Functional Exercise

If you are aged 50 plus, the bad news is that your body is in physical decline! The good news, however, is that you can do something about this with a style of exercise training known as Functional Exercise.

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Pillar Strength

Consisting of the following:

Shoulder stability

Stability around the shoulders and shoulder blades is crucial to shoulder health and good movement patterns.


Take a look at the position of your hands when you stand naturally, arms by your sides. If your thumbs are pointing in towards the body, your shoulder position may be out of correct alignment. This can place a huge amount of stress on your shoulders.


The shoulders should have a great range of three-dimensional movement. But, this freedom of movement can make them vulnerable to pain and discomfort.


Poor posture, where the shoulders drop forwards, can gradually develop without being noticed. This can be aggravated by sitting at computers for long periods of time, or simply not exercising the correct muscles in the right way.


The shoulder position can move forward and the shoulder blades can rise up, pre-disposing this area to discomfort and injury. Stability around the shoulders and shoulder blades is crucial to shoulder health and good pillar strength.


Developing postural awareness, learning to ‘keep your shoulder blades in your back pockets’, strengthening the correct upper back muscles, and stretching tight chest muscles will help.

Core stability

This is the middle part of the body’s pillar. It is made up of lower back, stomach and muscles of the torso. The core is the key link between shoulder and hip stability.


If these muscles are weak and not working in unison, it is like trying to ride a bicycle that has a spring instead of a crossbar between the handlebars and seat. It would take immense effort from arms and shoulders to control steering and similar work from the hips to keep the back wheel moving in the right direction!


Most of us aspire to having a ‘flat stomach’, but also having a functionally strong and integrated core will help reduce strain on the body, reduce or eliminate back pain and significantly aid freedom of movement.


Hip stability

Hip tightness and lack of hip stability can often be the root cause of knee, lower back and foot pain. If you do not use the correct muscles in this area, other parts of the body can overcompensate and become prone to injury.


There are 40 muscles in and around the hip capsule that allow for a good range of movement. The glutes (bottom muscles) are part of these and play an important role in hip stability and movement. However, because we spend so much time sitting, these muscles can become lazy and ‘switch off’.


No wonder so many people suffer from knee and back problems!  I teach people to strengthen and stabilize these important muscles. If we initiate all movement from the hips, we move better and help keep the load off other joints.


My style of functional training


Whether your goal is to look better, feel better or move better, I always start with establishing shoulder, core and hip stability (pillar strength) to lay the foundation from which you can progress.


For some, this may be all they need to achieve their goal. For example, I had a client who found it challenging to climb the steep stairs in his house.


He had the physical strength to do so, but felt unstable. So, we worked on his pillar strength and balance, and within eight weeks, stair climbing became easier.


For others, this is just the start. Once pillar strength has been achieved it allows for a greater range of suitable challenges to be taken and goals to be pursued.


It is well recognized that aerobic (cardio-vascular) fitness and strength are two important components of fitness. But, what about the other often neglected components of fitness and function that are crucial to staying fit and active as we age?




Muscular power: This is what gets you up out of a chair or up the stairs at pace.  The latest evidence suggests that this is one of the key fitness components to aging well. You can be strong, but when you begin to lose your muscular power (speed x strength) it impacts on all sorts of day to day movements. Power exercises are also great for just getting in shape!


Flexibility: If your muscles are tight and you don’t have a good functional range of movement in your joints, you won’t have freedom of movement and will be restricted in what you can do. This will include day to day activities, but also the types of exercise you can comfortably perform and benefit from.


Co-ordination: Functional day to day movement involves good co-ordination in all directions. This can be challenged through simple to complex movement patterns.  When people learn new movement patterns, it also helps them to build cognitive reserve and keeps exercise more interesting.  I will often include co-ordination exercises to promote aerobic (cardio-vascular) fitness.  

Balance:  We all take it for granted until it deteriorates.  From age 50, small changes in our ability to balance well can occur. Poor balance can be down to a number of things, including lack of pillar strength, and poor vestibular control (to do with motion, equilibrium and spatial orientation.)


Speed: This could be running/walking faster, or simply moving a limb at speed. Combined with strength, it is closely related to muscle power, which is essential to maintaining good function as we get older.  It could also involve having the control to slow a movement right down to improve balance or strength.


Agility: To have the freedom of movement to be able to move quickly and easily in different directions and through different planes. This is part of life.

What I’ve found that works

Challenge the neuromuscular system to use movements that require muscle groups to work together, rather than in isolation.

Challenge the body in similar ways to how it is challenged in daily life.

Challenge a number of components of fitness and function simultaneously.

Use 3 and 4 dimensional movements.


Day to day life involves moving through 3 planes of movement and combining movements together. A simple functional example would be stepping forwards (through the sagittal plane) and turning to your side to take something off a shelf (the transverse plane). If you then step sideways (through the frontal plane) to reach something from the opposite shelf, you have moved through 3 planes. Combining these planes becomes ‘4 dimensional’.

Getting out of the box with 4 dimensional training


Sagittal plane


Frontal plane


Transverse plane


Multiplaner: the "4th Dimension"



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Anchor point training