Is getting bigger and stronger at the cost of a back injury worth it?

The health benefits of exercise are well known to most people. Many people are active and enjoy going to the gym, but are they really making themselves healthier with their programs?

A “functional” exercise program is one that carries over into movement that happens in life. It should help a given task or sport by closely replicating those movements in a controlled environment. This means we have to train the body as it was intended to be used!

In simple terms a functional exercise program promotes an efficiently working body that provides protection from injury. This is done by promoting the use of “the core”. The core muscles primarily include some specific muscles deep in the stomach and back. Their role is vast, but in particular, it is the protection of the spine. The core acts like the foundation of a house; it provides the strength and integrity of the structure. Without it, the house will fall down, however elaborate it may look. For someone’s body to function without the core is like that house without a foundation - but instead of falling over, we get pain! You can actually train yourself into this situation by choosing to perform the wrong exercises in the gym.

Very rarely in life, or in any sport, are we fixed in a chair or on a bench pushing, pulling or lifting an object, as most gym exercises seem to be. So, doing an exercise like a bench press has no relevance to a life situation – How often do you find yourself lying on the floor pushing a big weight off your chest towards the ceiling? Similarly, think about another commonly performed exercise in the gym – a leg press. How often do you find yourself sitting in a chair pushing a massive weight away from you? Never is the guess.

Bodybuilders developed most of these exercises that people perform in gyms. If you look at the sport of bodybuilding, they are judged on how they look – they are not asked to do anything physical at all. Exercises that are dependant on elaborate looking machines disable the core and therefore actually make the body more unstable and prone to injury. So, you are building a bigger house without a foundation. This makes it more likely to “fall over” or create pain.

You have to think about movements that surround you in life or sport to work out what exercises you need to do. Do you stand, sit or lie? Is the object free standing or fixed? Is the base you are on stable or unstable? Is the weight balanced or unbalanced?

A functional exercise program will help you feel good, prevent injury and help you cope better with daily tasks. Whether your exercise goal is strength, fitness, weight loss or a combination of these, function is the key. Exercise can be really simple, but it can also be made to be very complicated and ineffective through poor exercise selection.

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