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Why Clients Need to Prioritize Functional Strength Training
One of the biggest contributing factors to a client's general wellbeing is the type of training they perform. The human body is a kinetic chain where muscles, bones, joints, and ligaments all work together as one. To improve quality of life for each of our clients, we must increase their functional fitness. Being more biomechanically efficient leads to better movement in activities of daily living, which can lead to a better quality of life.
Every client has their own perspective on what being healthy and strong means. Clients develop a certain attitude towards what a healthy or good-looking body can be for them and how this translates to their life outside the gym.
With our clients developing their own perspective on what being stronger or more fit can mean, we must educate them on how functional strength training can affect their individual goals and translate to their daily activities.
What Does Functional Strength Training Mean?
You can define it as performing exercise movements that mimic activities of daily living to increase efficiency of total body movement. The physiological demands our bodies undergo throughout everyday life are affected by the training we perform.
The goal of a functional strength training program is to prescribe physical activity that translates to movements outside the gym. These movements can be things like being able to get out of bed, standing up off a chair, pulling open the refrigerator door, or reaching for a glass from the kitchen cabinet. In exercise terms, you have different movement patterns such as pulling, pushing, squatting, hinging, pressing, and lunging.
Improve these movement patterns through weight training or bodyweight training. Machine-based exercises are not the best choice, as they provide a fixed motion, limiting body mobility.
Functional strength training is important in general, and even more so as a client grows older. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, only 6% of adults do resistance training workouts two or more times per week. Muscle mass and strength decrease 30 - 50% between the ages of 30 and 80.
How to Increase Functional Strength?
As fitness professionals, we need to distinguish and relay to our clients where the difference lies between strength in lifting more on a bench press and strength in max push-ups or pull-ups.
Both can measure “strength” gains and can be viewed as how strong a client might be, but one ultimately provides better execution by the kinetic chain as a result of functional strength training.
Bodyweight exercises increase what is known as relative strength. Relative strength is measured in relation to each individual’s body size. This means a person's relative or bodyweight strength solely depends on their unique body type. Clients who have higher relative strength are better at moving their body weight in space.
Athletes incorporate training to increase this type of strength, providing great benefit to sport performance. When we discuss functional strength training and how it relates to activities of daily life, we are aiming to increase relative strength within that client.
This is different than relative strength in terms of force exertion. With absolute strength, a person’s body size or amount of muscle does not matter. Though a higher body weight will generally allow a client to produce more force, leading to greater strength, someone of less size can produce the same or greater strength output.
Absolute strength can indirectly improve a client's relative strength and is a training approach used to do just that. When using absolute strength to improve relative strength, it is important to prescribe the program with that individual client’s goal in mind.
What Are the Best Functional Strength Training Exercises?
There are countless functional strength exercises you can have clients perform. The following exercises relate to real-life activities. The focus of these exercises is to strengthen the same muscles used in the activities listed.
- Prisoner Squat - A squat movement pattern replicating the movement of getting up off a chair or sitting down.
- Good Morning – This is a great exercise demonstrating a hip hinge movement pattern. When you lean over to pick something off the ground you are performing this same movement. Good mornings help provide resistance for the hamstrings to avoid unnecessary lower back stress.
- Dumbbell Reverse Lunge with Rotation - This can improve getting in and out of a car by improving rotational core strength.
- Single-Leg Dumbbell Row – This is great for balance and stability, relating to picking something up off the ground. This exercise will also strengthen the back musculature for all pulling movement patterns, such as pulling a door open.
- Pull-up – This exercise works many muscle groups and provides great resistance, but the extent to which pull-ups work grip strength sometimes goes unnoticed. Think about how often you use your hands and grip throughout the day!
- Farmers Carry - This is a great exercise for improving grip strength, but also posture. Posture is vital to optimal health, strength, and fitness. Considering all the sitting and standing we do at work all day, spine health should be at the forefront of our clients’ minds. If we properly strengthen the right muscle groups, then there should be no need to think about sitting up straight all the time.
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press – This exercise can translate to simply reaching above your head for a cup out of the kitchen cabinet.
How Can Corrective Exercise Benefit Functional Fitness?
The purpose of corrective exercise is to allow a client to move pain-free by prescribing an alternative movement to correct a movement dysfunction. If a client is unable to correctly perform an exercise, they should not just stop working out altogether. To help them in continuing to exercise, corrective exercises should be applied to their routine.
For example, a client with poor shoulder mobility will likely be unable to properly perform dumbbell shoulder presses. So, you prescribe corrective exercises to improve their strength so they can do more functional exercises. You might have them perform a cat camel, doorway stretch, prone t, and prone y to work on the muscles that are lacking the mobility to perform the shoulder presses.
With time and consistent application of these exercises, your client’s mobility will improve. Without using corrective techniques, your client may become unable to move in a certain plane, in this case, the sagittal plane.
As a personal trainer, you must be able to recognize poor mobility and explain to your client why they need to turn to corrective exercises. Often, clients’ poor mobility can be viewed as tight muscles they believe just need to be stretched, but really there is an underactive muscle that needs to be activated.
Why Mobility Training is Important for Functionality
Apply mobility training to your client’s workout routine and corrective exercise routine. Mobility training should be your client’s new pre-workout!
If your client correctly ‘warms up’ their body through mobility training, they can expect less muscle soreness and better recovery. Mobility training before an intense workout primes the body for the stress it is about to undergo. This leads to better performance and less risk of injury. You stimulate your muscles, telling them how to move and in what direction. When the workout begins, they are active and ready to go.
A more active muscle throughout activities of daily living can increase muscular endurance and reaction time to better support the kinetic chain. This can allow for more alertness and body awareness. Proprioception will improve and provide better balance, stability, and motor function, not just in the gym, but outside as well.
If you are looking to elevate your fitness knowledge, grow your clientele, and gain a better understanding of corrective exercise with its relation to functional fitness, explore the ISSA’s Corrective Exercise Specialization. This certification will provide you with the most up to date content, improve your expertise, and set you up for a successful career in the fitness industry.