Profiting from Functional Fitness

The physical benefits of functional training are many, and fitness centers can profit from this growing fitness trend.

Fitness center members are looking for functional programming and equipment. They now realize that form follows function. What good is having "cut" biceps if you can't lift a toddler without wrenching your back? That's the premise behind the evolving concept of functional fitness -- an approach that can transform the fitness industry toward lifestyle enhancements and increased profitability.


Training for real life

What Pilates, yoga and functional training do is train for life. They prepare the body so it can perform daily activities -- walking, bending, lifting, climbing stairs -- without pain, injury or discomfort. Functional training inclusive of balance, posture and coordination is critical for many older adults.

To receive the "real life" benefits of resistance training, exercisers should use multiple muscle groups in an integrated fashion. This runs counter to the idea behind machine-based weight training, which was developed to allow bodybuilders to isolate single muscle groups. The muscles get stronger using machines and free weights, which is an essential component of any fitness program, but the all-important synergy of the body will not be accomplished. By contrast, functional training, such as SAQ (speed, agility and quickness), Pilates and yoga,challenges the body to work as a whole, firing up the muscles in a sequential pattern.

Considerations for program development

In putting together each workout, trainers can choose from thousands of exercises, including more than 25 ways to perform a simple forward lunge. Mixing it up helps mitigate boredom and the exercise dropout factor that so often follows. It may be more difficult to choreograph and perform, but it will be more fun and beneficial to the member.

Because of the integration of more muscles into the workout, functional fitness can also be an effective alternative to traditional training for those trying to lose weight. A good example is training on a stability ball. Every time the ball moves, the participant has to activate muscles deep in the pelvis, back, abdominals and hips. Because of the increased muscle activity, more calories are used, and more muscle is potentially built.

To maximize human performance, trainers must have a good understanding of what affects performance. The factors that play the greatest role in performance are power (strength and speed), agility (flexibility, mobility, stability), cardiovascular and respiratory conditioning, sports skills (neuromuscular coordination and efficiency) and genetic potential.

Physiological benefits

Metabolism. A major fraction of total daily energy demand arises from resting metabolism, and it is, thus, important to document the resting metabolism of clients. Metabolism decreases by about 10 percent per decade after the third decade of life. One reason is the loss of metabolically active muscle mass, and a parallel increase in metabolically inert fat deposits.

The denser the muscle tissue, the more calories used, even at a complete stand-still. Those with dense muscles use more calories by just engaging in their regular daily activities. In fact, research shows that for each pound of muscle earned, a person will expend 35 to 50 more calories per day. So, by gaining 3 pounds of muscle, a person will use 40 more calories per pound, which equates to 120 additional calories per day, which translates into 3,600 additional calories per month and ultimately results in a weight loss of 10 to 12 pounds in a single year.

As age increases, there may also be some overall reduction in cellular metabolism. Food intake must be correspondingly adjusted if body fat is not to increase further.

Muscular-skeletal function. Muscle strength peaks at around 25 years of age, plateaus through 35 or 40, and then shows an accelerating decline, with a 25 percent loss of peak strength by age 65. Muscle mass decreases, apparently with a selective loss in the cross-section, if not the number of, type II fibers. Other possible causes of functional loss include a deterioration of fiber recruitment, prolonged relaxation time and decreased velocity. Changes are greater in the legs with aging.

Loss of strength progressively impedes everyday living. Muscle strength can be greatly improved by as little as eight weeks of resistance/functional training. Stronger muscles further enhance function by stabilizing joints, reducing the risks of falls, and improving balance and coordination.

There is a progressive decrease in the calcium content and a deterioration of bone with aging. Changes are more marked in women than in men, due, in part, to hormonal changes and a lower intake of calcium and protein. Regular load-bearing exercise can halt and sometimes even reverse bone mineral loss through the eighth decade of life. Functional exercises reproduce appropriate bone stress associated with activities of daily living.

Exercise training cannot restore tissue that has already been destroyed, but it can protect exercisers against a number of chronic diseases. More importantly, it maximizes residual function. In some instances, biological age is reduced by as much as 20 years. Life expectancy is increased, partial and total disability is delayed, and there are major gains in quality-adjusted life expectancy. Exercise is, thus, an important component of healthy living.

Functional equipment

The recommended equipment for functional training will vary from that used in traditional strength training. Recent findings in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning show that machine-based strength training has limited carryover in helping perform activities of daily living. There are many better equipment options for functional strength training that minimize equipment needs. These include the following:

Dumbbells. Begin with 3- to 4-pound weights, and progress to 8 to10.

Body weight. Combined with jump ropes or exercise balls, body weight is often challenging on its own, especially during lunges and push-ups.

Resistance bands and loops.Replicate activities of daily living with resistance bands.

Exercise balls. Exercise balls offer a fun way to combine balance work with other exercises.

Medicine balls. Medicine balls are great for combo moves involving the shoulders.

Fitness center revenue

Since functional training requires a high level of expertise, it comes at a premium price. Functional training sessions range from $25 to $200 an hour, depending on the instructor, and/or if it is a private or group session.

Appropriate testing will ensure optimal outcomes, and instill confidence in participants. Justifiably, this comes at a premium price. Revenue generation comes from the following:

* Exercise testing and prescription ($50 to $500 per session).

* Metabolic testing ($150 to $500 per test) and re-tests ($50 to $150) for resting metabolic rate, VO2, anaerobic threshold and BodyAge.

* Functional training sessions, for which you can charge $65 per session, or $85 for a group of four.

* Core training sessions teaching SAQ, which can cost clients $75 to $150 per session, or $85 to $200 per group of four to six.

* Sports-specific training.

* Fall-prevention training.

* Pilates (prevailing rates within geographic location), including individual reformer, group reformer and mat classes.

* Yoga (prevailing rates within geographic location).

Lifestyle and lifetime changes

All the workouts in the world won't mean anything if your clients don't change the way they move on a daily basis. While it is important to strengthen the core, clients and members also need to sit, stand and get out of bed in ways that don't strain the body. In other words, try combining functional training with changes in the way your clients and members function. The results could be with them for a lifetime.

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