Walk in most gyms across America and what do you see? You see lots of high-tech, “state-of-the-art” machines lined up from wall to wall. People have their headphones on, and are mindlessly pumping out repetitions on these machines or they are going to town on some cardiovascular contraption. Despite using all of the fancy equipment, people are often left bored and frustrated with a lack of real results – dysfunctional from a physical performance perspective. Evidence of this is seen in the sharp drop-off of attendance of gym members after just the first month where nearly 50% of gym-goers stop going all together. This brings one to question, “Is there something wrong with all of these people or is there something wrong with their method?”
More and more top coaches and athletes are shying away from machine-based weight workouts and finding alternative training methods. Weight machines are often ineffective training tools because they focus on isolation exercises. Relying exclusively on machines for strength training may actually limit sports performance and increase injury risk.
Whether you want to ski better, play more golf or chase your kids around the park, you need better balance and stronger legs. Exercises that mimic everyday movements create functional strength; enhancing everyday activities, finally answering the question “what are you training for?”
Principles of Functional Exercise Training:
Integration vs. isolation –
Strength training on machines works muscles in isolation-although it’s rare that your muscles would be required to work in isolation in any other situation. Functional training, on the other hand, removes the support provided by machines, requiring the body to work multiple muscle groups in integration, as the body is intended to move, resulting in more balanced muscle tone.
Reaction vs. injury –
Functional training is “reactive” teaching muscles to “fire” in a pattern, with primary “moving” muscles and secondary “stabilizing” muscles working in sequence to execute movement. This integration engages strong, stable “core” muscles aiding in balance. The result? Your body attains equilibrium between strength and flexibility, between agonist and antagonist muscles, increasing functionality while reducing risk of injury.
Balance vs. bulk –
Concerned about developing large and bulky muscles? Functional training techniques help you create a leaner, tighter and more-integrated physique. Machine-centered training, and an isolated body-building style of training for 8-15 repetitions per set generally will cause what is known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, where the belly of the muscle increases in size, causing unnatural “bulking” of the muscle.
Multi- vs. limited movement –
Your body performs along forward, backward, rotational and diagonal planes of movement everyday. A lack of balanced strength along these planes will result in injury-such as a twinge in your back when picking up a suitcase or indulging in your first golf game of the season.
To be fair, machines do have a place in rehab and training, when muscle isolation, or the ability to control movement, speed, direction and intensity is desired. Machines are also useful for novice exercisers who may need a very structured program of movement to build some very basic strength. Machines can also have a role in “bulking” up the body with muscle for unspecified strength. Obviously, body builders will want as much muscle as possible, and aren’t as concerned with how that muscle performs precise, athlete movements. But functional training should be the core of a fitness program for anyone who wants to develop an athletic body along with strength, skill, agility and balance for sports (and life) outside the gym.