Why You Need Functional Training in Your Workout

The idea for today’s blog post came to me as I shoveled my mother-in-laws Honda Civic out of the snow.  As I shoveled without getting tired or feeling aches and pains in my back or arms, I was able to appreciate the change I have made in my training routines to focus more on functional strength.

Simply put, Functional Training is exercises done in a way that prepares the body for daily life.  While almost everyone comes into the gym with the goal of trimming down, toning up or building muscle, underneath those goals is the desire to not hurt your back when you lift a box or not twist your knee when you change direction.   Some of us may want to just run around after the kids or grand kids without getting hurt.

I see people come to the gym and work one muscle group at a time. They go from bicep curls, to the triceps rope press and then to the leg extension machine.  While training individual muscle groups has some purpose when it comes to rehabilitation or for aesthetics, training the body to be functional should be the cornerstone of any training routine.

Functional training also prepares athletes for the physical demands of their specific sport.  A triathlete, for example, needs to address the demands of swimming, biking and running all in one sport.  For the triathlete, a strong core, balance, and stability, unilateral strength and coordination between the upper and lower body are crucial.   You will not gain all of these by sitting at a bicep curl machine.  A triathlete needs a routine centered on core strength, unilateral movement, and neuromuscular control (training the nervous system for balance and stability).

Bottom line, functional training, in almost every case, can get you to these aesthetic goals that everyone is looking to reach.  So if you can have both a flat stomach and a properly functioning body, why not go for it? 

This week I’ll be posting videos of some of my favorite functional exercises along with a brief write up on why I like them.  If you have a question on functional training or training in general, I encourage you to ask.

Good Luck!

Part 5 – Drink More Water to Help Drop the Weight

You read the title correctly.  For the last installment of my “Want to Get Fit” series I wanted to touch on a very important issue that so many people miss.  Proper hydration plays a huge part in weight loss.  There is only a do in this one:

 Do:  Drink Plenty of Water.

To get the point across I’ll share a few excerpts from an article that I share with my clients:

 Water and Weight loss

Among its benefits, water plays a major part in weight loss. Since water contains no calories, it can serve as an appetite suppressant, and helps the body metabolize stored fat.  It may possibly be one of the most significant factors in losing weight.

Drinking more water helps to reduce water retention by stimulating your kidneys. Studies have recommended that if you are overweight according to average height and weight comparison charts, you should add one glass of water to your daily requirement (of eight glasses) for every 25 pounds over your recommended weight.

Dehydration leads to excess body fat, poor muscle tone & size, decreased digestive efficiency & organ function, increased toxicity, joint & muscle soreness, & water retention. Water works to keep muscles and skin toned.

Water Retention

If you’re not drinking enough water, your body starts retaining water to compensate for this shortage. To eliminate fluid retention, drink more water, not less. If you don’t drink enough water to maintain your body’s fluid balance, you can impair every aspect of your body’s physiological function.

How much water should you drink?

A non-active person needs a half ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. That is ten (8) ounce glasses a day if your weight is 160 pounds. For every 25 pounds you exceed your ideal weight, increase it by one 8 ounce glass. An active, athletic person needs 2/3 ounce per pound which is 13-14 (8) ounce glasses a day if you’re 160 pounds. The more you exercise the more water you need. Spread out your water intake throughout the day. Do not drink more than 4 glasses within any given hour. After a few weeks your bladder calms down and you will urinate less frequently, but in larger amounts.

Good luck and drink your water!

This is a must read for runners, especially if you’re new to running.

Part 4 – Ways to Ramp Up Your Workouts, Get Fit and Burn More Calories

Continuing with the theme of ways to change your workouts to burn more calories, today’s post is about moving in different directions.

Don’t: Train in just one direction.

Do: Train in all three planes of motion.

Human movement occurs primarily in 3 planes of motion. One plane separates the body into left and right sides (sagittal plane), another plane separates the body into front and back (frontal plane), and another plane separates the body into top and bottom (transverse plane). For most of us, we do almost all of our exercises in the sagittal plane. Leg curls, leg extensions, lunges, squats and bicep curls are all primarily sagittal plane exercises. Mix it up by doing lateral lunges, transverse lunges, lateral step-ups or rotational (transverse) step-ups. (Click on the bold exercises for video links) Instead of doing a regular sit-up, throw in a twist at the end. You can even change upper body exercises by changing the angle at which you work certain muscles.

