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What is functional training?

The National Federation of Personal Trainers defines functional training as “movements or exercises that improve a person’s ability to complete their daily activities or to achieve a specific goal”. More specifically, exercises and movements that help to maintain or improve general daily activities like getting up off the couch, or walking up the stairs, or maybe even picking up a suitcase.

Functional exercise might include some balance exercises like standing on one leg and catching a medicine ball or picking up a sandbag off the ground, which both help improve core stability. Low impact exercises like bodyweight rows on straps, or banded bench squats will help develop the strength a person needs to get up and down from a chair or to pull themselves out of a car. Although the risk of injury during exercise can vary depending on the complexity and intensity, injury prevention outcomes will generally benefit from functional workouts. Utilizing several exercise modalities and fitness accessories, any individual can develop the right amount of intensity, challenge, and effect in a functional workout.

Functional Training Frequency

Dr. Valter Longo at University of California (USC) recommends a combination of 2.5-5 hours of low impact functional exercise weekly, combined with one hour of walking or somewhat vigorous movement every day to improve health and longevity. He also encourages using as many muscle groups as possible in those workouts for best results.

There are many different recommendations from reliable sources about how long or intense workouts should be. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity and “2 days of muscle-strengthening activity”. But according to Longo, relatively moderate impact training with weights or bodyweight, and a small amount of intensity (depending on the individual’s abilities) is sufficient.

Long Term Benefits

Functional training is an efficient way to develop long term health benefits and increase not only lifespan, but also the level of health experienced throughout that life. CDC suggests that over 36 million falls are reported each year in older adult populations, and many of these incidences can be prevented with regular functional training. Functional exercise provides increased joint stability, as well as mobility. Better recovery and reduced outcome of injury, if a fall does occur, are further benefits of regular functional training. The CDC, and a significant amount of published research, also suggests that regular strength training helps to prevent a wide gamut of chronic diseases.

The existing and expanding literature on the benefits of functional training coincide with the ever-increasing popularity amongst fitness professionals, fitness facilities, and the general public alike.

If functional training isn’t part of your personal exercise routine, or its not emphasized in your fitness facility, now is the time to consider a change. Now more than ever, its critical that people approach fitness with a forward-thinking mindset, so we are set up for life-long health success.

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