Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Form, Function and Balance

We’ve all seen them. Those guys at the gym or on the beach who have obviously logged thousands of hours lifting weights. Their arms are enormous, often too big to hang comfortably by their sides. Now sure, their muscles are pumped and they don’t have an ounce of body fat. But how functional are those muscles? They can bench press a small car, but strangely, that doesn’t usually come in handy in everyday life!

There’s a huge buzz about “functional fitness” these days, and for good reason. But what is it, exactly? Well, regular weight training focuses on working each muscle group separately, but functional fitness instead focuses on working the muscles groups together, which is how we use them in the real world. When you’re lifting your baby seat out of the car, or lugging a suitcase through the airport, or even hefting grocery bags up 3 flights of stairs, you’re not just using one muscle in isolation. All your muscles are working together, some doing the actual work and others balancing and even more are stabilizing the movement.

To get started with a functional fitness routine, you may want to hold off on picking up any weight at all! “Pardon?” I hear you saying…. Well, most of us have a hard enough time controlling our own body weight, much less tossing a 20 lb dumbbell into the equation (and by the way, don’t ever try to toss a 20 lb dumbbell). Try doing a one-legged squat with no weight at all, just your body weight. See? It’s not so easy, is it? Eventually, you can work your way up to adding a dumbbell to that one-legged squat, and even doing it on a wobble board.

So does this mean you should abandon traditional weight training? Not at all. You need to balance the two to make sure that strong muscles aren’t getting stronger to the detriment of weaker muscles. Traditional weight training isolates the muscles and makes them equally strong, and functional fitness teaches those strong muscles to work together.

Another thing to remember with functional fitness is that, unlike traditional resistance training, working to failure can net you an injury. Work until you are no longer able to perform the exercise with perfect form.

One of the best things about functional fitness is that it’s fun! And you can so easily see how performing the exercises will translate into helping you carry out your daily activities of life, and that right there is one of the best reasons to make exercise a part of your life!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Starting an exercise program can be a huge challenge. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there, and much of it is conflicting. Lift heavy weights, lift light weights, do lots of cardio, cut back on cardio…. It just makes you want to throw your hands in the air and say “Forget it! I'm heading back to the couch!”.

First things first. Before you even START to exercise, you have to commit to making exercise a priority in your life. And remember, exercise doesn’t have to mean logging countless hours at the gym doing endless bicep curls and running on a treadmill. All sorts of activities can help you achieve your goals, and finding the things you love to do will help it become an everyday part of your life.

Old habits die hard, and changing them requires a committed effort. It takes time to develop new habits, and a positive attitude is key! You will not become an athlete overnight, but slow, small changes will help ensure that fitness becomes an integral part of your daily life.

It’s important to check with your doctor to get the green light to exercise without restrictions. Surround yourself with supportive people and role models. Having a support system is one of the most crucial pieces in the healthy lifestyle puzzle. Having someone to be accountable to, and someone who can motivate you when you JUST DON’T FEEL LIKE IT is important for everyone, no matter their level of fitness.

Working with a qualified personal trainer will help you learn how to set and reach achievable goals. This is especially important for new exercisers. You have to remember that there are endless options out there to help you get fit and stay fit, and a professional can help you sift through all the available information and figure out what’s best for you!

Physical health often falls by the wayside when you’re trying to balance the demands of your daily life. But physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle will help you find more energy and enthusiasm for everything else in your life!