Like many areas of traditional medical care, there’s an evolution taking place for many fitness professionals. This evolving trend is moving away from old-style gym scenes and exercise programs to more natural methods of movement and physical activity.
Consider first the traditional fitness program, which often takes place in an environment filled with exercise machines and equipment, all designed to challenge one muscle group at a time.The primary goal for many followers of this approach is usually larger muscles and more aesthetically pleasing physiques.
There are a couple of key problems with this approach. First, most gym-goers today don’t exercise solely to bulk up with larger muscles. Instead, many are looking to reduce belly fat, or increase upper body strength, or just regain balance and stability. Second, our bodies don’t often mimic the very narrow movements of most exercise machines. It doesn’t make much sense for a multi-planar, multi-joint body to sit on a machine that allows movement only in one direction, while holding the rest of the body steady.
This typical gym approach to strength and fitness is being challenged by a different approach that better fits the health needs and fitness goals of people who work in offices, or in construction, or who drive trucks or teach children. That approach is functional training, which doesn’t use traditional machines or muscle-building methods. Instead, the functional approach to fitness focuses on the body and the body’s natural movement patterns to help make people stronger, leaner and healthier.
Functional training uses strength training to improve balance, coordination, force, power and endurance to enhance a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living. This type of training makes our muscles more efficient by allowing them to work together to support our daily activities. These programs use equipment like weighted balls, battle ropes, sandbells and other odd objects that require the body to constantly react and adjust.
This style of functional training has gained ground steadily during the past 10 years, indicating that it is not a passing fad. One reason for that is the fact that functional programs are constantly changing, constantly challenging, which keeps them from becoming routine or boring.
Many people in functional training programs are rediscovering the outdoors. This is because many functional programs use parks and sports fields as their backdrop. Training outdoors, in natural settings, is especially beneficial for people who spend most of their work day indoors, sitting most of the time.
Studies have shown that people who exercise outdoors tend to exercise more often. Also, outdoor exercise tends to be more strenuous, which burns more calories than corresponding indoor activities (think trail running versus treadmill running). Outdoor exercisers also report that they enjoy the outdoor version to the indoor counterpart, experiencing greater vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem.
Yes, exercise is work, but there’s no reason it can’t also be fun. In many ways, the functional approach to exercise brings fun back to the regular workout. Because many of the exercise tools and equipment resemble childhood recess toys—balls and ropes and cones—many adults describe the functional approach as “PE for adults.”
Fun is a critical component to regular workouts, because more than 70 percent of people who set fitness-focused resolutions each year give up within six weeks. One local functional-based fitness organization, Camp Gladiator, reports that participants in its outdoor boot camp, which incorporates games and partner work, continue to participate an average of 18 months.
If you’ve tried and failed going the traditional route of joining a large gym and starting a machinebased fitness program, try a more nontraditional approach, one that incorporates more functional techniques and tools. It might be a better option to help you meet your health and fitness goals. You’ll be part of a growing trend.
Jennifer Trimmier is an ACE-certified personal trainer who owns Strong Body San Antonio Fitness & Wellness Coaching. She provides at-home and on-location personal training and wellness coaching for individuals and groups. To learn more, visit www.strongbodysa.com or call 210-445-0448.