Ups and downs of multi-task training

Blahnik is a Laguna Beach-based personal trainer and IDEA Health & Fitness Assn. spokesman

My trainer frequently makes me do routines that he calls “functional training,” in which I’m balancing on one leg while exercising with weights, moving in many directions at once, or combining two or three exercises in a sequence. It is definitely more interesting than my regular strength-training routine, but I wonder if it’s more effective? I want to get the most bang for my buck when I work out with him and I thought maybe you could shed some light on this approach.


Newport Beach

This style of training is often called functional training, but you may also hear it called “dynamic training,” “multidimensional training,” “training for everyday living” or a host of other names. It involves exercises without the use of traditional weight machines (which allow only one specific movement, such as a chest press or a biceps curl), focusing instead on exercises that include a range of additional stimuli.

For example, you might stand on a wobble board while doing a shoulder press, so you are forced to keep your balance and brace your abs while also training your shoulders. Or you may use the resistance from a cable machine to simulate a “wood chopper” motion that involves training your entire upper body and core but also requires more coordination than if you trained these same muscles in isolation.


Many trainers do only functional training with their clients because they believe that it produces better overall results and that it improves their clients’ ability to do everyday activities, such as reaching for a high shelf, golfing or bending to pick up objects.

Other trainers feel strongly that functional training is not more effective, just more complicated and unnecessary for the average person who does not have a sport-specific goal or unique rehabilitation need. Many of these trainers also believe that doing these patterns with weight or resistance creates unnecessary risk and potential for injury, especially if done incorrectly.

Here are some things to consider:

* Pick a type of training you enjoy -- you’re more likely to stick to a program you like. Don’t be afraid to ask for routines that keep you engaged.

* Is your trainer qualified to provide you with functional training routines that are safe and appropriate for you? The exercises should feel comfortable, purposeful and within your abilities, and your trainer should be able to easily modify anything that feels awkward.

* Are you getting results with the routines your trainer selects? Different styles of training will produce different results; tell your trainer what works for you and what doesn’t.

* Regardless of what workout regimen your trainer prefers, don’t get too comfortable with one approach or series of exercises. Variety will reduce your risk of injury, and combining simpler exercises with functional exercises will likely give you better results overall.

* When you are doing exercises or routines that are more complicated, move slowly until you have a mastery of the movement. This will greatly reduce your risk of injury and increase effectiveness.

No single exercise or routine will be perfect for everyone. It is important that you listen to your body, communicate your likes and dislikes to your trainer, and choose a trainer who listens to your feedback. Your trainer might be the expert but you know best what feels right and works for you.