Functional Training or whatever you would like to call it, is paving the way to a new approach to training and gaining results. I’m sure you have seen various gyms popping up around your area. You may know this style of training as Functional Training, German Strongman Training, Crossfit, Metabolic Conditioning, Metabolic Training. Whatever the title, the purpose of this article is to bring to your attention how functional training and metabolic conditioning can help you achieve the results you’re after and also help you in every aspect of your every day life.
You work out to improve the quality of your life, right? Working out, then, should prepare you for every day activities. It should make it easier for you to function in an emergency situation, such as when your car breaks down and you’ve got to carry the groceries home. Yet, not all exercise does this. Functional exercises simulate common movements that we do outside of the gym. If you are truly going to benefit from the hours that you spend in the gym, go ahead and stick with your pin-loaded machines, however more and more studies show that functional training will not only provide your body with the physical tools for functioning but also get you in much better shape! So, why not try adding a form of functional training to your workout program design?
What is it?
Functional workouts involve compound exercises that work the large muscle groups of the body and involve explosive movement. These workouts are also multidirectional as we, as humans, are not robots and we’re certainly not on rails, we need to be able to run, bend, rotate, jump sideways… everything, in every direction! So it makes sense that a one directional, linear program wouldn’t help us too much in the real world, right? In addition to maximally taxing your muscles in a functional workout, functional training will give you an awesome cardio workout, have you huffing, puffing and sweating so whatever your goals may be; fat loss, general fitness and function and or muscle gain, this style of training has you covered!
Here are 5 fantastic functional exercises (of course, the list of functional exercises is endless!) that you could consider slipping into your workout schedule:
Take a hold of a sledgehammer and position yourself side on to a tractor tyre. Swing the sledge hammer out and then bring it crashing into the tyre. Concentrate on driving the power from your thighs, hips and lats. Do 12 reps on the right, then another 12 on the left.
(Note: If your gym doesn’t have a sledge hammer and truck tyre, demand that they get them! In all seriousness, rope workouts (big heavy ones) can also be an option or if you’re not at a functional training style of gym, you could try rotating a slam ball in the action of how you would a sledge hammer and slam the ball down. Most gyms will at least have medicine balls and an area where you can drop heavy weights so ask someone on the gym floor to set you up with this. If you only have a med ball, be ready to catch the ball when it bounces back up at you!).
Overhead Squat (hands are in Snatch Position)
Overhead Squats are a classic weight lifting move that require explosive power, core stability and hip and shoulder flexibility. To start place a barbell on a squat rack and step under it so that it is behind the neck and across the traps. Unrack the bar and take a couple of steps back. With feet shoulder width apart and wide grip on the bar, snatch the weight overhead to arms’ length, pushing up and out, inner elbow creases facing upwards. While holding your breath, squat down into a full squat position. Do not lean forward, but keep your back arched and chest up. Immediately you hit the bottom of the squat reverse position and drive yourself back to a standing position with the weight locked out overhead. That’s one rep.
This exercise is will easily identify any area you are lacking in mobility and/or strength. Ask a trainer on the floor if you are not training in a small-group PT/Functional Training style, to help you with this. They should be able to improve your range of motion (ROM) and help you maintain better alignment. If overhead squatting just isn’t working for you (it’s a TOUGH exercise and probably one of the most all round poorly executed exercises by many) try simply front squatting (see below) with a barbell to a standing shoulder press whilst also working on increasing ROM in your ankles, hips, thoracic spine and shoulders. The Front Squat to Shoulder Press (Thruster) will help improve your strength and movement through the ranges which will carry you through to the Overhead Squat. Mobilisation and stretching is imperative for executing all exercises through full ROM but particularly the Overhead Squat.
Start with the bar in front of you. With your feet firmly planted and back arched (like you are going to stick your butt out – duck bum style) bend your knees to grab the bar with an overhand grip. Start lifting the bar and as it reaches mid thigh, extend the hips, knees and ankles upwards. At the same time shrug your shoulders and bend and raise the elbows. Keep the bar close to your body as it rises and rests at your upper chest level. You will now be in a standing front squat position. Immediately lower into a full squat and then return the bar to the start position on the floor in front of you.
Note: No deadlift or clean is worth doing with a rounded back (ie. butt a little tucked under). You are putting your lumbar spine at severe risk of injury. Technique technique technique! This movement is complex. Start light, get the motion correct, then increase your weights.
A front squat is essentially the mid part of the clean exercise just described. Many people shy away from front squats due to the relative uncomfortableness of squatting with the bar in front of your neck. That, however, is part of what makes it a great functional exercise. It’s vital that you maintain a strong, upright position throughout the squat.
Note: working on thoracic extension will be of great help here! Keep your elbows forward of the bar (from underneath) so you don’t tip forward. This will also help activate your delts, providing a shelf for your bar, rather than it resting on your bones.
Start in a squat position with a medicine ball held at chest level. You should be 10 feet away from a wall. As you explode upwards chest press the ball straight towards the wall. You now have to catch the ball on the rebound. As soon as you do, move right into your next repetition. Stay focused or you’ll have the thing smashing into your rib-cage!
This is also great as a lateral exercise as rotation is a must in functional programming. Holding your medicine ball at your chest, standing with your right shoulder towards the wall, complete a lateral lunge (or laterally turning to a front lunge – back to the wall). Then explosively come back up, turning towards the wall, whilst throwing the ball into the wall. Catch and repeat. Then repeat on the other side.
In conclusion, the above exercises are not easy. They take time and repetition to master. So, start off with a light weight until your body is correctly trained. Remember that the power of the drive in each movement comes from the thighs, butt and hip region. While you’re getting used to these exercises, introduce just one of them at a time to your workout. The next workout add in the next exercise. Do the exercise first in your routine while you’re still fresh. After a month, you’ll be ready to combine all five exercises into a hard as nails circuit. Simply perform the five exercises in sequence, doing 12 reps each with no rest and keeping going until 20 minutes have expired (AMRAP). At the end of it you’ll feel totally wasted – in a good way.