Is it more effective to run or walk? What about lifting weights….should you use fixed machines or utilize free weights like dumbells? What about cross fit or boot camps? How intense and to what frequency should you engage in this level of activity? Well of course the short answer is – it all depends. Depends on what you say? Well, the obvious answer is your previous and current health condition. What works for one, does not always work for another. For those that want to bypass a personalized assessment and trainer having an understanding of functional exercise is key. It’s not only key to your immediate results but long term sustainability. While doing something is better than doing nothing- one should still seek to maximize that “something” to aid in every day functionality; which is what functional exercise is. That is doing exercises that edify, promote and build up muscles that correspond with your everyday movements. This primarily stems from your core; which consist of your back, chest and abdomen.
Secondary body parts that support everyday functionality are hips, arms and legs. So when you think about how to support the primary core parts of your body re-enact those everyday movements within your exercise routines. If that exercise does very little to replicate a day-to-day functional movement, I would question the purpose of why you are engaging in that exercise activity. If you are rehabing an isolated body part then maybe…or if you are building a specific pyramid in your workout plan then maybe…but to blindly sit on a fixed machine and try to max out weight lifting on that machine to me doesn’t see as effective. Additionally, fixed machines tend to support compensation. Meaning, it is easier to allow one stronger arm to compensate for the other weaker arm. If you were to duplicate that machine movement, you’d be much better off using free weights such as a dumbbell or kettle ball.
I’m no exercise science major, however, i did spend four years working alongside them during my undergraduate studies. I worked at the gym on campus and learned about proper form, routine structures and anatomical groupings of exercises. Having been active for the majority of my life, I’ve seen the differences between fixed movements that limit range of motion and exercises that increase and support functionality. I’ve been encouraged to focus on the latter; especially as it relates to supporting my core. When my core is struggling, it’s almost always because I have lapsed in provided targeted strengthening movements during my exercising. I’ve seen how by doing this, I have better sleep, support while sitting at my desk at work for hours, and when bending down or making sudden movements. It’s not easy to keep it up by any means, but I know if I at least continue to do “something” – it surely is better than nothing.
Lastly I’ll say finding functional exercises that have low impact to your knees, joints and hips will also supercharge your way to a more well-rounded support system. Exercises such as rowing, swimming, water aerobics, and bicycling are all low-impact functional activities. Doing the latest cross-fit fad or boot camp isn’t always the safest or lowest impact to your body. In fact, many of these are not sustainable long term and if not careful one could truly do damage to the body permanently. Focus on function and become a true winner both inside and out!