What is a functional exercise? The answer to these questions is, “it depends on who it’s for”. A rotational medicine ball toss would be a highly functional exercise for a golfer, yet could be dysfunctional for someone with a disc herniation. A flat-lying bench press is a great exercise for building strength in the pushing muscles (pectorals, anterior deltoids, and triceps). However, a football lineman would benefit more from a standing cable chest press because linemen generally have to “push” their opponent while on their feet.
A functional training program should be extremely individualized to suit each client’s needs and goals. A training program can only be “functional” if the prescribed exercises are designed to meet the client’s objectives. For example, a stressed out businessman who sits at a desk or in a car all day would need an exercise program that tactically stresses the body while reducing mental stress. Exercises for the weakened “sitting” muscles would be prescribed based on length tension ratios obtained during the assessment. A new mother who wants to get her shape back after childbirth would have to work extensively on rebuilding her deep abdominal wall and pelvic floor muscles before attempting any exercises for her outer core or extremities. A senior citizen, who simply wants to move and function better during daily activities, would primarily work on basic functional movement patterns such as squatting, bending, twisting, pushing, and pulling. Nutritional recommendations might be made regarding food quality to fortify ligaments and joints in the body.
I treat each one of my clients as an individual, taking into consideration their past medical history, current health status, and future goals, both functionally and aesthetically. The key to reaching these goals is a proper assessment. There is no singular magical recipe that will work for our entire population. Each client’s muscular strength, stability, flexibility, posture, and mind body connection will have a tremendous effect on their performance. However, nutrition, digestive health, mental and emotional stress, and hormonal balance deserve just as much investigation before starting a training program. Together, your goals and assessment will determine your personal functional training program.