Have you ever wondered why your physio uses so many functional exercises in your rehabilitation? Functional exercises are movements that are specific to the activities you do in your everyday life. They help improve the way your body moves and functions overall. In this post, we will discuss the benefits of functional exercises and how they can help improve your rehabilitation outcomes. Stay tuned!
Functional exercises eliminate pain for longer
If we had to sum up our case in a sentence, this would be it. Keep reading for the long answer!
Functional exercises increase capacity
When we say ‘capacity’, we’re not talking about how much food you can keep down. We’re talking more about your body’s capacity for load-bearing and mobility—from your muscles and joints to your many other tissues. If you’re recovering from an injury, your body will not have the level of tolerance it had beforehand. Every cell affected will have a thinner skin (if you’ll pardon the pun) and will hurt much more quickly, even as you undertake day-to-day activities.
They say time heals all wounds, but whoever said this was uninformed. In time, your body can repair itself somewhat, but it’s on you to earn back your body’s pre-injury capacities. If, for example, you had a greater capacity for heavy lifting pre-injury, this ability wouldn’t magically reappear with time. The only way it could come back is with work! And by persisting with functional exercises, you can work to reclaim your pre-injury capacities.
Functional exercises are a convenient, long-term investment in recovery
This is a fluffy sentence, but allow us to explain. Functional exercises are like homework that you can do anytime, anywhere. Whilst your physio should assign the homework, it is up to you to complete it. In a way, this makes recovery more powerful. Your physio can lead you to water, sure, but they can’t make you drink. Recovery is your choice and only you can commit to achieving long-term improvements.
Your physio will assign functional exercises based on your unique situation, so you know they’re not a one-size-fits-all solution. The great thing about functional exercises is you can complete them at home, outdoors, or at the gym—wherever you’re most comfortable. The more you incorporate them into your routine, the greater your investment in long-term recovery. If ever you need the motivation to commit to the routine, just think of the aforementioned factors.
The three golden rules
When it comes to strength-building and conditioning, there are three golden rules. When grouped together, they form the Goldilocks principle combined with the sentiment ‘change happens outside your comfort zone’. The three golden rules are as follows:
- If the exercises aren’t challenging you, you’re not creating change.
- If the exercises are too challenging, you’re overloading your body and being counterproductive.
- If the exercises are the right mix of comfortable and challenging, you will become more functional and reduce existing pain.
Of course, your physio should know which exercises to prescribe, but ensure to provide feedback if you’re feeling too challenged (or are not feeling challenged enough).
The three golden body parts
Functional exercises will target the legs, spine, and arms. Your physio will not necessarily assign exercises for all three body parts, and what they assign will depend on the nature of your issues or injuries. That being said, you can use the below as a rough guide to healthy movement.
Exercises for healthy legs
- Split squats
- Weight-lifting squats
- Lateral lunges
- Forward and backward lunges
- Single-leg squats
Exercises for a healthy spine
- Bending in all directions
- Bracing (when necessary)
Exercises for healthy arms
- Pushing forwards
- Pulling backwards
- Pushing upwards
- Pulling downwards
- Pulling upwards
- Pushing downwards
- Opening the arm outwards
- Closing the arm inwards
A good indicator of progress is when you are able to complete the above by engaging the body part concerned. If you can complete all of the above by engaging the corresponding body part, then that body part is considered to be healthy.
Before committing to any new exercise regime, you should consult your doctor or physio first. Also, avoid the temptation to go too hard too fast. If you overload your recovering body, this can be counterproductive and drive progress backwards. Remember Golden Rule #2 and trust in the process.
You know your body better than anyone, so if something doesn’t feel right, go with your gut. You can always discuss your treatment plan with your physio and adjust accordingly. Be patient with yourself and you should be in for a successful recovery!