Training in all three planes is a great way to stimulate your body in a different way. More importantly, training in multiple planes prepares your body to work the way it works in real life.

For the athletes I train, multi-directional functional training is the cornerstone of their workout program. Most acute injuries to runners (ACL sprain/tear, ankle injuries, etc.) occur as a result of quick change in direction that, in most cases, they’ve never trained for and aren’t ready for. A lot of us are involved in recreational sports like softball, flag football and soccer, all of which call for us to move in all directions with speed and power.

For those who aren’t athletes, training in all planes prepares you for everyday activities. I have clients whose goals, in addition to losing weight, are simply to be able to keep up with their kids or spend more time working in their garden without pain.

Bottom Line, train in all planes of motion. You’ll burn more calories and decrease the chance of injury.

Want to Get Fit and See Your Abs by Spring? Here are a Few Do’s and Don’ts to Live By (Part 2)

Today I want to touch on the types of exercises we do and how we do them.  Today’s Do and Don’t:

Don’t: Do too many single joint exercises

Do: More multi-joint, compound movement and total body exercises.

While I won’t swear off single joint exercise as they do have a place in the grand scheme of fitness, I will say that if you’re trying to trim down there are better options.  To be efficient with your time and burn more calories replace single joint exercises with a multi-joint or compound movement exercise.  What do I mean by “single joint” and “multi-joint”? Well, it is exactly what it sounds like. In a single joint exercise, only one joint is moving.  A good example is a bicep curl, where the only joint moving is the elbow.  Another good example is a leg curl to work the hamstrings where the only joint moving is the knee.

Replace a bicep curl with a pulling or rowing exercise.  In both cases you’ll be getting flexion at the elbow working your biceps while at the same time working your back and the back part of your shoulders.  You could also replace the leg curl with a squat or a lunge.  In both of these exercises you would be replacing single joint action at the knee with multi-joint action at the hip and knee. Getting more muscles moving in the same amount of time, will get you more bang for your buck.

Lastly, try a compound movement.  In the video here I give a few good examples of compound movements where we blend upper and lower body exercises.  Some good examples are:

  • Lateral lunge (side to side) with a bicep curl (legs)
  • Squat with a bicep curl and shoulder press (for legs, arms and shoulders)
  • Medball reverse chop
  • Kettlebell movements

Most of my friends and clients know that I’m a kettlebell junkie.  Using whole body integration tools like kettlebells are a really good way to get every muscle involved, which is good not only for building muscular endurance and strength but also for getting your heart rate going.

Good luck and keep moving!

Want to Get Fit and See Your Abs by Spring? Here are a Few Do’s and Don’ts to Live By (Part 1)

This week I’ll be doing a 5 part blog where each day I’ll share a few of the do’s and don’ts that I like to apply when it comes to trimming down and getting fit. The First Do and Don’t:

Don’t:  Use sweat as a gauge for how hard you’re working.   

Do:  Wear a heart rate monitor to gauge your intensity level.


Using how much you’re sweating or how tired you are as a gauge for how hard you’re working is what we call “Perceived Excretion”.  The flaw with method this is that your perceived exertion can vary from day to day and in most cases can be subject to how you’re feeling both mentally and physically.  For the most part, using a heart rate monitor on the other hand is the closest measure of how hard you’re working and the way to go.

If your primary goal is weight loss, watching your heart rate is a great way to make sure you’re getting the maximum calorie burn during your workout.  I strongly suggest the purchase of a good heart rate monitor to all of my clients with the goal of trimming down or losing weight.  They wear the monitor both during the resistance training portions of our program and while doing their cardio homework.   We’ll talk more in future blogs about good ways to get your heart rate up during the resistance training part of your workout.

You want to make sure that your heart rate is getting up to between, 50-80% of your max heart rate.  At the lower ranges (50-60% of max heart rate)  you’re burning a larger percentage of calories from fat.  I advise de-conditioned individuals to start here to first build up your cardio fitness base.  For conditioned individuals, go ahead and move up to 60%-80% of your max heart rate.  In these zones, you’ll be burning a smaller percent of calories from fat but a larger total number of calories, thereby burning more fat.  One way I like to think of this is that we’re taking a slightly smaller piece of a much larger pie.  We’re burning a smaller percentage of calories from fat but more fat in total.

