Body building versus functional training- train smart not hard ?

Change is in the air within the fitness industry…In fact to say that would mean I’m at least  5 years behind the eight ball-let’s rephrase…We are well within the midst of a rebirth of training approaches  and it’s looking like good news- train smarter and get better results. With the fitness industry only really taking off since the late 70’s it’s been an interesting ride, but I think we are on track to understanding how best to get the results we all want: to look and feel good!

But to know where we have come to, we have to take a step back and appreciate where we have come from. The 70’s saw the conception of the fitness industry. The 80’s bought us a mix of unforgettable aerobics, not to mention an over load of lycra, as well as a burst through of bodybuilding style weights training. The 90’s was all about group fitness (remember tai bo?) and Les  Mills began his climb to the top of the fitness industry empire.

Across all these developments, for many years the emphasis of gym programs have been on bodybuilding style sets and reps, isolating individual muscle groups taking up long periods in the gym. If you’re a body builder then this will do the trick. The end results of such programs are usually pretty impressive when done correctly, but the question must be asked- how useful is all that muscle? If you’re competing as a body builder then that’s how you train, but what about the rest of the people training this way? Ask one of the big rigs to run a hundred metres or perform some of the more dynamic movements we are required to undertake in everyday life and I think many would fall short. But what else is there?

When you sit back and think about it- you wouldn’t be alone in wondering what you have been doing all this time! Of course we should be training our body as a whole and not breaking it into parts. When on earth are you going to be required to move your quadriceps in isolation from the rest of your leg- and yet this is what you are doing when using a leg extension machine? Yes-the muscle gets bigger and stronger too- but is it stronger in the movement which we use it most? Training in a functional way means improving the movements we do in everyday life, pushing things, picking things up, usually short bursts.

Looking at exercise from the whole body movement perspective gives it a whole new light. You are no longer slogging it out to merely look good- you are training to be better in everyday life- looking good is just an awesome side effect.  Really, this idea of training can look like a lot of different things - think martial arts, Brazilian Ju Jitsu, yoga, Pilates,  Crossfit, Olympic lifting, strong man training- just to name a few. In reality, any activity which involves strengthening the movements we use in everyday life can be deemed as functional training. These are the activities which have silently watched as the other fitness fads have come and gone. The best part is, the benefits of the training translate to outside of the gym.

We have come a long way from the days of Pumping Iron, which for the record I am a big fan of , largely because we are now better educated in how to train. There is still a place for body building as a sport and many seasoned competitors are adopting new science into their training regimen, which will incorporate many different modalities of training to achieve the ultimate physique. However, gone are the days of long bouts of ‘cardio’, unless you like that sort of thing? These days we see that rapid results can come from shorter more intense bursts of movement, a la Tabata training, relieving us of the burden of long distance running to lose weight, unless of course its sport specific training.  Amongst others, this is the reason why Crossfit and related training disciplines have taken off of late. People are responding to the purposeful and challenging style of training, which changes every day and that requires fitness and strength across a number of activities.

But at the end of the matter which training methodology you chose, it’s needless to say that anything is better than nothing! However during a time when research is allowing for us to train smarter not harder it might be time to see how the other people do it and try something new!

Harriet WalkerComment