Functional fitness training

Is this trend right for you? Local experts tell of its benefits.

Why do you exercise?

Unless you are a professional athlete, the answer to that question is likely that you exercise to improve the quality of your life. Functional fitness training focuses on just that: training and developing muscles to work together to support movements that people do in everyday life.

Its popularity is growing by leaps and bounds (pun intended), as people see and feel the benefits and have fun doing it.

“Think of it as training movements rather than training muscles,” said Tanya Burkhart, group fitness instructor at Fitworks in West Chester. Unlike the fixed movement of machines that isolate/target one specific muscle, functional training results in engaging peripheral and stabilizing muscles as well. When done correctly, functional training “will lead to better joint mobility and stability as well as more efficient movement pattern. Improving these factors decreases the potential for injury,” Burkhart said.

Functional training can take on many forms, all with the same goal in mind: P90X, kettlebells, plyometrics, resistance bands, medicine balls, and suspension trainers like the TRX. However, Maurice Harris, owner of Zero Gravity, a sports training and performance facility in Centerville, finds the suspension trainer particularly effective — improving strength, balance and core.

“I see the suspension trainer as more practical for the average person,” Harris said. “There’s a lot more bang for your buck, in terms of being able to train multiple systems at once. You recruit the muscles in your core all the time on the suspension trainer, unlike the other pieces and formats of training.”

He says that all fitness levels can benefit from suspension trainers, from the 65-year-old grandmother, to the 40-year-old businessman who has been cleared from physical therapy after hip replacement surgery. “And of course, the high-level athlete who can perform the most advanced movements possible on the suspension trainer,” Harris said.

Fear not cardio-lovers, as for cardiovascular fitness, functional training has it covered. Harris says that while an elliptical machine is a great beginning, it doesn’t require the exerciser to incorporate balance or strength into the workout. “There is more than one way to accomplish cardiovascular benefits,” Harris said. “Continuous movement in a sequence on the suspension trainer gives you both cardio-respiratory benefits and strength training opportunities.”

Both Burkhart and Harris advise consulting a physician or certified fitness professional before beginning any new exercise program, as doing the movements correctly is key to their effectiveness as well as avoiding injury. “Understand that any program worth doing is worth putting time into understanding the equipment or program design,” Harris said.

Also, he advises his clients to listen to their body and consider the fact that the body needs recovery time and actually gets stronger on those recovery days.

However, he says that if you’re training several days in a row, try alternating between upper body, lower body, core and then repeating the process. “The seventh day could be your day off.”

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