Your Guide on Functional Exercise and Functional Strength

Your Guide on Functional Exercise and Functional Strength

The fitness industry is so full of buzz words that it can get overwhelming at times. Fascia, SMR, functional exercise, functional strength, body weight training, HIIT…it’s dizzying how the industry can make basic movement sound so complicated. It’s impossible to thoroughly explain all of them at once, so we’ll start with two related terms. Let’s unpack the terms ‘functional strength’ and ‘functional exercise’ and explore what they all entail.

Functional Strength

Functional strength is the strength you need to perform your activities of daily living. For example, getting out of bed is a basic function you do every day. That action requires basic core strength to roll and turn, swing your legs off the bed, and then stand. Let’s take that basic movement apart for a moment. You’re lying on your back. You need to turn over to roll out of bed. Your core has to activate, your rectus abdominus will kick in to lift you up a bit, and your obliques and transverse will kick in to help you roll to the side. You need to press up to a seated position, and then stand (which is really a squat, right?).

When one of my clients is having trouble with a movement, something they need in order to function, I pull that movement apart, just like above. That way I can see what exercises would help them perform that function so they can gain “functional strength.”

Functional Exercise

The exercises used to improve functional strength are called “functional exercises.” Taking our example of getting up out of bed, I might give my client the following exercises to help them build the strength they need to perform this basic function:

  1. Floor supine reach and roll – Lying on your back, bring the right leg and cross it over the left. You can use your pant leg if you struggle with this. Reach the right arm out to the side, take a deep breath, and, while you exhale, take the right arm to the left and roll to the left side. Do 5 per side.
  2. Side lying press up –  Lying on your side, take the bottom arm and draw it in so that you are propped up on your elbow, then press the body up using your hand.  Repeat 5 times per side.
  3. Seated functional squats – Sitting on a bench, inhale, lean slightly forward (you can also reach your arms out in front), exhale, and stand. Sit back down and repeat. Do 10-20 reps.

At their most basic level, the exercises are creating the necessary strength through full range of motion for basic functional movement. They can also be used by athletes or folks working in advanced workouts.  What’s really amusing about some of the modalities used for this end goal is that they hearken back to the days when people did hard manual labor for their jobs.

Take the picture above as an example. The folks working out are using sledgehammers to hit a large truck tire. They also have kettle bells (controlled momentum exercises) and barbells in the background. Hitting something with a sledgehammer creates movement in multiple planes of motion and multiple muscle groups. This helps your body to work together in concert for the exercise, and for the activities of daily living. Consider how you exercise, and what exercises you choose to include in your workouts, as a means toward achieving functional strength.

Build Your Functional Strength

Come on in to the gym to experience some functional fun – on Wednesdays at 9 AM or Saturdays at 10:30 AM! Email me at [email protected]com to set up a personal training session or two, or to get your free fitness assessment that’s included with every membership, to get you started on your way to functional fitness!

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Written by Melissa Abramovich, ACE CPT, NASM CGT, AAHFRP Medical Exercise Specialist at Elite Sports Club-River Glen

Melissa Abramovich went into Personal Training and Group Exercise instruction after successfully losing 140 pounds through healthy diet and exercise. Her desire to help others drove her forward into a career helping others to make healthier choices. She is an ACE certified personal trainer and now also a Medical Exercise Specialist (AAHFRP), helping clients with a myriad of health issues at Elite Sports Clubs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree, and many group exercise related certifications as well.



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