Traditionally exercises focused on strengthening a specific muscle. You would be focused on the bicep, the trapezius, the latissimus dorsi, the quadriceps, the gluteus maximus, and so on and so forth.
But in functional training (during phase I of the Central Training Program) you will focus on joints. In particular, you’ll focus on joints that are prone to injury, resulting in a restricted range of motion or compensation patterns.
To be clear, you are still exercising and strengthening muscles. But instead of isolating a targeting a specific muscle for improvement, functional training will target the entire system of muscles surrounding a joint. Stabilizers, which secure the joint in place during motion are trained isometrically. Prime movers, which move the joint throughout its range of motion, are trained dynamically. The trick is doing both of these things at the same time.
Functional training selects exercises that accomplish both objective at the same time– forcing your stabilizers to lock in place while you move through a range of motion. This requires your joint to function in the ways that it works naturally, before life got in the way and you got injured or detrained and started developing compensation pattern.
Here are some of the key joints that we all need to focus on maintaining, and some exercises to help reestablish proper range of motion and full strength.
With the greatest range of motion of any joint in the body, the shoulder comes with the added challenge of being particularly injury prone. The muscular balancing act required to maintain the shoulder’s of motion is easily upset through collision injuries and other sports injuries. Once the balance is upset, full range of motion can be difficult to reestablish, as the culprit of the limitation is rarely the source of pain.
Here are some functional exercises for correcting issues in the shoulder:
Three Point Plank
These focus on stressing the stabilizer muscles with a plank while working prime movers. The emphasis on the shoulder blade stabilizers is not accidental, most shoulder limitations can be corrected by simply strengthening this group of muscles.
The North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy has an excellent article on the key exercises, that I won’t be able to do justice to. So instead you can read it Here and start to build these exercises into your workout program
KB Arm Bar
Definitely an exercise that focuses on range of motion and stabilizers muscles–not a “pump.” Don’t let the simplicity fool you, this exercise can help create dramatic improvements in your shoulders.
The muscles that move and stabilize the hips are the strongest in the body. Consequently, we rarely ever notice or describe any issues with our hips’ strength or range of motion. This is because we have very high compensation abilities in this region of our body.
Compensation of limitations on our hips, however, manifest as pain and limitations in other areas. Knee and ankle pain result from improper motion through our legs when our hip flexors are too tight. Tight hamstrings will cause lower back pain and improper posture.
Two great exercises opening open the hips and improving range of motion are:
This full body exercise stretches and strengthens the hamstrings and works the hip flexors’ ability to stabilize the joints motion.
Back Extensions (hyperextensions)
These truly work your hips throughout their full range of motion, and can easily add weight to increase neural drive.
Knees are a problem, and they make no secret of it. Over the years of bearing the entire weight of your body on this small, isolated hinge, knee pain is an eventuality that all of us face at some point or another.
There are two keys to overcoming knee pain:
- Correct range of motion issues in your hips (discussed above)
- Strengthen the stabilizer muscles that secure your knee in place
The following exercises will help with your stabilizers:
Single Leg Deadlift
Unlike the stiff, legged version of this exercise, you want to hinge at the hips and bend your working knee to get the most significant improvements out of this exercise, building on your knee stabilizers as you cross load the body.
Trunk (lumbar spine)
OK, you got me. This isn’t, technically speaking, a singular joint. However, trunk mobility–and even strength–issues are prevalent and insidious enough that it is impossible to discuss functional training without discussing the trunk.
Strength, mobility and coordination are essential across your midsection before you move on to maximal strength (phase II in the CTP) and metabolic training (phase III).
These two exercises will develop and reinforce mobility and stable movement patterns across your abdomen:
I can’t advertise the benefits of the Turkish Getup enough. It is a truly full body exercise that will improve and the movement patterns in every joint listed in this article.
Used frequently by FMS specialists to diagnose issues and assymmetries, rolls can actually be used as an exercise to build build movement patterns and reinforce neurological connections.
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