There are many different types of training, as I’m sure you are aware by now. There are training systems to improve fitness, aesthetics, muscular endurance, strength and many other areas of fitness. There is one type of training system that is becoming more popular and in my opinion is more important than many other form of training. This is called Functional strength training. Functional strength training is often seen as training to improve on very specific movement patterns to aid in sports of a certain nature or anything that may improve performance in that particular movement. For example a shot putter may perform one arm dumbbell presses in an explosive manner to improve on shoulder strength and one arm coordination. This exercise is functional and will aid in that particular movement.
I however, believe functional strength training to be more fundamental than that. I believe it is mainly of benefit in making everyday life and activities easier. Improving strength, flexibility and endurance in movement patterns that are done on a daily basis will make life easier and thus contribute to a better quality of life. For example, if you are a builder and it is your job to carry bricks around in a wheelbarrow then you will need a lot of strength in your legs, back and arms. An exercise like deadlift would be extremely functional and will make your job far easier. Therefore going to the gym and doing tricep kickbacks is not going to be massively beneficial to your life.
Identifying movement patterns is fairly easy. There are only a few basic movement patterns that all exercises are based around. Some exercises are a combination of many and some will be the same but on different angle variations. These movement patterns are push, pull, overhead push, row, squat, lunge and rotate. You can then identify which patterns or groups of patterns are specific to your life.
There are also 3 things you need to consider in regards to the movements you choose.
Coordination – you will need to identify the manner in which you perform the exercise and what muscles need to be involved. For example, if your job is to stack things on high shelves then you will use your legs and core. For this reason it is stupid to do seated shoulder press and you should choose standing shoulder press. You should match the movement as much as possible.
Contraction speed – if it is part of your life to move things at great speed, then why would you do slow controlled contractions? For example with the shot putter, he would not do a slow and controlled shoulder press, as that is not how you throw the shot. He would explode with the dumbbell to recreate the speed used in a shot putt.
Contraction type – this refers to concentric, eccentric and isometric contractions. If you are a window cleaner for example you will be hanging from a ladder holding yourself out to the side for long durations. Therefore static hold exercises for back and shoulders will be of benefit to you. If you are involved in the loading and unloading of heavy goods then you will need to lower heavy objects slowly and carefully. This would then mean that heavy eccentric contractions would be beneficial.
When planning a functional strength routine you will need to consider the movement patterns you will be following. You can train different movements on different days. Many people will choose a push, pull legs routine. Something similar would be fine but remember to just make it specific to you and your life.
So if you are struggling at work and feel that greater strength in certain areas would benefit you then give functional training a go. You will most likely feel the benefits very quickly in your daily life.