You may have heard the terms functional fitness and corrective exercise used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Let's look at what exactly functional fitness means. As a trainer, when you start to think about the corrective exercise side of training, you also need to know your definition of functional fitness.
The term functional fitness is becoming more and more popular in the fitness community. It began when physical therapists would work with patients to return them to full recovery of daily activities after an injury.
Now you hear the term in many ways. It can mean improving the activities of daily living or, taken into a different context, it can mean for high intensity training such as CrossFit or bootcamp style workouts. So, you, as a fitness professional, need to ask yourself which interpretation you're using for your client. This will help you when thinking about the corrective exercise side of things.
As part of our daily lives we are constantly moving, bending, squatting, lifting, reaching, and carrying things. What that means is that when we incorporate those movements into our fitness training routines it will make these everyday movements easier.
Not to mention it will decrease the risk of injury. When we think about our client's fitness goals, many of them relate to looking good, not being able to squat down without getting hurt.
If we look at the overall picture of this with our clients, what good is it to look fit if they can't squat down and pick up something off the ground without hurting their back. That is where functional fitness comes in. Not only will it get the client to their goal, but it will help them do the tasks of everyday life without getting hurt.
As with any fitness program, first make sure that your clients are ready to take on exercise. If any concerns are outside the scope of practice of a personal trainer, refer them out to the proper professionals.
Most of our clients exercise to feel good and have a professional career in another industry. Many of them sit at a desk in front of a computer or on a smartphone for much of their day. Lack of movement and poor posture leads to different areas of the body being tight or weak.
These are areas that you will want to address with your clients before each session to keep them healthy, injury-free, and getting the most from their training sessions. It is common for healthy clients to have no injury but still feel stiffness in an area. This is known as protective tension, and you can help them correct it through mobility and stability training.
This is where you as a personal trainer can make a big difference in your clients lives as a corrective exercise specialist. Most clients will think, "I am sore in this area, so I just need to stretch or foam roll that spot." Often it's more than that and basic stretching and foam rolling won't make the difference they need.
Let's use the example of tightness in the hamstrings. Clients will come to you saying their hamstrings are tight or sore. The first instinct is to stretch the hamstrings, which may give an increased range of motion for a short period of time. However, the problem could be coming from the instability in the pelvis.
When a muscle is "tight" it is an underactive muscle that needs to be activated. Once you activate that muscle or group of muscles, that will then tell the nervous system to release the extra tension at that joint.
That is why activating those muscles for stability can increase mobility. It's recommended that activation drills should start with muscles that support the spine and pelvic region and then move on from there.
Once you have activated the muscles, you can then move onto corrective exercises. The goal is not to stretch or foam roll those muscles but to activate them using functional exercises. This not only helps your clients correct those muscular imbalances but also allows them to get a challenging workout in at that same time.
This can be particularly important when it comes to functional fitness. Think back to the hamstring example; if your client bends over to pick something up off the ground, they'll feel that tightness in their hamstring. They are not going to be able to do that movement without pain or having to alter their movement to complete the task.
Here are examples of some of the most common underactive muscles. These are going to be the muscles you will want to give you clients activation exercises for.
When the tightness is in the feet, look to the posterior tibialis.
When the tightness is in the hips or pelvis, look to the hip abductors and external rotators.
When the tightness is in the trunk or core, look to the obliques, lats, and diaphragm.
When the tightness is in the glenohumeral joint, look to the external rotators.
When the tightness is in the scapulothoracic region, look to the serratus anterior, mid/lower trapezius, and rhomboids.
When the tightness is in the neck, look to the deep neck flexors.
If this sparks your interest to learn more on corrective exercise or the specific activation exercises for different muscle groups, we cover all that in detail for your clients in the ISSA's corrective exercise specialist course.