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!

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