. A new shift in training is to present it from a functional and integrated perspective. (1) The everyday functioning of the human body is an integrated and multidimensional system, not a series of isolated independent pieces. (1) Functional training brings value when executed in a well-designed format aimed to build efficient movement patterns, promote proper muscular alignment, and enhance the quality of daily life activities. Furthermore, training with an integrating functional regimen brings no means of contradiction with the benefits you could receive with a traditional training regimen.

Primary Objectives with Functional Training

Functional training can be defined as training with a regimen that specifically targets the movements and acts carried out in daily living. One of the main primary objectives would be to develop exercises that will allow and lessen the work capacity for the things being done on a daily basis i.e. carrying objects, sitting and standing, balancing, pushing and pulling, as well as holding one's own body weight. Granted, majority of our daily tasks get accomplished without us ever really thinking about what it is we are doing. In correlation, another primary objective will be to form an awareness through movement early on throughout our body.

Direct responses from forming an awareness are improving our control of movement, and forming more efficient pathways for inner-working communication, which all will lessen the risk of injury and insufficient movement patterns. Forming a regimen around functional training that is thorough, specific, and helps the individual reach their goals is THE primary objective.

Components of a Functional Training Regimen

Although there are many components to a functional training regimen, I will briefly discuss two of the most important components of a functional training regimen.

1) An assessment to measure and evaluate a person's fitness level

2) A specific program for the individual to optimize their performance

2) The integration of a regimen

This will be the platform for the individual to move through and progress accordingly. A specific training regimen should be tailored to each individual aligned with their current level of fitness, goals, and health history.

  • An assessment should be done before creating a regimen for any individual. This gives the client the knowing that the program is specifically designed to their movement patterns, postural distortions (if any), muscular imbalances (if any), and their current level of fitness to ensure proper development and program design.

  • Integration is the designing of a program and formula for progressing the individual through that program in a safe and effective manner. A structured, specific, periodized, and effective regimen should also aim to improve physical, psychological, and performance adaptations as well as well-being.

    • The regimen should include a diverse selection of exercises focusing on core, coordination, strength, multiplanar movements, mobility, and stability.

Specific and integrated regimens are very important parts of the process to training functionally and increasing optimal performance in training.

Benefits from Functional Training

Benefits from functional exercises are widespread. More specifically, learning and adjusting to movements that use multiple joints, more than one muscle group, and movements in multiple planes of motion will be foundational to long-term development.

A multi-joint exercise might consist of using the ankles, knees, hips, with some shoulder movement as opposed to just using the knees or elbows; think Squat to Press vs. Quadricep Extensions or Bicep Curls. The benefit with training multi-joint is in strengthening the muscle group synergies (muscles that help each other) with movement control. A functional exercise utilizing more than one muscle group might work the glute complex, core musculature, and hamstrings as opposed to working just the quadriceps.

The benefit with utilizing more than one muscle group is enhancing the activation of the muscles you use/need on a daily basis to do daily tasks. Training in different planes of motion helps establish a well-rounded sense of our body in space (proprioception), as well as enhance the activation and linking of the movement system. Which leads to more efficient movement patterns decreasing the possibility of injury, and laying the foundation for an individual to increase the intensities of their training in a safe and effective way. In addition, although they may seem separate, psychological benefits have been linked with benefits that come from performance improvements or physiological changes in training (1).

Further, functional training is advantageous for every population in the realm of fitness and exercise, but extremely beneficial for older adults and athletes when applied with a comprehensive program to improve balance/coordination, mobility, and muscle strength, helping reduce the likeliness of injuring oneself.

Long-Term with Functional Training

Functional training isn’t new, but may seem like a new fad to some, however, this form of training is becoming more recognized as a way to help humans reach new levels of performance and get to back utilizing movements that have played a part in evolution, and our daily lives. As you increase the activity of training with a specific and personalized functional approach, the improvements in performance should be apparent, enhancing the quality of life providing a solid foundation to reach goals and progress through training more efficiently.

(1) National Academy of Sports Medicine. Essentials of Sports Performance Training. 2019

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