There are a lot of variables when it comes to working out. Should you use high reps or low reps? Is it best to train fast or slow? Does it make more sense to train muscles individually or as a group? The answers to those questions really come down to what your training goals are.
If your focus is on creating a muscular body that looks good on the beach, then single muscle group training is the way to go. But if you are working out to create a lean, fit and athletic body that works better, then you should be adding functional movement to your training.
In this article, we unpack functional movement and explain why it should be a key component of your training program.
What is Functional Movement Training?
Functional movement training is an exercise that works the muscles of your body as a group rather than isolating individual muscles. It requires your muscles to work together to produce movement through more than one joint. As a result, the body moves as a unit, increasing neuromuscular control and coordination.
Because humans were designed to move the whole body as a unit, functional training improves our ability to perform everyday tasks, such as standing up from a chair or carrying a sack of potatoes.
Any type of exercise will improve your ability to function by making your heart, lungs, or muscles stronger, and can therefore be considered to be a functional exercise. However, there is a continuum of functionality when it comes to how good a job an exercise will do.
At the lowest end of that continuum are isolation exercises such as the seated leg extension. At the other end of the continuum are exercises that mimic our regular daily activities, the classic example of such an exercise is the squat. Squatting down, whether it is to sit in a chair or to use the bathroom, is something that we all do many times each day.
Performing exercises that mirror functional movement patterns will enhance a person’s balance, coordination, and flexibility.
Benefits of Functions Movement Exercises
Functional fitness has become increasingly popular in recent years. It’s not unusual to see entire areas of gyms set aside nowadays as the functional training zone. They’ll typically include a weight sled, battle ropes, kettlebells, and plyometric boxes that challenge trainers to work their muscles holistically.
Here are 9 reasons that you should seriously consider adding functional movements exercises to your routine:
1- Enhanced Movement Patterns
Rather than being based on isolated muscle movement, functional training is based on patterns of movement. That’s the way that our bodies were made to work. We operate best when we are in an upright position with our feet set on the ground. In this position, we are able to execute the following movement patterns …
- The Squat
- The Hinge
- The Lunge
- The Overhead Press
- The Chest Press
- Core Rotation
Functional movements that mimic these movement patterns should form the basis of any functional fitness workouts. Doing such exercises will improve your strength and performance through the movement pattern that you are performing.
2- More Efficient Muscle Movement
Functional movement exercise is the preferred way to train to develop the strength, power, speed, and agility needed for top-level sports performance. Such exercises are typically performed with both feet on the ground and without the aid of fixed exercise machines.
An example of a functional movement exercise that is a favorite for many field sports is the weight sled, in which you push a weighted sled along a flat surface. This movement pattern coordinates your whole body, promoting your pushing power.
Exercises using a landmine barbell that involves torso rotation are also great for enhancing muscle movement.
3- Athletic Physique
Functional fitness helps you to create a lean, athletic physique. When you work a number of muscle groups together, you are putting increased demand on your cardiovascular system and you’ll burn a lot more calories than if you were doing an isolation exercise. The combination of muscle fatigue and calorie burn provides the training elements to develop a tight, athletic body. Combine that training with a smart nutrition program and you will end up with the body you deserve.
4- Enhanced Coordination
Functional training will make you more mobile and coordinated. As a result, you will be far less likely to suffer from injury resulting from falls.
Coordination relates to your ability to combine more than one movement to create a single, distinct movement. Performing a burpee involves a number of separate moves that combine to provide a coordinated, seamless movement.
When you perform a functional exercise, you are usually involving antagonistic muscle groups, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings. When one muscle is lengthening, its antagonist is shortening. As they work together in this way against resistance, overall mobility will increase.
Functional movement exercises such as squats do a good job of improving mobility and coordination.
5- Improved Agility
The benefits of agility training for athletes are well established. It is the most effective way to enhance speed, quickness, and agility. In recent times, there has also been a growing realization of the huge benefits for non-athletes.
Speed, agility, and quickness training are governed by what is called the stretch-shortening cycle. The cycle involves a combination of muscle lengthening (eccentric) and muscle shortening (concentric) actions. This acts just like a rubber band that is stretched out and then snaps back. When the eccentric action, such as dropping down into a squat position, comes before a concentric action, such as jumping onto a box, the force output of the concentric action is increased.
Agility training is built around increasing the ability of the stretch-shortening cycle. When you train the stretch-shortening cycle, you increase the connections between the muscles and the brain, allowing you to react faster and to exert more force. As a result, you are able to jump higher, change direction faster and react on the field more quickly.
Functional movement exercise is ideal for agility training.
