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Functional Strength Training

What is functional strength training?
Functional strength training or functional exercise uses multiple muscles and joints to strengthen muscles for activities for daily living such as lifting groceries, carrying luggage, vacuuming, raking, bending over to pick up a child, stacking objects on shelves above you, twisting the torso to see what’s behind you, running to catch a train, or playing sports.

Exercises for functional strength training include common movements like squats, knee lifts, and lateral arm raises that require the use of your upper and lower body as well as the muscles of your abdomen, sides, and back (core muscles). Squats, for example, are functional exercises because they strengthen muscles you use for stooping down as well as getting up from and sitting down into a chair. Knee lifts help keep your legs, back, and core muscles strong for standing, walking, and running while also helping stabilize the body for balance. Lateral arm raises strengthen the muscles in the arms, shoulders, and upper back that are used for lifting objects.

A comprehensive functional strength training program also includes exercises to maintain or improve balance and flexibility, which are key to sitting, lying down and getting up, moving, standing, walking, and running without the risk of injury or falls.

In contrast to functional strength training, which uses a combination of muscle groups, conventional strength training focuses on a specific muscle group. For example, a bench press, which uses muscles of the chest for lifting, is considered conventional strength training. Even though they strengthen/tone muscles and provide benefits, many conventional strength training movements are rarely used in daily activities.

Check with your Summit Medical Group practitioner 
before starting a functional strength training program.

Benefits of Functional Strength Training
Whatever your age, functional strength training exercises can help prevent injuries to your muscles and joints. As you age, they may be especially useful for improving balance and agility and reducing your risk of falls.

Functional strength training exercises 
are designed to help maintain and improve overall strength 
so that you may safely use your muscles and joints
for practical, common activities.

Once you have a green light from your doctor, you may benefit from enlisting the services of a certified personal fitness trainer who has expertise in functional strength training exercises. If you are an experienced exerciser, you may use videos or take classes that focus on or include functional strength exercises. 

Many fitness routines and classes combine conventional with functional strength strategies to build strength and ensure that exercisers are getting the full benefit of exercise for sports as well as nonsport activities.

What to Expect With Functional Strength Training
If you plan to engage in functional strength training exercises, you can expect to use equipment, including kettle bells, dumbbells and other weights, elastic bands, step platforms, ropes, TRX suspension bands, and exercise balls. Balance (Bosu®) balls also are a popular tool in functional strength training because they allow exercisers to lift weights and perform other exercises while balancing on one or both legs - an approach that engages muscles of the core while strengthening other muscles.

Many functional strength training programs also require exercisers to use their body weight for resistance. A plank, which involves lifting and holding the body off the floor, is an example of using body weight for resistance. 

Functional Strength Training for Injuries
If you are recovering from an injury to the muscles, joints, or ligaments, your physical therapist is likely to combine conventional and functional strength training to strengthen your injury and protect you from additional injuries that may occur from compensating for the injury. For example, using crutches to protect a sprained ankle can strain muscles in your arms, chest, shoulders, back, and neck. To prevent an injury to those muscles and joints, your physical therapist is likely to recommend functional and conventional strength training exercises to strengthen them.

Click here to learn more about our Sports Injury Program 
or to find out how functional strength training may help you.