I often wonder what people are thinking when they watch some of the training sessions that I perform with clients.

I have clients rocking back and forth on all four limbs, rolling over, and crawling from one end of the gym to the other. I must admit that it probably looks pretty funny, but that is because the evolution of training has come a long way since the inception of body building and training muscles in a single group

Training has evolved in such a dramatic and fast-paced way that most gym enthusiasts are still behind the times. It used to be that anyone who was an athlete or a fitness enthusiast did body building, but that is just because people didn’t know any different.

When was the last time you though about how your body functioned as a whole unit? Or why your body can do some movement patterns, but not others without pain?

If you are honest with yourself, then the answer is probably never, but these are the exact questions we need to start asking if we are going to get on the bandwagon of how our bodies are meant to be trained.

Here is the biggest issue we face today in fitness — trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Countless trainers and individuals seeking health are finding, from one resource or another, the latest new exercise craze that will get them quicker to their goals, but they actually fail to know why they are doing it. People are doing exercises just for the sake of doing them, and not even realizing that they are trying to make their bodies work for the exercise, rather than the exercise working for them.

One of the best examples is squatting. Most fitness experts would agree that a squat is one of the most fundamental and functional exercises known to us, but that doesn’t mean that all individuals should head straight into the squat rack and start loading the weight on.

In fact, according to Dr. Stuart McGill, director of the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory and Professor at the University of Waterloo, most people do not have the genetic capacity to squat correctly. Based on the anatomy of how our femoral condyle (ball and socket in the hip) align with the shape of our acetabulum (pelvic bowl), one person might be able to do a beautiful squat, while the other person isn’t going to look so good. It might be uncomfortable, painful, or just simply not look right, yet people continue to push that square peg into that round hole.

This is where functional training comes into being. Exercises adapted for the individual and not the individual forced into the exercise. That is why this type of training is so wonderful and so different.

It makes complete sense to me for someone to look at functional training and not understand while they watch a person stand on one leg balancing a bar full of rolling metal balls, as I ask the client go into a lunge without moving the balls, or ask another client to crawl across the gym floor with a ball on their back. Difficult? Yes! Weird? No, just different

While both people have a lack of transverse abdominal strength, one needs to learn how to stabilize their pelvis and the other needs to learn how to mobilize it. If I read a magazine article on how to gain abdominal strength, then most likely, I’m going to be told to do crunches and planks. Neither of these will address the other issues going on in someone’s body.

That is why functional training is so great. Multiple dysfunctions in the body can be addressed at the same time.

It should also be noted that functional training not only addresses individual strength discrepancies, but also it can be used to report neurological dysfunction.

Most adults develop functional limitations that are the result of orthopedic and sport injuries that can mean dysfunctional movement postures in everyday life. Functional training restores proper muscle firing sequencing, which means muscles are working at the rate and pattern for which they were designed.

Therefore, a lunge becomes more productive in certain instances than a leg extension machine, and a pull-up is more effective than a lat pull-down simply because it replicates a proper neurological sequencing pattern that our bodies should have.

Depending on your goals, a great choice in exercise selection can be from the functional side. It allows the variability needed to achieve your fitness goals, but also you no longer need to force your body into an exercise that it just wasn’t made for.

Theresa Peasley is the wellness center director at the Walla Walla YMCA. She has a master’s in exercise science and several certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine including certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and performance enhancement specialist.