A Fitness Approach That Really Can Help Everyone

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While fitness is an important part of your overall health and wellness plan, the approach you choose is certainly not one size fits all. (Despite the numerous sources that will say otherwise.) It’s important you stop believing the latest hype and find a plan that is safe, effective, and balanced for long-term results!

A balanced workout plan will ensure you work all muscles in your body. And it’s important to remember the heart is one of those muscles that needs a lot of attention. Getting your heart rate up means you need to find exercises or activities that use large muscle groups. You can choose walking, jogging, biking, swimming, or any cardio machine you find in the gym. But did you know some types of strength training can tick the cardio box as well? Why not kill two birds with one stone?!

How to Add Full-Body Movements

The secret to doing this is incorporating full-body movements into your workouts. If you’re using adequate weight and a good range of motion, you can target multiple muscles at once, elevate your heart rate, and cut your workout time in half. Full-body movements include exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, or squatting to a press overhead. These movements take a bit of coordination and often use your body weight or equipment like hand weights, kettlebells, and barbells.

Full-body movements are the opposite of isolated movements like biceps curls or a bench press. And typically you avoid the larger machines you’ll find at a gym (e.g. the leg extension, leg press, or pec-deck). These types of machines and more isolated movements aren’t “bad.” No need to swear them off forever! But full-body movements can give you a bigger bang for your buck, moving you toward your goals faster. Not to mention, these types of exercises are typically considered “functional” movements—and functional training is the approach that rules for everyone!

The Functional Approach That Rules

Functional training does more than strengthen and tone your muscles. It does more than help your heart. Exercises that are considered functional also train you for life. A functional training approach looks at everyday movements and chooses exercises to strengthen you in the same way. This is a bit different than looking at a list of muscles and choosing an exercise for each one. Not only does this approach strengthen your muscles, but it teaches coordination of the muscles and simultaneously trains the core to help you stay protected throughout these typical movement patterns.

Your body has four primary movement patterns:

1. Upper Body Pushing – Your body must be able to push things away from you (horizontal pushing) and above you (vertical pushing). These two common activities require muscles of the core, shoulders, and chest to work together.

  • Exercise examples: push-ups, check press, and overhead presses

2. Upper Body Pulling Your body must be able to pull things toward you (horizontal pulling) and pull you up (vertical pulling). You may be thinking, well, I don’t do much of that day-to-day! You’re probably right, but because everyday life puts our arms in front of us and gravity pulls us in the same direction (e.g. sitting at a desk and typing, driving a car), we are left with excessive rounding of the shoulders and curving of the upper back. Training the body purposefully to resist and offset our typical posture is important for the health of our shoulders, upper back, and more.

  • Exercise examples: pull-ups, pull-downs, and rowing

3. Hip Dominant Movements Your body must bend at the waist throughout the day, but we also keep our hips in a flexed position for long periods of time each day (e.g. sitting, driving). Offsetting our shortened hip flexors and keeping the hips, lower back, and leg muscles working well together will help you stay mobile and injury-free.

  • Exercise examples: bridges, deadlifts, and kettlebell swings

4. Knee Dominant Movements Knee-dominant movements get you out of and into chairs, up and down the stairs, and so much more. Keeping the lower body strong and the knee joints mobile will keep you moving for years to come.

  • Exercises examples: squats, lunges, and step-ups

What Does A Functional Workout Look Like?

A functional workout should include at least one exercise for each of the four movement patterns. And when possible, combine movement patterns to ensure full-body movements are included. Then, if you have time, feel free to throw in exercises that you love, targeting your favorite muscle groups individually. But make sure you cover your bases first with the four movement patterns described above though!

We’ve created a short introductory functional movement workout for you that can be done 2-3 times a week. Be sure to rest between workouts and push yourself as appropriate. If you’re just getting started with exercise or it’s been a while since you’ve squatted intentionally, you may want to ease into full-body movements. Begin with a workout designed to give you baseline strength and a bit of extra support. Then, when you’re ready, add free-weight exercises that incorporate stabilizing muscles and a bit more coordination. In no time you’ll be ready to tackle functional training workouts and find your day-to-day life getting that much easier! SCORE!

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Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is a fitness business and programming consultant who has helped impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, Schwinn®, Power Systems, ACE, and BOSU® over the last 20 years. As an experienced educator and certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach, she helps fitness entrepreneurs navigate the industry and make more money. Fable, a member of the ACE Board of Directors, is the owner of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool, and Balletone®.