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What is functional strength training?

Darryl Schack

Darryl Schack

BHK

Kinesiologist

Monday, Jun. 8, 2020
 

You may have heard the term “functional strength training,” a buzzword in the fitness community, but what exactly does it mean? Here’s what you need to know about functional strength training and the key role it can play as part of a rehabilitation program or a fitness routine that delivers results.

Functional vs traditional

To better understand what functional strength training is, we first need to take a look at traditional resistance training. Most traditional gym-based resistance training programs emphasize exercises that target individual muscles or muscle groups. A few examples of these exercises include the bench press, preacher curl, leg press, leg extension, leg curl and triceps extension.

These exercises are performed using benches or machines, which provide external support. Typically performed by bodybuilders, these exercises don’t demand a lot of stability. They don't mimic daily or sporting activities and don’t challenge coordination, balance, proprioception (the ability to determine your body’s position in space) or overall motor control.

While this type of training can be useful for increasing muscle mass and strength, it does little to improve your overall ability to perform daily activities or specific sporting actions.

Improving balance, control and coordination

Now that we have an idea of what traditional strength training is, let’s go back to functional strength training. Functional training is simply training that serves the purpose for which it was designed. For a bodybuilder, the purpose of exercise is simply to increase muscle mass. There’s no other sporting performance or skill involved, so in theory, traditional lifting could be considered “functional training” for a bodybuilder.

For a high-performance athlete, the goal of training is to increase sporting performance. This is a much more complex goal to accomplish, as athletes perform movements across multiple planes that require incredible concentration, stability, coordination and balance. We need an entirely different method of strength training tailored to each individual athlete.

Functional strength training used by athletes is designed to improve the ease, efficiency, strength and control with which they are able to perform specific activities. This type of training emphasizes whole body exercises across multiple planes, with a focus on movements that mimic daily and sporting activities instead of exercising specific muscles or muscle groups. This type of training uses no external supports. It requires concentration and improves proprioception, balance and coordination.

Patients of all types can also benefit from a functional strength training program as part of a rehabilitation program. Functional strength training can help patients perform daily tasks and activities that they do regularly at home or work more easily after an injury or surgery. For example, if the patient’s occupation involves heavy lifting, it’s possible to develop for them a functional strength training program with a focus on lifting.

A true functional strength training program

Functional strength training with an emphasis on movement can be a great fit for rehabilitation and prevention of injuries as well as the improvement of overall functional capacity, from ease of movement on a day-to-day basis to recreational and sport performance.

Make sure your program is adapted to your needs by consulting a qualified professional who can identify any functional movement dysfunctions. If you would like to consult a Lifemark clinician, check out our Locations page to find a Lifemark clinic near you or book online to schedule an appointment.

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