When you exercise your leg muscles, are you thinking about functional training? Functional leg training means incorporating lower body exercises that help improve the quality of daily living. Strong, stable legs assist in activities like picking up children or heavy boxes, maintaining balance while standing on a bus and participating in weekend ball games. Knowing a little bit about functional training for the legs will help you design a program that best suits your needs and goals.
First, a vocabulary lesson. The terms open chain exercise and closed chain exercise describe different modes of resistance training. Your fitness regimen probably includes both methods. Distinguishing between the two is especially important when planning lower body exercises. An open chain exercise involves an isolated movement. Using a seated leg extension weight machine is an example of performing an open chain exercise. In this scenario, the quadriceps muscles are isolated. Closed chain exercises involve an integrated response by the body to execute a particular movement. Lunges and squats, which require the coordination of various muscles and joints, are closed chain exercises.
Both exercise modes build strength and muscular endurance. But since closed chain exercises parallel normal movement and force you to work on leg stability, they are more useful for functional training. Closed chain exercises also help enhance sports performance. Take skiing for example. What if you trained for ski season using only weight machines, or open chain exercises? Your leg muscles would be strong, but how prepared would they be to handle the kind of movements necessary for the slopes? And what about your balance?
A weight machine often supports your body position while you perform an open chain exercise. But when you do exercises like squatting and lunging, especially with a stability ball, wobble board or SitFit pad, you also work on improving balance. Since good balance is essential for ensuring quality living, peak sports performance and injury prevention, make sure you spend time combining your leg training with adequate balance work.
Amanda Vogel, MA