We are almost through one month of the New Year. I hope you’re still on track with your fitness resolutions. In addition to being a new year, January is also my birth month. This year marks the 40th year since I picked up my first barbell in my cold North Carolina basement gym as a skinny 14 year old. I have been involved in the business side of fitness for almost as long, beginning in 1978 with the Hickory Health Club. This was a bodybuilding gym with mostly free weights and ‘hardcore’ lifters.
I often think back on those times and compare the way things were then to where I am today. Just like technology, fitness training has changed drastically over the last 20 years. Even though there have been great advances in the development of fitness equipment and programming, I see far too many exercisers using out dated training methods. Or they are using programs not appropriate for what their needs are.
After a recent high school reunion, I was reminiscing and reflecting a lot on “old school” literally. As I was browsing through photos, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia I have collected over the years, I came to the conclusion that the more I learn the less I know. As a teenager and young adult I did a lot of things to get in shape that I now know were incorrect methods. Yet I was able to progress and achieve most of my personal fitness goals.
Science doesn’t change. Only our knowledge of it changes. What does change though, is our aging bodies and the goals we have for keeping them in top condition. What worked 20 years ago will work 20 years later. There is no need to abandon perfectly good training methods just because they’re “old school.” However, as you learn validated scientific principles and methods of exercise that will keep you safe and produce results more efficiently, you should upgrade your workouts. There’s a time-tested fitness formula that works far better than any new high-tech fitness gadget. That is classic exercises plus hard work. So why mess with success? However, some old-school training programs and training methods should be discarded as time goes on, especially those that cause imbalances which lead to injuries.
In the ’70s and ’80s, whether it was a 20-year-old bodybuilder or a 70-year-old grandmother, most trainers designed workouts in body part splits. You went to the gym for chest day. Then the next day might be just arms; only biceps and triceps for the entire workout. If you are still doing this you are old school. Modern program design has changed to training specific movements for proper function. The body is meant to function a certain way.
Instead of thinking muscle groups, think specific movements and interval conditioning when planning your workout routine. This type conditioning is called functional training. Training functionally means focusing on a stable, mobile core that can effectively provide the basis to efficient movement instead of bodybuilding type exercise that generally places emphasis on the “mirror” muscles.
Training with a variety of functional training aids is becoming increasingly prevalent. This includes swiss balls, medicine balls, pulley weight machines, bands, kettlebells, foam rollers and wobble boards. These accessories now take their place alongside standard gym machines.
While there is some confusion about what can be considered functional, the basic definition to me is exercise and movements that mimic normal human movement patterns. For example, pushing, pulling, squatting and bending movements. The argument can be made that all exercise and movement is functional. Try not to get caught up in arguing what is and isn’t functional, and to instead learn how to choose the exercises that are going to deliver the results you are looking for.
Functional training is closely associated with unstable surface training which sometimes uses devices such as wobble boards and stability balls to improve balance and coordination. Research suggests that exercise within a framework of instability elicits greater body responsiveness. Working to maintain and correct your balance recruits and trains your cure muscle group.
As we age, the most significant point that will affect our quality of life is our ability to move. This means climbing stairs, getting out of a car, pushing a shopping cart or simply sitting and standing. These are all functional movements and are carried out in our daily lives. In the final analysis, it all pertains to goals, and what’s required to accomplish them.
Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as a Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.