(Before starting any fitness routine, contact your doctor for a complete physical and advice to ensure that you are healthy and have no underlying problems that could worsen during an exercise regimen.)
Have We Forgotten the Basics?
It seems today that with new terms, exercises and equipment, we have forgotten the basics. New training philosophies and exercises seem to have pushed aside the basics and fundamentals of basic resistance and weight training. It seems we may have lost the art of strength training which was in the past the bread and butter of fitness and health. When I say “Strength Training” I mean training that sets a program to continually increase resistance (weight) to improve overall strength. This may be through machines, free weights or dumbbells. Scientific studies have provided valuable knowledge and great strides in developing a better understanding of this training. Gone are the days of just lifting tremendous amounts of weight with no strategy on how to lift more. Strength training today is not the same as it was in the past. But it does have its roots there and because of those in the past, we have been able to continue to progress this training to make it the most widely used type of fitness training. Most don’t know they are using these basic roots when they go in and use machines or dumbbells in their daily workout. The problem is that they do not have the knowledge to continue to progress their strength through the use of progressive lifting.
New Training Techniques
The hot term is “functional or sports specific training”, so the question is “what is this functional or sports specific training?” There are numerous dictionaries or encyclopedias that you can look up the definition. The basic definition of “Functional” is “practical: having a practical application, or serving a useful purpose”. The example provided for this definition was “designs that are functional yet fun”. The second definition provided was “operational: in good working order, or working at the moment”. This definition seems to define the exercises used today in this type of training. The training now provided by many fitness professionals gyms and fitness centers is using exercises that require the individual to balance or maintain their balance with the use of balancing boards, balls or other unstable objects. All of which generally require the person to be holding weights or lifting them. Now understand that generally this will require the weight to be reduced to ensure the safety of the individual. These exercises also go by the name of sports specific training, which tends to mislead. My father always told me that if you want to get good at something you have to practice it. That is if you want to get better at playing basketball, you have to practice basketball. Your skills will then improve. Now that does not mean that improving your endurance or strength does not help, as common sense tells you it will. But I am not totally sure that jumping off or onto a box or platform would dramatically improve someone’s skill at playing basketball.
From what I have been able to discover is that your balance or your equilibrium is something we develop early in life. Your ability to balance and stabilize yourself does not really change over time, but what does change is the ability of your muscles to respond quickly and the strength in those muscles. When we are placed in a position that external forces require our body to continually move to balance itself and keep upright, the requirement is not that we need to train ourselves to balance but to ensure we have the strength our muscles need to support the movement and react. This is accomplished by developing our muscle strength through weight training. Most conditioned athletes or well-conditioned individuals who have done strength training can master this function quickly. Their bodies have the strength to react and perform the function of balancing.
The majority of healthy people I have seen that has problems with their balance are not because they cannot balance themselves, it’s due to their lack of physical strength required to maintain their balance. When performing this so called functional training, it is nothing more than training your body with adding weight in an unstable environment to strengthen it to maintain its balance. But by performing these exercises over and over again will not continue to provide significant overall strength gains, this can only be accomplished through a dedicated strength training program by progressing the weight over time and developing muscle strength.
If you think about it, when doing a standing overhead shoulder press, you are doing some functional training but in a more realistic sense. Lifting something over your head requires your body to continue to move and adjust to keep your balance and maintain the weight. By progressing the weight develops your overall strength and will provide continual work on muscle development. Using an unbalanced platform is not natural and you will be required to reduce the weight for safety reasons and unless your lower body strength is sufficient, the individual will have to reduce the weight even more. As a note, lifting something over your head is a common function used in the home, and in some work environments.
So Should We Do This Functional Training?
Doing functional training depends on an individual’s current physical ability and if an individual is doing rehabilitation training. There are some exercises that are relevant and useful even in strength training. Using balancing balls and medicine balls are a valuable part of working your core or abdominal muscles and can be a welcome addition to training. Medicine balls have been around for centuries and some form of these have been used in testing strength in Europe long before anyone can remember. But developing an entire training program around this type of training is not in the best interest of individuals. It does seem today that is what is happening. I have seen many trainers hanging their hat on this functional training. The problem with this is the individual receiving the training may never know if they can improve more with strength training since the trainer keeps them with functional training.
A Professional Decision
As a professional, I need to ask, what is best for the client and not necessarily what they want or what may be the catch phrase of the day. As a professional I have to evaluate and make the best decisions on what is best for reaching the goals of those I train. We should remember that Strength Training has been around for a long time and the success stories of those involved in this training are astronomical. I am not sure that functional training will ever have these types of success stories or if it will continue to be a catch phrase.
As a client, if you are getting ready to hire a personal trainer, ask questions and see what type of training they are recommending. Have them explain the purpose and what it will do for you. Keep asking to ensure that the training is right for you and you feel comfortable that it will reach your goals. What I know is that what it all comes down to, going back to the basics we can never be wrong.