In the past few years there has been a focus in the fitness world on training our movement, rather than muscle. What the implication has been is instead of training your individual muscles, you should be training multiple joint movements. Much of the direction has shifted with the recent craze of “functional training”, and I think this is fantastic. However, we have to make some important distinctions when proposing what functional training is. Most would define functional exercise as working multiple joints in various planes of motion, whereas training one joint movement in one plane of motion would be considered an “isolation” exercise.

Let’s talk body movements for a moment. What causes movement? Why, it would be our muscles. Therefore, you cannot separate the two, since without muscle contractions you would not be able to create any movement. This means movement training is muscle training. And consider this: if one of the muscles within a joint movement was weak, it would affect the overall performance of that movement. It’s like the saying that “you are only as strong as your weakest link.”

How about defining functional training as strengthening for daily life movement? Well, most of us spend our day sitting and infrequently getting up from our desks. Or perhaps standing, walking, and sitting throughout the day. That’s not much movement in a day. Although, on the weekends many of us play recreational sports or engage in numerous active pursuits. Based on that weeklong lifestyle description, functional training would be more of strengthening for our weekend movements.

I propose we consider training our muscles that are responsible for our movements for better overall function whenever we need them. This means training both isolated joint movements and multi-joint movements, or a few muscles to many muscles in a workout session. We can use machines that isolate a muscle segment without having to worry too much about having to stabilise ourselves. And we can use free weights which can train several joints and muscle groups with the added challenge of having to stabilise and balance ourselves.

Remember earlier when I said if you have a weak muscle it can affect the overall performance of your movement? Well, this is where isolation exercises can come in handy. You can use a single-joint isolation exercise to strengthen the specific weak muscle and then integrate the now stronger muscle into the multi-joint motion for a more effective synergistic overall movement.

So, you can train movements but don’t forget that it is your muscle’s contraction that causes your body’s movement (or even non-movement by stabilising). And this is what functional training is really all about; to exercise for the improved function of our muscles, joints and tissues for effective overall bodily movements whenever we need them.

Want to improve your muscle function which leads to overall bodily movements? Sign up in the AUT Millennium Gym for our Everyday Champion Programme or see one of our expert personal trainers for an individualised exercise programme.

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With over 30 years in the fitness industry I offer an opportunity of making usable sense of often confusing research and technical science to exercise enthusiasts. My background in exercise biomechanics allows me to teach safe and effective exercise that is also time-efficient so you don’t waste your valuable time trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t for your body type and structure.