Train your body to do what you do on a daily basis; that's functional training.

It's been around for as long as man existed. Only it did not have a fancy name. Today it is called Functional Training (FT). Which, means training your body to do what you do on a daily basis, only do it better. Sounds like a tongue twister, doesn't it?

Honestly speaking, it makes a lot of sense. A woman at home, who has no intention of going in for a beauty contest or participating in a sporting event, is only looking at making her body more fit so she feels good, looks good and has a certain level of endurance and flexibility. She wants to go through her day without getting tired and feeling exhausted at the end of it all.

Cope better

For a new mother, who has to cater to the demands of a little baby and her home, functional training helps her cope better. For the new mother, workouts have been designed so she can involve baby as well.

Literally pushing the pram around and working out not only has the baby right where you can watch him but also has him watching you entertain him while you get your workout. You don't need him to sleep so you can exercise.

An athlete on the other hand, needs to perform on the field. He needs a different kind of workout. Similarly, a cricketer has to possess huge reserves of stamina and an ability to perform under demanding circumstances. His workout has to be designed specifically for his sport. His reflexes must be honed to perfection. Again, functional training.

Functional Training means you use your body weight for resistance instead of external weights. Originally this sort of training was used for rehabilitation. Their main aim was to help patients retain muscle function by making them do special exercises.

FT helps heal injuries and gets the injured back on their feet as close to normal as they can get. Sometimes maybe even better than they were before! For the uninjured and the normal person, functional training could work at helping them lift or push heavy weights around without injuring themselves, if that is their area of work, without harming their bodies.

Often FT works at correcting posture and finally, most important, adds the enjoyment element to movement.

Sports people and athletes go in for intense Functional Training as it builds their reflexes, helping them do what matters when it matters without thinking about what move to make next. Somewhat like a soldier in a battle ground.

Honed reflexes make skilled sports people.

Each sport has a typical functional training that will help make champions out of mediocre performers. For example, the Formula race drivers need workouts that are specific to their sport. They need strong neck muscles to help them combat the G Force; a very real challenge for them. Swimmers, on the other hand, need overall strength.

In traditional weight training, you build isolated muscles using equipment built specifically for that muscle or muscle group. While this is good, it does not train the body for a specific function or sport. When you do functional training, you are spending ‘real time' in the area that matters to you.

The term means training that packs the power into our daily lives, helping us perform each of our tasks with ease. The word itself means capable of operating or functioning or capable of serving the purpose for which it was intended.

This sort of training does not use the regular machines that a normal gym would have. Like I said earlier, even a little baby can help a person do Functional Training. You will find Functional trainers using low cost even unconventional equipment. Some examples are hoola-hoops, skipping ropes, balance balls, dumbbells, etc.

Expert advice

In a gym scenario, you must talk to your trainer and include some FT into your workout schedule. Maybe add it to your normal exercise routine, or use it in isolation for times when you travel and have no gym in the vicinity.

Before embarking on your FT journey, I'd recommend you get some expert advice on how to move, the correct posture and general tips. Better than starting out on your own and getting injured in the bargain.

It could contribute towards you staying off exercising all your life and that is something I would not like at all. Because I want a healthier India, a more aware country. We have it all right here. All it takes is some research.

For new mums

Here's an enjoyable exercise new mothers can try with slightly older, steadier babies:

Sit on a flat surface, place baby on the top of your feet.

Hold her by her hands so that she is secure. Lift both feet with baby on them.

While she gurgles with laughter, your legs get the exercise they need.

Lift the baby up and down while you lie on your back.

The baby will love the bonding and attention from mom.

As told to Ameeta Agnihotri.

Ajit Shetty is Managing Director, Score Fitness, Chennai

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012