IS YOGA FUNCTIONAL TRAINING?
Have you ever heard about “FUNCTIONAL TRAINING”? Most likely yes as more and more gyms and personal trainers use this term to describe their method. But – what does it mean? And is this really the revolutionary new form of exercise it seems to be, or is yoga maybe an early version of functional training, developed thousands of years ago?
The origins of Functional Training
To understand the idea behind “functional training” or “functional exercise” we need to go about three decades back in time when physiotherapists started to think about how they could better support their patients. Back then, the main goal after surgery or injuries was to make the patient move again. But the ability to move around doesn’t necessarily mean that you can do all the things you have done before!
For example, a soccer player with a bad knee injury may be able to walk relatively soon after surgery, but then he is not yet able to kick the ball. If support stops here, the poor guy will most likely never play soccer again, or if he does, he risks another injury because he doesn’t have the strength and stability around the knee he used to have.
The term “functional exercise/training” basically describes the approach that the therapist incorporates task and context specific exercises to allow the patient to return to his pre-injury life to the best possible degree. Using the image of the soccer player, his therapist would create a specialised rehab program so that he can finally go out on the pitch and enjoy his favourite game again.
Over the time this approach was adopted by the fitness industry, first to improve performance in athletes, and then by creating programs for the broader clientele to improve overall strength, flexibility and endurance.
Functional fitness training in its purest form uses only bodyweight resistance to train your body in its natural patterns and doesn’t isolate muscles or body parts from each other. This is especially useful to keep your body safe and balanced in your daily challenges. However, additional weights can be helpful if you want to strengthen a significantly weaker part of the body which is causing an imbalance. Nowadays, most of the gym programs include smaller weights such as kettlebells for greater intensity.
The origins of yoga
About 5000 years ago, the ancient yogis started practicing various poses and movements to prepare the body for longer periods of sitting in meditation. Sitting comfortably without being distracted by pain and physical discomfort makes meditating a lot easier, and the deeper the meditation, the greater the insights you gain from it.
Although there are some fancy variations around, all basic yoga poses are related to movements we do every day: squatting, bending, twisting, lunging, pushing and pulling, and even gaiting (“primal movements”, as identified by Paul Chek). No weights are used, only your own bodyweight, which is enough to build up strength for the more advanced arm balances and inversions. The key is proper alignment, balance and working with the body’s centre of gravity to make the movements as efficient as possible.
Now, IS yoga functional training?
YES, because it is bodyweight resistance training based on natural movements we use every day. All the postures and moves aim to improve our strength, flexibility, mobility and endurance (how much depends on the style) so that we stay healthy and pain-free in our day-to-day life.
I think we can happily say that the ancient yogis developed the first functional training program we know of – thousands of years ago!
What is your opinion? Send me a message – I would love to hear your thoughts! And if you are wondering how you can improve your current exercise routine through yoga and meditation, you are most welcome to contact me – I’m happy to help!
Carmen Weghaus is a mum-of-four, yoga teacher for over 10 years, and passionate about educating people towards a more holistic approach on fitness and lifestyle. Apart from teaching and practicing different styles of yoga she loves a good run along the local coast lines and participating in running events. Together with her husband she runs Inner Smile Yoga & Health, based in Altona, Australia.