5 Tips for Creating Functional Exercise Programs

Knowing how to create functional exercise programs is crucial for the health professional. While there is nothing wrong with traditional weight training programs in terms of building strength or stamina, these types of exercise programs typically train only isolated muscle groups. For instance, a person may train to bench press two hundred pounds, yet still strain their back while lifting their child out of a car seat. Functional exercise programs train the body to use all the muscle groups together and translate into improved activities of daily living. Following are five tips to keep in mind when developing functional exercise programs.

First, determine your patient’s needs. Training a person in squats, lunges and hops can be a big portion of a functional exercise program, but not so helpful if their job is leaning over a table on an assembly line all day or if they are a carpenter standing at a table saw most of the time (see photo below for an exercise that could be better suited for those people).


This functional exercise can be helpful for people in standing work tasks.

Assessing the needs of functional exercise programs can be done with specific testing or even better, talking with the person to learn what they do during their day. If it is not apparent, they can provide examples of their daily tasks.

Second, develop functional exercise programs that have exercises that closely mimic or replicate the movements and tasks the patient requires. For example, a baseball pitcher might be provided with exercises that are similar to a throwing motion that begin at slow speeds and increase to higher speeds over the course of the program.


Functional exercise for pitching

A bowler might be given an arm exercise that promotes shoulder flexion, with elbow extension and forearm rotation (see below).


Simulated bowling functional exercise start position


Simulated bowling exercise final position

Choosing exercises that use multi joint muscles is the third concept. In normal activities, a single muscle movement is rarely seen. Even something as simple as putting on a shirt requires multiple joint movements (and multiple muscles) of the upper extremity.

Another tip when creating functional exercise programs is to think multi plane. Use exercises that combine bending, extending, rotation and diagonal movements. If a lunge is indicated, combine a lunge with trunk rotation. Consider the person sweeping a floor. Rarely does the body remain static. Slight trunk bending and rotation are inevitable.


Functional exercise multiple movement


Lunge with rotation

And finally, remember, with functional exercise programs it is ok to incorporate some single muscle group exercises. In the early stages of a program it may be necessary to build some basic strength and stamina.

With a little thought it can be quite easy to create functional exercise programs. If you are not used to thinking in that way at first, continue to use the tips listed above and it will soon become second nature. Creativity is helpful; try to not get locked into the old “standard” stuff. There are many resources available such as seminars, software programs, books, and the internet. Your patients will become more functional, be prone to less injury and will likely thank you for providing the added bonus of an interesting workout program.riprip

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