Functional Training is a term that has saturated the fitness industry over the last decade. It has been used to market and promote multiple formats of exercise and has been included in a wide variety of fitness articles in magazines, social and internet media. But do we understand what the term Functional Training actually is?
In order for something to be classified as functional, it needs to have a specific activity, purpose or task. Items that are functional are useful. So how does this translate to our exercise programs when each individual may have a unique definition of what is useful or purposeful to them? Functional training is designed to use movements that can be and are used in daily life. Most of these are compound movements, using multiple joints, such as squats and lifts along with pressing, pulling, lateral and rotational movements. There should also be elements such as offset stances and loads that challenge our balance and force us to use smaller supportive muscles as well.
How functional training is utilized varies from person to person. For some people this means sport-specific training. This is a method used by professional and amateur athletes to develop strength, speed and power to excel in their profession or favorite sport. For example CrossFit workouts and other similar styles of workouts use functional movements as part of their programs. While these programs contain elements of functional training, they may not be suitable for everyone. This style of exercise is generally for those whose goals are about high performance and physical results and contain ballistic and plyometric movements which prohibit certain individuals from participating.
Not all forms of functional training need to be high intensity or contain large volumes of sets and reps. Utilizing the basic movements of squatting, lifting, pulling, pushing, rotating and moving laterally, gives any workout a functional element regardless of the amount of resistance or the volume of reps. We can also build programs that mock those activities of everyday life using a range of resistance from body weight to 80 or 90 lbs. Think of something as simple as lifting and carrying a suitcase or a grocery bag or moving bags of mulch or top soil. One of the most common activities that we perform every day is standing up and sitting down or what is known in the fitness world as squatting. Functional training can be as simple as ensuring that we can continue with these movements as we age with full range of motion and without pain.
In the past, functional training was daily living. Humans moved more and spent less time occupied with laptops, phones and tablets. Now in this modern age, we move less, and sedentary lifestyles are all too common. Because of this, it is important not only to schedule time to exercise daily, but also to make sure that the exercises we are doing incorporate those basic movements such as squatting, lunging, lifting, pressing and pulling along with lateral and rotational movements.