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What is FUNctional Training?

'Functional Fitness' Means Training For Your Real Life

NEW YORK TIMES, published June 6, 2004 by ALLISON KYLE LEOPOLD

WHAT good is having the sexiest biceps in town if you can't scramble up

subway steps with ease, run for a bus without knee pain or lift a toddler

without wrenching your back? 


That's the premise behind a new school of thought called functional fitness, 

an approach that is transforming the techniques of many trainers.


Functional fitness means that the goal of working out is preparing your body

so it can perform daily activities -- walking, bending, lifting, climbing stairs --

without pain, injury or discomfort.


''It's training for life, not events,'' said Jarrod Jordan, an advocate. At the

Sports Center at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, Mr. Jordan, 27, a fitness trainer,

regularly puts clients through workouts that have them kneeling on wobbly,


oversized rubber balls, racing up and down stairs and balancing precariously on multicolored yoga blocks -- all in pursuit of core  

strength, flexibility, coordination and balance.


This approach, which borrows liberally from disciplines as varied as yoga, Pilates, dance and physical therapy, is ''very much the

direction of the fitness industry,'' said Micheal A. Clark, a physical therapist and the chief executive of the National Academy of

Sports Medicine in Calabasas, Calif., which trains fitness instructors.


The average person today has goals other than, 'Can I tone up my abs or my butt,' '' Mr. Clark said. ''More people are coming in

overweight, with injuries, knee pain, back pain. Even people who are gym-fit and lean have postural and muscle imbalances.''


The whole-body regimen may be particularly well suited to women. According to Mr. Clark, ''Ninety percent of women want to tone

their buttocks, stomach and the back of their arms, but unless they straighten out the front of their hips, strengthen their abdomens 

and learn how to use the glute muscles, they won't get the muscle tone they're after.''


The remedy, functional fitness advocates say, is learning to use multiple muscle groups in an integrated way. This runs counter to

the idea behind machine-based weight training, which was developed to allow bodybuilders to isolate single muscle groups.


''Your muscles may get stronger working on machines, but you're not creating synergy in the body,'' Mr. Jordan said. ''With seated

bench press curls, while you're working your arms, the rest of your body remains inactive.''


By contrast, Mr. Jordan said, ''functional fitness workouts challenge the body to work collectively as a whole, firing up the muscles

in a sequential pattern.''


In putting together each workout, trainers can choose from thousands of exercises, including more than 25 ways to perform a simple

forward-facing lunge. The equipment includes physical-therapy staples like rubber fitness balls and yoga basics like foam blocks

and balancing cushions. Mixing it up this way helps mitigate boredom and the exercise dropout factor that so often follows. ''Yes it's

more difficult,'' Mr. Clark said, ''but it's also more fun.''


"Exercise is king, nutrition is queen - together you have the entire kingdom"

Jack Lalanne

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