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Discover The Benefits Of Functional Exercise We Use To Train Our Clients With At Shaping Concepts...

What functional exercise really is and how it out performs ANY traditional machine based workout!
How circuit training machines typically found in health clubs may actually do more harm than good with some individuals!
How functional exercise improves your ability to complete everyday activities better than any other form of exercise!

From: Shane Doll CPT, CSCS
Founder, Shaping Concepts
Charleston, SC

Hi my name is Shane Doll. I’m a certified charleston personal trainer, fitness expert, and founder of Shaping Concepts.

You may have read or heard about the term “functional exercise” lately. With the increased awareness about the importance of core strength, functional exercise has become quite the buzz.

So exactly what is functional exercise?

It’s simply exercise that works the muscles in your body through integration in multiple planes of motion. In essence it's exercise that mimics the way you move in everyday life.

This is in stark contrast to traditional weight machines that work your muscles in isolation. Although there are benefits to isolating a muscle through weighted resistance it's extremely important to have a foundation of proper "movement" when starting a fitness program.

Exercise is something to be done on your feet NOT sitting down on some machine!

It has always been my opinion that exercise should NOT be something done while “sitting down.” Exercise should be about conditioning the body within the main pillars of human movement.

This includes having you push, pull, rotate, perform a level change, and doing some type of locomotion (walk, run, etc). With functional exercise you train all these movements on our feet in a manner that replicates activities in everyday life.

The pillars of human movement do not change from person to person. All that changes is the intensity and demands placed on the body for the individual's chosen “everyday” activities.

Therefore it is my belief, and how we train clients with my Charleston personal training programs, to train athletes and senior citizens with the same movements but only changing the intensity.

Everyone needs to reach, push, pull, squat and rotate but some people just need to do so with more power, strength or endurance...

When you talk about functional exercise many people think its just exercise that uses stability balls, bands, medicine balls, foam rollers, etc.

This is a common misconception. While these are common training tools their use does not constitute functional training by itself. You can train "functionally" with free weights and bodyweight exercises as well. The key difference is in the way in which the exercise is completed.

Somewhere along the line, exercise changed from something that worked the entire body to today typically being isolated movements on fixed, stationary equipment like those pieces used in health clubs.

Physical culture of years ago included jumping jacks, handstands, push-ups, and other bodyweight exercises done with little to no equipment.

Eugene Sandow
Early Fitness Pioneer

If you look at the pioneers of physical fitness like Eugene Sandow, Farmer Burns, Jim Pedley and others, they had magnificently built bodies all created without the use of treadmills, circuit training machines, and other fancy equipment.

Makes you stop and think for a second. How far have we really come with the advancement of physical culture?

The pitfalls of health club circuit training not done with functional exercise...

When it comes to exercise, most people are really uncertain about the type of exercise needed to meet their health and fitness goals. Unfortunately, the one place you think would help the most has unfortunately been part of the problem.

Walk into most any Charleston gym or health club and you’ll see the majority of people doing the same exercises. Rows of isolation equipment can be found with people moving from machine to machine working on only one muscle group at a time in isolation.

I often question individuals in the gym why they selected the equipment they’re using. A lot of times I’ll hear “because I wanted to work (fill in the blank).” This is typically the area shown on the equipment placard.

This picture will show a part of the body that most people want to change (their midsection, inner and outer thighs, etc). They think in order to tone, firm and lose weight in those areas they should work on the machines that highlight those muscles found on the placards. This is very misleading!

The health club industry has done a poor job educating exercisers on how to reach their goals taking in consideration their unique needs and fitness level.

The free personal training session or initial consultation at most Charleston health clubs, if it's provided, does little to take into consideration a person's unique needs. It’s may even be conducted by someone who has little or no qualifications to recommend exercise prescription. Typically after you’ve been shown around the club, and taught how to use the machines, you’re turned loose to do it all on your own.

Confused and embarrassed most people will just start mimicking what they see others doing in the gym. The end result is a “blind leading the blind” paradigm. No wonder people get frustrated with not seeing results then quit. Such a shame….nobody ever shared with them the TRUTH!

CAUTION: Beware of some exercise equipment used to isolate muscle groups...

Like I mentioned earlier, the traditional gym or health club today is packed with exercise equipment to work every single muscle group in isolation.

The problem with this is your body doesn’t work in isolation, it works with integration. It’s not uncommon for people new to exercise to have muscle imbalances that affect their neck, back, knees, shoulders or hips.

That’s why a kinetic chain assessment completed by a qualified Charleston personal trainer is so valuable. Many people that suffer from shin splints, knee problems, low back pain, sciatica, headaches, and other ailments could find their problems eliminated with corrective exercise. I’ve seen it time and time again.

Sadly, I’ve also seen people with muscle imbalances work out on isolation equipment that only made their situation worse...

