Why Functional-Only Exercise May Fail to Boost Metabolism

Q: Should you do movements in all three planes?

A: Yes.

Q: Should you do a Turkish Get Up?

A: Not necessarily.

Q: Should you do Pilates? on a Mat or a Reformer?

A: Maybe.

Q: Should you do one legged movements?

A: Yes.

Q: Should you only exercise with body weight, suspension tools, balls or props?

A: No.

Q: Should you use machines, free weights, and or cables?

A: Yes. (to all of the above, that wasn’t a question of picking between)

Functional Exercise

“Functional exercise” is defined by so many personal trainers in the way they each individually define it. I then, am no different. What matters is what you determine as functional. You should co-create this definition with your trainer, coach, or for yourself before you begin.

Exercises that help you get to the end goal and results you want are, for me, “functional” for you.

For a woman who has hunched posture, has been diagnosed with osteoporosis, and is beginning an exercise program, machine weights that offer a stable environment where she can safely exercise, learn the proper form, and begin to recruit more muscle fibers is functional.

Trainers who walk a strict line for body weight, staying away from machines, sometimes are creating a self-serving way of causing your dependency on them. There are only so many options on a machine weight, for instance. Teaching you proper technique in a session or two, means you no longer need them for this task.

We know thanks to studies performed by Wescott in 2008 (along with many other studies done using machine weights because they minimize variables in movement), using machine weights with a traditional exercise program can decrease fat an average of 4 pounds in 4 weeks, and increase lean muscle by 3 pounds in four weeks. That isn’t a change on the scale, but is definitely going to impact Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR).

When lean muscle increases, RMR goes up. When lean muscle decreases, RMR goes down.

Your goal then, then if you want to lose weight (fat), is to do what BEST increases your lean muscle mass.

Fatigue is Functional if You Want Weight Loss

Lifting weight to fatigue is necessary for increases in lean tissue to occur.

Lifting with free weights, or body weight, in order to fatigue the muscles and truly overload would be limited by joint issues, the number of exercises any one individual can perform (body weight limits major muscle group exercise selection that’s due to overload and relies often on speed: not the same resulting muscle increase). For a beginner moving to intermediate exerciser, free weight use at a level in order to reach fatigue may not be possible. Safety for joints if you’re exercising alone without a spotter, or access to heavy weight can be a problem for some.

That, again, makes machine weights, functional.

Fatigue is key in recent studies (or not so recent but recently increasing in circulation again). That was a relief for those wanting or needing due to joints to use smaller weights. One problem with “functional” only exercise sessions is the fact that there is no fatigue of the muscle. There is often breathlessness and fast movement from one exercise to the next and during each exercise. You are fatigued. But it’s not the same as temporary muscle failure.

Take a step backward with me. We all know rules are meant to be broken and science and statistics can be manipulated to change the appearance of anything. But time under tension is a component of strength training that can’t be ignored. Slowly lifting a 5 pound weight vs. quickly lifting it, the exact same number of times, would feel very different. The overload of the muscle would be far greater done slowly. Try it.

To do it authentically in your comparison you’ll need to do this two different days this week. One day use something light for you – maybe it’s not 5 pounds. Do a chest press and do 15 repetitions at your “normal” tempo.

Wait two days and then use the exact same weight. Slow down so that if you were taking 1-2 seconds to lift and 3-4 to lower (few people go this slowly even!), double your time so that you take 2-4 seconds to lift, and 6-8 seconds to lower. Attempt the exact same amount of repetitions.

Feel a difference?

Creating Your Functional Exercise

There are all kinds of “right” methods of lifting. Adding power for instance, is a part of You Still Got It, Girl videos because it increases energy expenditure, support a metabolism boost, and increases bone density results over traditional slow lifting. However, the eccentric, or lowering phase of exercise is always slow in power. You are always in control.

Back to functional-only exercise. Looking at bootcamp exercise. Solely doing rapid movements keeps you from fatiguing the muscle in such a way you recruit more fibers, and enhance the lean tissue. Is using a battle rope “good for you?” Yes, it can be. It can be fun and a way to incorporate variety. Yet, if you’re goal is weight loss, boosting that lean muscle done by lifting a weight to cause overload will have a greater impact on your resting metabolism.

Match Goals and Exercise For Truly Functional

Seek balance, not just on one leg, but in your overall program. I encourage you to write down your goals in descending order.

Goal #1:

Goal #2:

Goal #3:

Then review your exercise program to see if you’re spending the largest percent of your time on your #1 goal, a smaller percent of time on goal #2 and so on. Yes, they should all be present and they can co-exist happily. But if your goal is fat loss, be sure you aren’t spending 80% of your time increasing your agility, reaction skills, and balance. Read more in You Still Got It, Girl! the book. I address the three most common goals women present to me in 32 years: weight/fat loss, bone density, and performance (for golf, running, or swinging grandchildren!)

Is Your Goal Fat Loss?

Join me for the (always free)

Flipping 50 Monthly Webinar March 8th.

(Can’t make it? Register if you’d like the recording. Sent to all registrants).

fat burn truth

I’ve done the research on fat burning and fat storage. Not for “anybody” but specifically for women peri and post-menopause. I’ll share the most common mistakes so you can flip them and turn “off” fat storage and turn “on” fat burning.


If you want more information about Fit U (a by-application-only) fat loss program for women with a minimum of 20 pounds to lose, contact me now while the pilot program is accepting registrants at 50% off. This live coaching event is for those ready to invest in themselves and work with a coach and community of professional women who want the energy and confidence to make a difference in the world.

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