The Next Phase of Functional Training (Odd loads and stable ground)

 

Training is going to be changing again. We learn more all the time and it is necessary to incorporate new information into current training practices. Often it leaves us a feeling of, ‘why didn’t I see it that way before?’

As usual, we are bringing you the best fitness practices ahead of when you hear about them. See the TRX in a magazine or TV show recently (think The Biggest Loser); we have been using them for almost 3 years with classes and clients. The new kettlebell craze, ahead of the curve again. We have been using them for almost 2 years on a regular basis.

So if what I am about to write seems controversial or a little off, don’t worry, give it a couple of years and you will see. This is where training is going.

Stability, core strength, and functional fitness are all hot topics amongst trainers and fitness enthusiasts. Everyone has an opinion, even your family and co-workers who haven’t followed a fitness program since Hammer pants and slap bracelets dominated the fashion scene.

I group these three together because they are often trained together. This is the first mistake fitness trainers make. Stability, core strength, and functional fitness are all very different. Stability you can think of as balance. Not just your ability to stand on one leg or a BOSU ball but all of your balance. We call it proprioception and I will not delve into it here, but every joint in your body, every muscle, every tendon and ligament, must be balanced and working together every time you move.

Core strength. What is that really? What is your core? Do you want strength or endurance? Crunching power or isometric strength? Haven’t thought about it? Your trainer most likely hasn’t either. Let’s assume that core strength refers to your body’s ability to function and transfer power from the top half to the lower half and vice versa. In addition, core strength should improve back health and hip function.

And functional fitness. Here is a term that gets thrown around all the time and the meaning has become so convoluted that even fitness professionals no longer know what it means. I believe it simply means that fitness improves the function of your body so that you move better and can perform whatever tasks is required of it on a daily basis (sports, shopping, gardening etc). Functional fitness is NOT simply mimicking a movement you do and adding resistance to it. It is also NOT ever going to be improved by machines. Please, stay off stupid isolation machines.

Fitness trainer’s fail in their attempt to work all of these things at the same time, functional fitness, core strength, and stability, even though they aren’t all even muscle actions. Functional fitness is a descriptive term, not and exercise modality.

Stability balls, BOSU trainers, balance boards, and wobble boards are the tools of choice to accomplish this functional approach. Or trainers get really creative and have you do things standing on one leg while balancing a plate on your head and singing the latest Ke$ha song.

But this approach is fundamentally flawed.

It is not functional as I have described. It doesn’t apply to your life. Think about it. When was the last time you stood on a wobbly unstable ball while putting away your groceries or cleaning your house? How often do you stand on a trampoline during a soccer game?

Our bodies function in a kinetic chain. In order to maximize our ability to balance, coordinate, and create force, we were designed to be on a stable, firm surface, ideally with two feet firmly planted. When we pick up heavy objects we perform better, have more strength, and incur less injury when we are firmly planted on both feet.

And when we create this stability your upper body is better able to handle the tasks you ask of it.. It is much more typical in your life to be firmly planted with the feet and picking up a heavy object in an awkward position (think hockey bag, grocery bags, coolers, or helping your friend move). To truly train your body to be functional, fit, stable and healthy you should train with your feet on a firm and stable surface and then pick up, move, or throw heavy, awkward objects. Maybe doing this on one leg as a lot of our movement occurs on one side during walking or running. Still though, this should be on a stable surface.

So balance boards, BOSU balls, and wobble boards are going to be making a slow departure from training. We just don’t need them. That’s not fully true, they do make for some interesting exercise variations and can add some spice to an old routine but we must recognize that they are not necessary and should not replace good, solid, stable, heavy, strength training.

Squats, deadlifts, lunges, and step-ups should play a prominent role in your exercise program. If they aren’t then get them in there.

If you have a trainer and they are not in your program fire them – fast.

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