What is Functional Strength?

A great exercise program provides us with much more than nice biceps and abs. It creates lean muscle, burns fat and provides us with the strength to do the things we like to do without fear of injury.

As we gain strength through resistance training we begin to learn what muscle groups to use together in order to perform exercises in the most efficient way.
For example, in order to squat effectively we use our leg muscles, gluts, core muscles, upper back muscles etc. The more we use those muscle groups together, the more they “wire” a pathway together. Not only does this mean that we are using far more muscle groups for every exercise, the muscles learn to work efficiently when we take out the garbage, or even lift the laundry bin. This creates what is referred to as functional strength.

What types of exercise should I look for?Functional Stretch

Pilates, body weight exercises, free weights, and yoga all fit into the “functional strength” category. The important thing to remember is to be mindful of your posture, form and breathing as you perform the exercises.
Is the circuit of exercise machines at the gym a good choice?

Machines are very useful if you are just starting into exercise, have an injury, are interested in increasing your range of motion or need to isolate a specific muscle group to rehabilitate. However, if you are using machines alone to become stronger and leaner overall, you may be disappointed. By isolating one muscle group and supporting the “rest of you” very little functional strength is gained, and far fewer muscles are utilized. Studies show that lean muscle mass gain is reduced when machines are used for strength building.

Not getting the results you hoped for in your exercise program?

Most of the people who do not reach their goals with their exercise program have 2 key issues: a lack of consistency and not enough intensity.  The good news is that as you increase your intensity (in a very safe manner) you can get far superior results in less time. The best way to increase the intensity in any exercise is to improve your form because your body will naturally look for short cuts. Learning the proper way to perform exercises is time well spent.

Some example of exercises that encourage functional strength (when technique is accurate):

  • Body weight exercises such a calisthenics, plank pose, Foundation Training
  • Pilates
  • Free Weights
  • Yoga

Examples of exercises that do not encourage Functional Strength:

  • Any exercise done in a very fast manner (we see injuries from exercises that attempt to build intensity by increasing speed and momentum, not a with a greater focus on posture and technique)
  • Exercise machines (although they definitely have their place for beginners and those with injuries)

For more information about Functional Strength exercises such as Foundation Training, a better plank pose or side plank please check out our blog or speak to Dr. Neely or Dr. Shulman on your next visit.