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Functional Strength Training to Prevent Injury

The new year here in Washington DC is a great time to incorporate functional strength training into your workouts. As we enter then chilly winter months here in the District, many athletes begin to prepare for the spring with resolutions and discounted gym memberships designed to jump start fitness in the new year.

But what is functional strength training and why is it important? 

Functional strength training has many layers of benefits and ultimately reduces the likelihood of injury. What helps me with understanding functional strengthening is to think of it as activities rather than exercises. The activities are “functional” in the sense that they are meant to mimic movements that we utilize in our daily lives.  A squat is a good example because it utilizes many muscle groups, including the smaller muscles we need for stability, but it is also an activity we utilize in our daily lives. In my daily life, I am a new dad of twin daughters and find myself squatting to pick them up off the floor quite frequently!

For me, a sometimes triathlete, swimmer, and new dad, I would like to make 2018 about both regaining my fitness without getting injured.  I know intuitively that in order to stay healthy I must have proper form, and functional strength training is the key to proper form.  

Proper form is maintained through utilization of those small, stabilizing muscle groups that functional strength activities targets. The more functional strengthening I do, the more endurance I gain in those areas. Increased endurance in small, stabilizing muscles allows my larger muscle groups to work in proper alignment. The end result is more functional strengthening leads to increased endurance in stability which leads to improved form and overall an improved ability to hold proper form for longer. This decreases the likelihood that I will get injured as I work on building my fitness base in 2018.  

Here’s a few tips I use to including functional strength training in my workouts:

  • Start slow and nail down form with no or minimal weight. As soon as you notice fatigue, I stop. The goal is to build strength over time.
  • Don’t worry about quantity, only quality of the workout—don't try to hit a particular number of repetitions just to say that you did them.
  • Do functional strength training first, before my workout. If functional strength training is the primary workout, followup with a very short (5-30 minutes) form-focused activity such as running or swimming.
  • Change mental approach to focus on enjoying re-establishing connections within your body, especially connecting your middle. Starting up again with functional strength can feel bad, or silly without any weight, or make you self conscious. Just keep in mind that it is the key to fitness success.

Let me know how you incorporate functional strength training on our social media. I’d love to hear about your favorite exercises, and our team will followup with more of our experiences and share some of our own workouts in future blogs. We also use our social media to post free community workshops held in Navy Yard or at our Farragut Square/Dupont Circle locations throughout the year.

As always, if you are in need of expert help, consider setting up an appointment--we take most private health insurance and in most cases you do not need a referral.