Functional training can be defined as “training the body for activities performed in daily life.”
The benefits of this training include improved strength, balance, coordination, endurance, stability, range of motion, flexibility, and body awareness. By doing exercises in the controlled gym-setting, we can enhance the performance of our work and actions outside the gym in the ‘real’ world.
Such activities, as we know, can be tiresome, injurious, and straining. Even the simplest movements, like simply cleaning the kitchen, or playing with a kid or pet, can bring about a painful injury. Functional training seeks to help prepare one to move in such a way to either prevent, or greatly mitigate, the chance of those injuries.
Ultimately, it comes down to strengthening the muscles, stabilizing the joints, and training the body to move efficiently along the functional movement patterns, which include, squatting, lunging, deadlifting, pushing, pulling, pressing, rotating, and planking. These are the movements we are doing every day, all day, to perform the tasks of daily life. More importantly, they are the basis of human movement.
You may find many an advocate of functional training implement a myriad of bands, balls, balance boards, jumping, swinging and suspension apparatus. While based on the fact that humans mostly function on stable ground, others propose function training to be about moving objects and obstacles on that stable ground. Exercises such as farmer’s walks, sled dragging and pushing, tire flipping, and agility ladder drills.
Although at times confusing, the pursuit of function training is a positive one. It attempts to bring the gym training’s reputation out of the post 70’s and 80’s steroid-tarnished haze of “muscle-for-muscle’s sake,” and back into the hands of weekend warriors, soccer moms, retirees, and athletes alike.
This means the gym, as we know it, is now a means to an end, not an end-in-itself. And what is that end? To be more apt at the very things we do every day – the demanding, and repetitive, physical requirements of the outside world. Whether that’s work, leisure, play or sport. We want to do them more effectively, efficiently and safely!
Let’s Take 2 Examples of Workouts:
- Dumbbell Lunges to bicep curl.
- TRX plank.
- Inverted row with knee tucks.
- Side plank on Bosu ball.
- Calf press machine.
- Shoulder press machine.
- Lat. pulldown machine.
- Hamstring curl machine.
Which of the two workouts is more ‘functional’? I think we would all agree that Workout #1 is more functional, correct?
Because Workout #2 is all machine based, it seems to fall under the category of a bodybuilding workout. Until you consider the individual that is doing the workout – what if he or she is very new to fitness, overweight, with various aches and pains? For this person sticking to, and having confidence in Workout #1 may not be practical or realistic.
Therefore, it’s all relative to the individual. Workout #1 is great for an already fit, relatively strong person, but, if Workout #2 provides a routine that a person can adhere to, and build confidence and overall strength – then it may be much more ‘functional’ for them. We could then, in due time, progress our theoretical client onto the more ‘functional’ Workout #1 and beyond.
Other great examples of functional exercises to try:
- Overhead Barbell squat (use broomstick from a seated position on a bench to start);
- Turkish “get-up” (Start with a partial get-up);
- Walking Overhead lunge holding a kettlebell, or dumbbell. (1-arm progressed to 2-arm);
- Seated Kettle bell shoulder press. (1 arm and progress to 2 arms);
- Kettle bell lateral lunge (progress to barbell on shoulders, then the barbell overhead);
- Plank with shoulder tap. (Progress to raising the hips higher, while placing the feet on a box);
- “Renegade” row;
- “Man-Maker” (this is a renegade row-to-burpee-to-squat- to shoulder press!).