If you are an endurance athlete like a runner or a cyclist, knowing and training your heart rate zones is extremely important.  Knowing your aerobic zones and your anaerobic threshold (which usually occurs at the higher end of your max heart rate) can be the difference between making it to the finish line in one piece and “bonking” halfway through a race.  For the endurance athlete, your heart rate is not only a measure of how hard you’re working but more importantly what fuel source you’re using. For the most part we want to use muscle glycogen and fat as our fuel source.  As your heart rate goes higher and higher you begin to use less fat and more glycogen.  As your heart rate goes even higher your body starts to use muscle glycogen and protein as its energy source.  This usually occurs at around 90% of your max heart rate.  At this point we also start to break down fuel in an anerobic manner (without oxygen).  This is what leads to the build up of lactic acid and a general increase in pH in the muscle which over time leads to the fatigue and eventually failure.  This is a deep topic that I’ll touch on in later post.  Just know that if you’re running or cycling without a heart rate monitor you’re missing a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to enhancing your performance.

At the moment the monitor that I recommend to most of my clients is the polar FT7.  This is a moderately priced monitor that not only measures heart rate but also tracks calories burned.  If you want a monitor with all the bells and whistles feel free to upgrade.

There are a number of heart rate zone calculators on the internet.  I would recommend using any calculator that uses the “Karvonen” formula.

Lastly, I’ll say that there are other things to keep in mind when thinking about heart rate.  For example, some medications can have an up or down affect on heart rate.  If you are on any medication(s) consult your prescribing physician before starting a cardio routine to see what effect your medication may have on you.  For these indivuduals, RPE may in fact be the way to go as heart rate may not be a reliable form of feedback.

Good Luck!

In Your Quest to Get Fit, Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things…..Like Pilates

As a trainer I’m always being asked, “What other physical activities would you recommend?”  My answer to that question is usually, “It depends.”  In the fitness world there are “many ways to get the job done.”  There’s resistance training, group exercises classes, running, yoga and crossfit to name a few.  Hell in New York City we even have studios that have packed classes all day long devoted strictly to spinning.  There are many ways to get fit, but it’s all about finding what works for you.

I’m always try to educate myself on all of the offerings out there.  I not only want to experience what they’re like for myself so that I can continue to find ways to mix up my own routine, but I also want to be able to give my clients a clear, honest answer when they ask me what I think about an activity. 

This past week I had a chance to try Pilates for the first time……. that’s right Pilates.  My new friend Lara Dalch is not only a great nutrition counselor, but she’s also an awesome Pilates instructor.  Last week I had the opportunity to catch up with Lara for a private Pilates session at Core Pilates NYC .  At first I had flashbacks from my first yoga class (where I accidentally knocked over two people while trying to do a pose) but that fear quickly faded.  As we got into the session I thought to myself, “Holy crap, this is much harder than I thought it would be”.  It was tough, but luckily I had a Lara there to help cue me through the moves and encourage me.

As we made it to the end of the session, I grabbed my bag and headed for the door.  I hit the street on my way back to the gym and couldn’t help but to notice how loose and free moving I felt, especially in my lower back.  I thought, “wait a minute, I don’t even have back problems and my back feels better than when I went in……Nice!” As funny as it sounds, a big bike riding, weight lifting, kettlebell swinging guy like myself was actually a little sore the next day.  This plays right into what I’m always tell my friends and clients, “Keep finding different ways to challenge yourself.”  It’s not like the routine that I did that day was full of all of the hardest moves.  It was however, something that I’ve never done before.  My body was not use to those moves and needed to work harder because of that.  So add Pilates to the list of activities that I’ll sign off on.  I think Pilates has a tone of value from a fitness perspective as well as a therapeutic/rehab perspective.

The one thing I would recommend is that I’ve you’re going to try Pilates for the first time, take a semi private class or get some one-on- one instruction.  Having Lara there to cue me and correct my form made a huge difference and I’m sure it will for you too.

Good Luck!

Welcome to the New Home for Fitness for Thought!

Hi All,

Due to technical difficulties, I’ve decided to move the home location for my blog, “Fitness for Thought” to kelvingary.com  I hope you’ll enjoy the same great post in a new location.