Are You Functionally Fit?

In your everyday life, how often are you required to do something that even remotely resembles a bench press? And even though they are all the rage in the fitness world right now, how useful is a muscle-up to the average person?

This line of thinking has lead to the growth of functional fitness. This style of workout focuses on exercises that mimic, and therefore strengthen, movements that you would encounter in your daily activities. What sort of benefits come with this sort of training? Who can benefit from functional training? What sort of exercises make up a functional fitness routine?

The Benefits

There’s a good reason that functional fitness has gained footing so quickly: It has a plenty to offer.

Think about the classic bicep curl, for example. While some muscles such as those in your back, shoulders and abs may work to stabilize you, the vast majority of the emphasis is placed on movement across your elbow. A functional exercise, though, is a compound movement that crosses several joints. This type of activity more closely resembles what your body might go through when you’re cleaning the house or doing yard work.

A properly designed functional fitness routine can be tailored to fit specific activities in your life, as well. The idea is to pick exercises that target, not just muscles that are important to your activity, but entire motions. This means that if you’re training for basketball, for example, you may build up your jumps while holding a medicine ball or even do passing drills.

The Target Audience

While functional training has been adapted to appeal to athletes in a variety of sports, it has a particularly interesting application for more casual exercisers. Research regarding the efficacy of functional training has also focused specifically on older adults.

One study conducted by exercise scientists at the University of Wisconsin, assigned 24 volunteers aged between 58 and 78 to one of two groups. The first group would participate in a functional fitness training routine, the other would follow a more traditional exercise program. All of the subjects had some medical condition and were asked to complete a test that evaluated their strength, endurance, balance and agility in performing daily tasks.

At the end of the four week program, the groups were given the same test again. The researchers found that the group who followed the functional training routine had greater gains in all categories.

Designing Your Workout

The beauty of functional training is that it’s completely adaptable to you and your needs. As mentioned before, seek out exercises that mimic the movements of your particular sport. Even runners could benefit from incorporating balance exercises into their workout.

For a more personalized routine, do your research and consult with a fitness professional. Be sure to consider, not just the requirements of your sport, but those of your day-to-day life.

Some of the most common exercises featured in functional training include the multidirectional lunges. Practice performing the traditional lunge but also use reverse and side lunges to strengthen various parts of your legs. Although you may not realize it, you depend on similar motions when your vacuuming or even doing yard work.

A squat, immediately followed by a bicep curl is another exercise with many practical applications. The movement very closely resembles picking up a laundry basket or heavy bag from the floor.

Logically, after you pick up the weight, you’re going to need to carry it somewhere. Practice doing step-ups while holding dumbbells to simulate this final action.

Functional fitness is a highly customizable approach to fitness that could help to improve both your exercise performance and your daily life. However, you should always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.

Have you used functional training? Please share your experience with us in the comments.

Sources

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/functional-fitness/MY01378

http://www.acefitness.org/getfit/studies/FunctionFitness.pdf

Kettlebells – New Life to an Old Workout

kettlebellIt seems like every week someone in the fitness industry is touting a new magic bullet; some new diet or workout or gizmo that is guaranteed to give you amazing results in no time at all.  It’s understandable, then, that people have become skeptical of this sort of claim.

But now comes the ancient kettlebell workout — with its attendant claims of superior improvements in strength, balance and cardiovascular health in shorter periods of time. Can these claims be true? A growing body of scientific research suggests yes.

What is Kettlebell Training?

The kettlebell is a medieval-looking weight that closely resembles a cannonball, but with a flattened bottom and a thick, rounded handle. Although the precise origins of the kettlebell are a bit cloudy, the two most likely possibilities are that it was developed in either the Scottish Highlands or Russia in the 1700s, when the word first showed up in a Russian dictionary.

The shape of the kettlebell allows for a unique set of exercises that feature fast, swinging movements and typically incorporate multiple muscle groups at once. (Gerard Butler used kettlebells in preparation for his role as King Leonidas in “300.”) A prime example of the dynamic nature of kettlebell exercises is the single-arm swing, which works the hips, legs, shoulders and lower back all in one move.

To perform this exercise, place the kettlebell on the floor between your feet, which should be about shoulder width apart. Squat down, keeping your back and trunk straight and grab the handle with an overhand grip. Pick the kettlebell up so that it is hanging slightly above knee level and dip down to place the weight under your hips. Straighten your body and extend your legs to generate enough momentum to swing the kettlebell above your head. Control the return swing and allow the kettlebell to go behind you again.

From here, you can either perform another rep or slowly place the weight back on the floor from a squatting position.

Does it Work?

The promises of strength and balance improvements are fairly straightforward and there’s every logical reason to assume that a kettlebell workout would hold true in those respects. Compound movements, like those used in kettlebell workouts, will naturally build strength, and strength training will improve balance. The swinging motions of kettlebells will challenge, and as a result improve, balance more than traditional weightlifting techniques.

But what about the weight loss and cardiovascular benefits associated with kettlebells? Science seems to largely agree with these claims, according to an independent study conducted by the American Council on Exercise. The focus of this study was to challenge and test the claim that exercisers didn’t have to spend 30 minutes lifting and 30 minutes on the treadmill if they spent just 20 minutes working with kettlebells. To do this, ACE recruited 10 volunteers who were experienced with kettlebells and subjected them to an intense 20-minute workout and monitored their heart rate, lactic acid levels and calories burned.

At the end of the workout bouts, the subjects burned an average of 400 calories in those 20 minutes through both aerobic and anaerobic channels. This result is roughly equivalent to running a six-minute mile. The subjects’ heart rates also shot clear up to about 93 percent of their maximum. To put this number in perspective, consider that a typical workout is performed at about 70 percent maximum heart rate.

Based on their findings, ACE researchers concluded that a typical kettlebell workout met all of the qualifications to achieve improvements in both strength and cardiovascular capacity, meaning that it could be an effective method of weight loss.

Considerations

Although this all sounds great, remember that there is no such thing as a magic bullet. No one approach to fitness is a cure-all and some of the claims attached to kettlebells — such as that they can increase running speeds and cause drastic changes in body composition “in just minutes a day” — should always be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The nature of kettlebell training can leave plenty of room for injury if your form isn’t perfect or if your muscles are weak. To limit the risk of injury, work with a qualified professional to learn the proper form and you may need to work your way up to kettlebells with other types of strength training. Even once you have begun your transition to kettlebells, start slow and stick with light weights.

Have you worked with kettlebells? Please share your experience with us in the comments.

Sources

http://www.acefitness.org/getfit/studies/kettlebells012010.pdf

http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/henkin24.htm

http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/Kettlebell/KBSwing.html