Here are a couple of my favorite examples.

Seated Abduction Machine: You’ve probably seen this machine although you may not recognize the name. You sit down and spread your legs apart against resistance. This is a favorite machine chosen by women that think they’re working their outer thighs. After all it shows you’re working that area on the equipment placard. I’m still searching for the “abduction muscles” shown in the pictures.

The truth is they don’t exist! What actually runs down the side of your legs is connective tissue called the Iliotibial Band or IT Band.

Without getting into too much detail chronic isolation of the ITB and related prime movers in this exercise can cause Iliofemoral Joint Dysfunction, Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction, Piriformis Syndrome, Sciatica, and other conditions.

In simple terms this machine isolates parts of your body that were never meant to be isolated. Hip, back and knee problems might not be far behind if you regularly use what I think is “the most worthless piece of fitness equipment ever invented.”

Seated Hip Rotation: this is the machine that you sit in and rotate side to side apparently working the external oblique muscles of your abs. If you want to lose your “love handles” you’ll probably go for this machine.

The seated hip rotation machine is a close second as the most frequently used machine with new exercisers at health clubs. Once again I believe the reason why is because the uninformed user is mislead by the equipment placard.

They see the “love handle” region highlighted in the picture and think this machine will help them tone and firm in that area.

I've got some news for you, you’re going to be there a while! You cannot spot reduce your abs to eliminate body fat there. It’s not the muscles that are the problem, it’s the layer of fat that’s covering them up.

This exercise burns very few calories and therefore is very ineffective at liberating fat from your waistline. But this machine is not only ineffective it could be harmful to the lumbo-pelvic-hip area of your body.

The motion of this equipment just makes me cringe when I watch someone use it. You sit down without having your legs and core muscles supporting your spinal column then you ROTATE your hips against resistance. Bad idea here folks.

Give me an example when you’ll ever rotate your hips in that manner EVER. That should be a tip on why NOT to do this exercise. You are designed to use your low back, legs and core musculature together in order to rotate your hips.

What’s going on with the low back, legs and inner core muscles during this exercise? Not much and that’s the problem.

Once again low back and hip problems can develop from overuse of this machine. Unfortunately with this exercise one use might be all it takes to leave you stooped over with low back pain.

The real world challenge: functional vs. isolation exercise

Let’s look at four different movements you might do in every day life and then break each one down in relation to functional exercise and traditional isolation exercise. After that you can be the judge!

1) Reaching down for something off the floor
2) Pull starting a lawn mover.
3) Picking up something heavy from the floor
4) Pushing a heavy object across the floor

#1: Reaching down for something off the floor

When you normally reach down to pick something up from the floor you do so in an “asymmetrical form.” In other words, you’re going to bend down with one leg in front of the other.

Although we’re taught to bend down with feet parallel, back flat, and head neutral, etc, how many of us do it? It makes better sense to me to train the body to function in the way you’ll actually use it! When you bend down with legs staggered you’ll use your low back, abdominals, and leg muscles to get back up.

The typical reach is going to use a lot of muscles in an integrated fashion. An exercise like a leg extension designed to strengthen the legs through isolation of the quadriceps is of little use during this movement. But that’s the number one exercise you typically see people doing for their lower body in a health club, followed closely by the leg curl which we’ll talk about later.

Look at a functional exercise like the “medicine ball reach” (shown above) which more closely resembles the actual activity of asymmetrically going to the floor. This exercise also improves balance, core strength, and motor skills while developing leg strength. More bang for your buck with this one for sure.

#2: Pull-starting a lawn mower

Anyone who has ever tried pull-starting a lawn mover that just wouldn’t run understands the demands this movement puts on your back, arms, and shoulders. The primary muscle group involved in most pulling movements is the latisimus dorsi.

Most machines designed to work this muscle have you sitting down and pulling from overhead. How often will that happen in everyday life? Chances are if you have to pull something you’ll do so standing up. You’ll also be rotating your hips to complete the movement. Something you won’t be able to do sitting down in traditional isolation exercise equipment.

A better exercise to help you simulate an everyday activity would be one like the “resistance band transverse reach” shown below.

Now don’t get me wrong the seated lat pull down can be a good exercise for strength and development in the upper and middle back musculature. It can be a very beneficial part of your program.

I give this exercise to my Charleston personal training clients all the time. However, it’s not the ONLY exercise I use for pulling movements with my clients.

If you want to really work your back, abdominals and shoulders involved with everyday “pulling activities” then you’ll have to perform an exercise that integrates the muscles and not only isolates them. Get on your feet sometimes when you pull during your exercise routines!

#3: Picking up something heavy from the floor

You won’t find many pieces of exercise equipment that will help you pick up something heavy from the floor. Why? The reason is this activity really requires the integration of the low back, core muscles and legs to work together simultaneously.

