Tag Archive: functional


How to Lift Weights

For building Muscle Mass:

When you’re trying to build muscle mass, you have to find ways to stabilize your body so that you’re only working a select set of muscles at once.  You can think of this in a bench press exercise where your legs and core are minimally involved because they’re resting on a bench.  Your pushing muscles are the only muscles being stressed to a great extent.

This is the type of exercise you have to do if you want to gain muscle mass.  You have to use exercises where specific muscles are targeted.  Full-body exercises just don’t work as well for muscle growth. Continue reading

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Maine Hiking

The concept of functional exercise came from a bunch of exercise physiologists and physical therapists who noticed the obvious.  They noticed that doing leg extensions in a machine didn’t help their patients walk again.  They noticed that a lot of what we do today in gyms doesn’t really help the body function in its natural environment and therefore doesn’t really help us much other than by gaining muscle mass.  There’s nothing wrong with gaining muscle mass, but if that’s all you do then your training is incomplete.

For my own story, I got to a point where I was deadlifting over 450lbs and only had about 8% bodyfat.  But when I went to play some recreational soccer, I found out that I couldn’t change direction well at all.  I was slow and uncoordinated.  This confused me because I was the strongest I had ever been.  Strength in the gym automatically means strength in real life, right? Continue reading

I know women have goals of getting fit and toned and then turn to the women’s fitness magazines with this month’s “Get In Shape” plan.  And not that these plans are totally worthless, the moves may be great, but most plans tend to start like this:  What you need is a mat, a pair of 3-5 pound dumbbells…. How in the world do they expect you to get toned and strong if you are lifting with a total of 6-10 pounds.  Most babies are born 6 pounds and then if you factor in carrying a car seat, that is way more than 10 pounds.  Do they expect muscles to magically appear?

I do agree that everyone has to start somewhere and progression is key, but I also think that most women are a lot stronger than they think and have the potential of being a lot stronger than they expect. If starting out with all body weight exercises is hard for you, then start there and that does cause muscle to grow, but only so much.  So, what happens when that gets easy? You add more repetitions. Then what happens when that gets too easy? You add more weight.  My professor always used to tell us, “behind every shapely curve in a woman’s body, there is muscle.”  These “shapely curves” he was talking about are the “toned look” most girls are wanting.  So to get toned, women must build muscle.

How do we build muscle mass?  There is a concept in weight training called the SAID principle.  SAID stands for “specific adaptation to imposed demands”.  Translation: Your muscle adapts only to what you put it through.  If you only train your arms to lift 2 pound dumbbells, then your arms are only going to be able to lift 2 lbs or maybe a tiny bit more.  If training with 2 pound dumbbells is honestly hard for you, there is no shame in that.  Everyone has to start somewhere.

The point is, if you do a ton of reps then you are training for endurance.  If you are an endurance athlete, then this training might be for you.  The same principle is why sprinters train the way they do.  They do short bursts of power because that’s what they have to do in a race.  If you are a mom who carries a baby around, then you want to train your muscles for that activity.  If the goal is to build muscle mass and to get toned, then you must challenge the muscles in that way.  The other goal that every woman should have is to move smoother and more functionally.  This takes our focus off of machine only training to doing more day to day movements to make our bodies move more efficiently and will make everyday activities easier.  Eventually picking up groceries out of the trunk and up the stairs will become easier.  Running and walking will be less tiring because you will be training your muscles to work together as they do in everyday life.  Then, adding the extra weight will help you gain the muscle mass to look and feel great.

To build muscle mass, choose a weight or body weight exercise that you can do the exercise for 8-12 repetitions.  This means to choose a weight where you can barely eek out the 12th repetition.  I would suggest doing a weight lifting program that lifts 3 times a week, with a day in between and doing one exercise for each body part.  Start with doing one set for each exercise and as you get into better shape, then add sets for each exercise.  If a woman is still in the bone building years, then doing a few sets of 4-6 repetitions is highly beneficial for building bone mass.  This means she’ll be lifting heavier weights than she did when she was doing 8-12 repetitions.  

Example:

Monday, Wednesday, Friday

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Anterior reaches
  • Bent over rows
  • Cable (or band) standing rows
  • Recline pulls
  • Cable (or band) chest presses
  • Push ups (these can be on the floor or on the wall)
  • Shoulder presses


Just do one set each of 8-12 repetitions in the beginning and add weight when you can do 13 or more in a set.

How to Resistance Train

Because of the pros and cons of training for muscle mass vs. training for activities of daily life, we must use them both in order to achieve the most benefit.  Since the concept of training for muscle mass is typically more familiar to most individuals, we’ll use that as our starting point.

However, I need to point out that this writing is almost entirely conceptual.  I’ll make other resources later that explain further how to actually apply these concepts.

Training for muscle mass

Since this book is directed towards the general population, and the general population mainly desires a form of bodybuilding (which is gaining muscle, losing fat, or both), we’ll focus on the concept of bodybuilding rather than using these same exercises for the purpose of strength or power.

According to the NSCA, hypertrophy(muscle growth) is stimulated by using 8-12 repetitions with a 30-90 second rest period between 3-6 sets.  However, the key in exercise selection is that the exercises must be stabilized in order to work only a specific group of muscles rather than the full-body.

In the name of simplicity, we’ll divide the muscle-groups into three major functions.  First, the upper body push.  Second, the upper body pull.  Third, the legs push.  The legs don’t pull because most of us haven’t figured out how to pick up that barbell using our toes yet.

Upper-body pushing includes anything that involves moving an object farther away from you.  It doesn’t matter if that object is a barbell, dumbbell, or resistance band.  As long as you are stabilizing your body and putting yourself in the strongest position to move the resistance, then you are training the upper-body pushing muscles for muscle growth. Continue reading

What Kind of Exercise?

Defining the Terms

Before we get into the physiology of exercise, it’s prudent to take a step back and look at the big picture.  In the fitness realm, there often seems to be a fairly large dichotomy between people training “functionally” and people training “conventionally”.

Typically, we think of people training “conventionally” as bodybuilders doing their exercises on machines or using barbells.  The “conventional” trainers typically have a lot of muscle mass, but their athleticism is limited.

Typically, we think of people training “functionally” as the person standing on a BOSU ball with one foot while doing an alternating dumbbell military press.  These “functional” trainers typically have little muscle mass, but they are relatively athletic.

That’s the old way of thinking.  It is my opinion that that should be abolished in favor of labeling everything as “functional for ::fill in the blank::”  Functional means that something does what it was designed to do.  A functional toaster toasts while a dysfunctional toaster does not.  A functional quarterback throws a football fast, far, and with accuracy while a dysfunctional quarterback lobs a football blindly in no particular direction.

So, for our purposes, I’ve chosen to disregard the “conventional” vs. “functional” debate as fairly inaccurate descriptors.  What is typically thought of as “conventional”, I will call “functional for building muscle mass”.  What is typically thought of as “functional”, I will call “functional for activities of daily life”. Continue reading