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A Guide to Functional Strength Training Exercises

written by: Terry Caron • edited by: Cheryl Gabbert • updated: 4/20/2011

Functional Strength training is becoming a popular method for improving performance, burning calories and improving overall health. Increase usable strength and create muscle tone without bulking up.

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    Functional Strength Training

    Functional strength training is gaining in popularity in many fitness circles. Functional strength training differs from weight training in that it combines compound exercises to activate multiple muscle groups at once. This puts emphasis on the core, improves performance in everyday activities and burns more calories in a workout.

    Functional strength training (FST) can be a confusing term. The main thing to consider is that this type of training is not about increasing the explosive capacity of a muscle group but to increase the performance in coordinated movements of the body itself. Often times, compound exercises that involve multiple muscle groups work best for functional strength training. Many traditional weight training exercises, such as bench press, isolate the pectorals muscles with very limited activation on secondary or stabilizer muscles. Although this can have a minimal benefit in some everyday tasks, the end result will not be as effective as other exercises.

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    FST exercises work multiple muscles, and force the brain to coordinate the motion. Compare the motion and muscles involved in the deadlift exercise with that of lifting a box. The deadlift works a variety of muscles from the legs to the back and arms strengthening and toning. It also involves the same muscles that one would use while lifting a box properly. This is a basic example of the benefits of performing functional strength training. Another example would be using a resistance band or a medicine ball to perform a twist. This exercise works the abs and back while working the brain to coordinate the movement. It also helps to increase the performance of some athletic activities such as a tennis backhand and others.

    Overall, functional strength training is used in tandem with regular strength training by firefighters, special forces, physical therapists, and many other organizations to improve overall fitness and performance. Its benefits range from improved strength and coordination, range of motion improvement, and speed. It also burns more calories since more muscles are involved. Some advanced methods, such as kettle bells or stair boxes, can also increase cardiovascular benefits at the same time.

    The best methods for incorporating FST into your workout regimen are to identify exercises that simulate everyday movements or primary movements in a sport that you are looking to improve. Use a resistance band, pulley machine, or lightweight dumbbell to simulate the movement and work up to the necessary speed of the activity. Also think about the movement and coordinate the muscles used to simulate this activity as close as possible to the actual movement. Form and technique are also critical focus areas for this type of training.

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    References:

    Go Muscles vs. Show Muscles -EGH Illinois, Illinois Firefighter Life Safety Task Force.

    http://eghillinois.org/2011/03/go-muscles-vs-show-muscles/

    Marquette University - Functional Strength Training

    http://www.marquette.edu/chs/wellness/training.shtml#

    University of Minnesota - Fitness Programs Guide

    http://www.recsports.umn.edu/assets/pdf/Publications/fitnessguide_0607.pdf