Most equipment exercises have you just working one area at a time. It’s no wonder low back problems rank number one for causes of lost work days in the US.

Why are low back injuries such a problem? Is it because people don’t know how to lift properly? I don’t think that’s it. Most people have been taught correct lifting techniques at some point in time.

I would say more importantly people are not taught how to exercise in a way that strengthens the core. That is of course except you’re a client at Shaping Concepts (shameless plug).

Traditional isolation equipment does little to strengthen the core. A simple exercise you can add to your routine is a “medicine ball chop” (shown above). This exercise really works the entire kinetic chain. Let’s compare that to the other favorite lower body exercise, the leg curl. This exercise isolates the hamstring muscles.

The problem with this exercise is the absence of integration with the lumbar erectors and glutes. Once again doing leg curls is just fine to strengthen the hamstring group but what about squatting down using the entire posterior chain?

Remember your muscles all work together when you pick something up. Add a functional exercise that incorporates a squat into your routine and you’ll be less likely to suffer a low back injury.

#4: Pushing something heavy across the floor

Typically when you push just about anything you’ll do so standing up. Think about when you might push something today sitting down. I can’t think of too many instances.

But let’s look at the seated chest press. You’re sitting down with your core relaxed! There are several exercises to compliment the seated press that can work the core, shoulders, arms and the chest all at the same time. Try a band press from a standing position like shown below.

Are you convinced yet about the benefits of functional exercise?

As you can see functional exercise is very effective at replicating the way you move in everyday life. Traditional isolation equipment does a poor job of simulating these everyday activities.

Now before you throw your home gym out or cancel your gym membership…wait that's not the end of the story!

I believe that people can benefit from traditional equipment if they combine it with functional movements. This concept is called “Three Tier Integration” and it's the foundation for the workout routines we use in our Charelston personal fitness programs.

Combining functional exercise with different forms of weighted resistance and cardiovascular exercise gives you the best of all worlds for a total body workout. You’ll also be pleased to know that you’ll be able to complete your workouts in half the time!

Who made the “one-hour rule” for workouts anyway?

I’d like to know if you find out! I believe this unspoken rule has been handed down over time by new exercisers simply watching bodybuilders. But here’s the problem….bodybuilders and the general population have drastically different goals.

Individuals educated in exercise prescription know that hypertrophy routines (those designed primarily for muscle mass increase) require a minimum of one minute rest between sets.

There is a physiological reason why the bodybuilder will take more rest between sets and thus need more time with their workout. But that doesn’t mean their workout is best suited for an individual looking primarily to lose weight for example.

Training routines and programs should always be individual specific according to a person’s wants, needs, and physical limitations. For most people you can achieve your goals with 30 minute durations of functional exercise!

Most people don’t realize that the body’s muscles start breaking down after about 30 minutes of intense exercise. There’s little reason for the typical individual to exceed 30 minutes in a single session if they’re exercising with sufficient intensity.

An hour in the gym can easily be replaced with 30 minutes of exercise done most anywhere once you learn how.

It’s never too late to get started with functional exercise!

As we age, we’ll all lose things like balance, flexibility, motor skills, and strength. Now we can’t stop the aging process but we can change our quality of life. Whether you still want to be able to play 18 holes of golf or simply put on a pair of socks without sitting down functional exercise is for you.

One of the great things about functional exercise is the movements can be completed with very little equipment and space required. That’s why they’re great for home exercise routines.

If you have an 8x10 open area, you’re ready to go! If you would like personal instruction on functional training we offer several programs that can meet your needs. We can even design a personal program you can perform at home.

Best of all we’ll complete a comprehensive fitness assessment to help identify any muscle imbalances. Correcting these imbalances will help you enjoy a better quality of life with less aches and pains.

I would like to take this opportunity to provide you with a totally FREE no-obligations trial of my Charleston personal training programs and let you be the judge for yourself.

Simply fill in the web form at the top of this page for your FREE no-obligations trial of my Charleston personal training program!

Functional exercise when used in combination of progressive resistance training with free weights and bodyweight movements provides the best workout available.

I'll challenge anybody to show me a workout the provides more all around benefit to the human body. Not only will you look better but you'll move better and have less aches and pains.

But hey, don't just take my word for it...

Check out our client success stories and see what Charleston area residents have to say about our programs.

When you're ready simply fill out the web-form for your free trial with one of my Charleston personal trainers. No high-pressure sales tactics and no hassles, you have my word on that.

I just want to help educate people in the Charleston area about the benefits of functional exercise and "Three Tier Integration" workouts.

You can decide for yourself after you learn more with our FREE fitness consultation and trial. The information you get with the kinetic chain assessment alone will be invaluable to help you identify any problems areas and how to correct them.

I look forward to meeting you personally.


Shane Doll
Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios
1009 Anna Knapp Blvd #101
Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464
Phone: 843-971-8665