Matthew Cain, PhD by Matthew Cain, PhD

Largely eclipsed by high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in recent years, functional training appears to be making a comeback (although some might argue it never went away). Functional training is concerned with movement efficiency, as it relates to a variety of variables that may impact overall movement patterns. The relationship between the fascia, muscular and nervous systems should be enhanced through specific functional training that allows an individual to generate sufficient force throughout the desired movement. Specifically, mobility, stability, fascia lines, and health and performance variables (e.g., stability, mobility, and muscular strength, endurance and power) should be taken into consideration, as all impact movement efficiency. The purpose of functional training is to optimize human movement, while addressing the issues that are negatively impacting movement efficiency in a particular client. Thus, it will ultimately improve one’s overall quality of life.

For this reason, your athletic and general fitness clients are more similar than you think, and you should program as such. Simply put, the application of exercise will be different, but not the exercises. Whether you’re training a professional athlete to run faster to first base or a grandmother who wants to play with her grandchildren pain-free, your goal is to optimize human movement and address each client’s unique issues.

Programming to optimize human movement is different in terms of exercise application, as every individual is unique. Every person will display strengths and weaknesses related to human movement, while having different resistance-training goals. For example, an athlete and a grandmother may perform the same exercise (e.g., trap or hex bar deadlift), but the application of the exercise could be different based on the adaptation desired by each individual. The athlete may perform the exercise with moderate resistance with the intention to move as fast as possible for power production purposes. Conversely, the grandmother may perform the movement with low intensity for multiple repetitions to increase her muscular endurance. Furthermore, both the athlete and grandmother will perform rotation, hinge, squat, push, pull, unilateral, and multidirectional movements during training, but the application will be altered.

Movement patterns and the combination of movements are the focus of functional-training programs. Everyone from athletes to individuals affected by obesity to active agers should perform a variety of movements in various planes on a daily basis. Although isolated movements can be incorporated as needed—as all movement aids in human function—exercises that incorporate multiple muscle groups as the body moves through various planes of motion are particularly beneficial for improving overall function and quality of life.

Enhancing movement efficiency and patterns in multiple planes of motion can help prevent injury, while also improving health and performance variables, such as posture, strength, endurance, mobility, stability and power. Truly, the ultimate goal of functional training is to optimize movement to enhance overall quality of life. Remember, it is not necessarily the exercise itself, but the application of the exercise that matters most.

ACE’s Functional Training Specialist Program addresses the topic of movement efficiency and the variables that impact this topic. If you are a health and exercise professional interested in helping your clients move more efficiently and ultimately improve their overall quality of life, this program may be a perfect fit.

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