6- Greater Calorie Burn
Functional exercise requires a lot more energy expenditure than an isolation exercise. To prove that point all you have to do is compare a set of leg extensions with a set of squats. You will have to take in a lot more oxygen to complete the squats, even if you are doing it with a light weight.
Every liter of oxygen that you take into your body takes about 5 calories to process. As a result, functional exercises, which have far higher oxygen demand than isolation exercises, will produce a far greater calorie burn.
The very fact that functional movement exercises involve the activation of muscle groups also results in a greater calorie burn than if you were exercising a muscle in isolation.
7- Enhanced Cardiovascular Effect
The increased oxygen requirements of functional movement make it a more efficient form of aerobic exercise than isolation strength exercises. The heart has to work harder as more blood is pushed around the body. This results in a stronger pump and a more efficient nutrients and oxygen transportation system.
Function fitness exercise isn’t limited to that done with resistance. It can also relate to a form of cardio training known as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This type of exercise involves doing short bouts of very intense cardio followed by even shorter periods of rest. This is repeated for multiple rounds.
An example of a HIIT workout might be to sprint on a treadmill for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds, doing this nonstop for 8 rounds.
HIIT workouts can also be done with such functional exercises as burpees and kettlebell swings. Rowing machines are one of the few cardio exercises to involve 85 percent of the muscles of the body, making it another great functional cardio exercise option.
HIIT training has been shown to produce enhanced cardiovascular benefits over traditional cardio or functional resistance training. It also activates the enhanced post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) effect, by which the body will burn more calories for as long as 24 hours after the workout.
8- Increased Muscle Mass
Functional training where multiple muscle groups work together, allows you to lift more weight than if you were training a muscle group in isolation. Lifting heavy weight is the key to muscle hypertrophy. That’s why heavy squats done with proper form are one of the best things you can do to pack muscle mass onto your body.
Squats and other heavy compound functional movements have been shown to stimulate human growth (HGH), which is a key anabolic muscle growth driver. Functional exercises like this will also primarily activate the Type II muscle fibers responsible for increases in muscle size and strength.
9- Reduced Risk of Injury
Functional training strengthens all of the weaknesses that are commonly associated with everyday injury. These include muscle imbalance, weakness in the core area, and low levels of neuromuscular control. With these weaknesses addressed, you will be far less likely to suffer a fall and better able to recover if you slip.
Every functional training exercise activates your core muscles. They are needed to stabilize the body and to provide the rotational power needed when swinging, pushing, or pulling. A strong core is essential to reducing the risk of injury. A strong core will also prevent excessive spinal twisting and extension. Strengthening the spinal erector muscles will also help to alleviate lower back pain.
A common cause of muscle injury is strength and muscular development imbalance between opposing muscle groups. It is quite common to see hamstring injuries on the sports field because the player’s quadriceps are much stronger than their hamstrings.
Muscle imbalances can easily occur when you train muscle groups in isolation, especially when you have a favorite muscle that is overtraining and a least favorite one that is neglected. However, functional training promotes even development of opposing muscle groups because they are both being worked in the same exercise.
3 Great Functional Exercises
Kettlebell Swings Technique
Kettlebells are a great way to develop flexibility and functional strength. All of the muscles of your body are worked in a single workout. They provide an effective fat-burning workout while also developing coordination and balance.
The Russian kettlebell swing is the fundamental kettlebell movement. Let’s take a look at the proper swing technique.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your weight on your heels.
- Rest the kettlebell on the floor between your feet.
- Look down at the ground six feet in front of you.
- Sit back into your hips and reach down to grab the handle with both hands in an overhand grip.
- Swing the bell behind you, then aggressively snap your hips forward as you stand up. As you do this, extend your spine and squeeze your butt.
- Bring your arms up to chest level.
- Immediately return to the bottom hike position and move into the next rep.
Squats simulate one of the most common human actions; sitting down and standing. That alone makes it a fundamental functional strength movement. Here’s how to do the bodyweight squat …
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms extended horizontally in front of you.
- Hinge at your hips as you descend to a parallel squat position. Maintain a neutral spine position throughout the movement.
- Push through your heels to return to the start position.
Sled Push to Sprint
The sled push is an awesome functional movement that works the muscles of both the posterior and the anterior chain. It’s also an excellent cardio exercise that churns through a lot of calories. The sled push to sprint is an advanced exercise that adds an extra element of challenge.
- Load the required weight to a sled.
- Position yourself in front of the sled, assuming a low pushing position with your hands on the posts. Keep your chest up, maintain a neutral back and tight core.
- Push forward at top speed for 30 seconds.
- Turn and sprint back to your start position.
- Walk back to the sled,
Functional movement training will provide you with a host of benefits while infusing your workouts with a constant physical and mental challenge. Start building functional training into your program by adding in the 3 sample functional exercises described in this article.