Functional Muscle – The Key To Health and Wellness

In recent years, the world has been overwhelmed with fitness trends, concepts and ideas. The general public are repeatedly hit with new “facts”, information and science on a daily basis and as a result, it’s incredibly difficult to discern what is worth paying attention too. The reality of training in general is that the largest proportion of people who regularly exercise, enjoy sport, or hit the gym are doing so in order to improve their physical “fitness” and general wellbeing. The goals behind this being:

  • Longevity of life
  • Reduction of health risks
  • Increase in potential for enjoyment (via increased physical fitness)
  • Happier self image
  • Improvements in day to day feeling
  • Prevention of over exertion, tiredness and soreness when performing basic day to day tasks

Lean and toned bodies are not burdened by excess muscle and weight meaning they are far more efficient and functional.

Generally, these are the things that we are seeking when we train. So, this begs the question “is our training routine tailored to our goals?”. The problem we are facing is in the breakdown of what training we are being told to do and deciphering which is most appropriate for our goals. For me, training generally has one goal – functionality. Movements performed need to be tailored to and intended to make functional day to day movements easier, more efficient and more effective. The result of a good training programmes should always therefore include:

  • Increased power to weight ratio
  • Reduction in excess body fat
  • Improved aerobic and anaerobic cardiovascular fitness
  • Stronger and more resilient connective tissues
  • Better joint and limb mobility
  • Improved flexibility

Now let’s break down why each of those things is so integral to general health, well-being and, equally as important, to functional day to day movements.

Functional Muscle – Power to weight Ratio for Functional Strength

A simple one. A higher power to weight ratio will enable you to move quickly, precisely and in control of your body in an explosive and rapid manner with less risk of injury. It will also improve your effectiveness with pushing and pulling movements and will enable you to perform day to day actions such as lifting a box, or moving a lawn mower with reduced risk of injury and a lot more ease.

Functional Muscle Strength – Reduction of body fat for Functional Health

Even more simple. Less body fat means less weight to carry around, less stress on your cardio-respiratory system and, in general, an increase in self-esteem. The reduction in body fat means more visible lean muscle, muscle tone, muscle definition and less stress on your joints and connective tissues linking with the later issues of mobility and flexibility.

Functional Muscle – Aerobic and anaerobic fitness for Functional Fitness

Your cardio-respiratory system needs to be efficient irrelevant of what action you are undertaking. If you suddenly have to run 50 metres as fast as you can, or if you have to swim 500 metres, with bad cardiovascular fitness in aerobic or anaerobic form, you will struggle. Increasing your cardiovascular fitness in both of these forms means that your entire body will function at an improved rate. When you are relaxed, your heart rate will be slower and more efficient. When you are exercising in short bursts it will take you longer to tire, when you are exercising for prolonged periods, it will be more sustainable. It’s that simple.

Functional Muscle – Stronger and more resilient connective tissues for Functional Muscle Mobility

The human body isn’t just made up of muscles. Your muscles are held together, your bones are connected and supported and your muscles are lubricated and stabilised by connective tissues. Tendons, Ligaments, Adipose Tissue and more, all contribute to ensuring your body functions as it is supposed too. Without care for these joints and connective tissues, without strengthening and supporting them, you will be prone to injury, instability and muscular damage.

Functional Muscle – Better joint and limb mobility/Improved flexibility for Functional Health and Wellbeing

Mobility and flexibility go hand in hand. The reality is, flexibility is directly linked to blood circulation, athletic performance, reduced risk of injury, increases in joint and connective tissue strength and stability, general feeling of well-being and even goes so far as to influence gut health and organ health due to improved circulation.

Now I guess you’re wondering what to do to improve these factors? It’s fairly simple:

  1. Increased power to weight ratio – Exercise in short bursts with intense, explosive and plyometric movements using bodyweight as your predominant resistance. Using additional weights can ensure quicker gains in strength, size and power, but will also increase the risk of injury, reduce your flexibility and rest in a higher rate of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) meaning, days of discomfort following a training session.
  2. Reduction in excess body fat – Improvement to diet are integral. Select a sustainable diet that means you are eating a sufficient amount of food, ensuring you are getting your intake of fats, protein and carbohydrates (never sacrificing any one particular macronutrient as all are essential to a well balanced and nutritious diet). Also, increase the volume of exercise you are doing on a daily basis – become more active in general, walk more, swim more, cycle, do short, intense workouts. Just aim to increase the amount of calories you are burning on a day to day basis whilst ensuring you are eating nutritiously.
  3. Improved aerobic and anaerobic cardiovascular fitness – Train more. Aerobic training means sustaining your training at a continuous pace for 20 minutes or more (ideally 30-45 minutes). This can be walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, rowing, sporting activities or even using cardio machines that you may have access too at a gym or in your garage. 2-3 times per week for aerobic training to see improvements. Anaerobic training means short bursts of intense activity in the form of intervals used in methods like Tabata or HIIT. Train for 15-20 minutes in short intervals of 20 seconds with 10 seconds rest or 30 seconds with 30 seconds rest selecting 3 or 4 exercises to do at maximum intensity and watch how fast it improves.
  4. Stronger and more resilient connective tissues – Improve your flexibility. Stretch more. Reduce your body fat percentage so that there is less stress on the joints to carry more of a load than they are designed too. Improve your muscular strength, endurance and (as mentioned at the start) power to weight ratio. This will enable your muscle to carry more of a load without relying on the joints and putting them under further stress.
  5. Better joint and limb mobility/Improved flexibility – Stretch on a daily basis, when you wake up in the morning, before you go to bed at night and  before and after exercise. The more flexible you can become, the better you will feel. Every aspect of your functional health and fitness will be enhanced by increasing your flexibility. It reduces muscle soreness, increases muscular performance, improves blood circulation and connects directly with better joint and limb mobility; so stretch. As often as possible. Take up something like yoga or Pilates if you are unsure how to stretch, or find a trustworthy (www.youtube.com) video to use as a guide. You can buy some great books and DVD’s from qualified yoga instructors detailing how to improve your flexibility. Give it a go and see the difference.

If you really want to see improvement to your functional muscle strength, health and wellness, then your training regime should include as much of this as possible:

  • Good nutrition
  • Bodyweight training sessions (calisthenics and plyometrics)
  • Aerobic cardio
  • Anaerobic cardio
  • Flexibility/Mobility work

Give it a go and see the difference it makes to your health and well-being, body shape, strength, endurance and your mind set.

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