New, Not So New – Functional Fitness

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Fitness styles seem to change as we learn more about what works and doesn’t work. In last month’s article, I mentioned that the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) added a new category to the exercise guidelines, Neuromotor Exercise, aka Functional Fitness Training (FFT,) recommending 2+days/week. Functional fitness training focuses on improving and maintaining motor skills such as balance, coordination, gait and agility. Neuromotor exercise can be especially beneficial for older people to improve balance and muscle strength, reducing the risk of falls and other injury. As we age, safety becomes of primary importance and FFT should move to the top of your daily to-do list.

Fitness

Participating in functional resistance movements involving multiple muscle groups plus implementing a significant degree of balance through multifaceted activities such as Tai Chi, Pilates or Yoga lends the stability needed for daily activities, which makes this training “Functional.” A recent study shows that people over age 50 should focus specifically on agility training. This can be somewhat uneasy training for some, as they are working on movements with props that are unstable. Therefore, special care is needed to keep it safe.

FFT is also a great benefit to athletes and sports players competing on any level, as improved agility, balance, proprioception and other motor skills can significantly help performance. It also makes training more interesting and challenging.

Interval training is a great solution for maximizing time and increasing results and helps combat boredom. It involves alternating bursts of intense movements followed by active rest that’s usually a lesser intensity of the same movement. In basic or traditional interval training, intervals can be based according to the needs of the participant and times and styles can vary. Interval training can be used to fulfill all categories of training such as cardio, resistance, neuromotor, even flexibility.

Since by definition, interval training can be configured any way we choose, this is a great way to fit all of the training disciplines into a 60-minute workout. Try mixing things up by alternating balance or core training and cardio training within timed intervals.

Example #1: (2:1 ratio) 30 seconds on/15 seconds off, agility, cardio, core.

Round 1: Puddle jumpers (side to side jumps) Tip: Use a flat yoga mat as a visual to jump over sideways pushing off hard to get good lateral training of the leg and glute. Round 2: Russian twists (sit with bent knees, lean back, round your back, clasp your hands together or hold a ball and twist your upper body side to side, rotating at the torso, reaching your hands or ball as far as possible to each side.) Tip: Your chest should turn following your hands. Alternate these two movements each for a 30 second interval with a 15 second break for 8 rounds. Note: You should do 4 of each movement.

Example #2: 20 seconds on/10 seconds off, cardio & core

Round 1: Jumping jacks (low impact modifications available)

Round 2: One leg balance on a disc Note: Use balance disc/balance trainer which is an unstable surface to challenge your balance. Alternate 8-10 rounds with 10 seconds to rest and transition.

Final thoughts: One of the most impressive evidence-based statements in the new ACSM Position Stand paper is that leadership from well-trained professionals will meaningfully enhance the exercise experience with adults, especially the novice exercisers. The fact that a position statement with over 400 cited references highlights the importance of skilled exercise professionals is a true measure of how much the profession of fitness training has grown in the last decade.