You may not have heard of the term functional fitness (functional training) before reading this, but the truth is that functional fitness is all around you. Dozens of books have been written on the topic, and you can’t attend a fitness conference or go to a sport training camp without seeing the functional training revolution. It is probably one of the currently most overused terms in the fitness industry. An Internet search of functional training will produce 23,600,000 hits.
Functional fitness refers to a type of fitness where you keep your body moving in simulated routines that resemble everyday tasks.
Now, most people imagine working out as this fantastical imagery where you have a solid core and large protruding biceps that bulge every time you lift weights. This image is one that’s better to burn. Not everyone can live this fantasy and in most cases, it’s unrealistic and impractical. It’s more difficult to maintain a bulky, muscular physique than a normal one, and not many people are aiming to become a PRO bodybuilder.
An easier and more reasonable way to maintain a fit figure is by sticking to simpler goals. What most people want is to be able to perform with the most practicality on a daily basis. To ensure this, drop the weights and stick to more natural movements. This is where you’ll resort to functional fitness.
What is functional training?
Functional training (functional fitness) is a way to exercise where everything you do in the workout mimics the moves of daily activities. The point is to achieve a fitter body by improving the ability to perform everyday activities. lnstead of targeting one specific muscle group, functional fitness engages multiple muscles, just as it happens when you try to reach for an overhead shelf or bend down to lift or put something on the floor. When we talk about functional fitness, we talk about the ability to improve daily functionality through movement patterns that we humans use every day—
simple, effective workouts without a safety net and false bottom.
Imagine being able to deadlift 400+ pounds in the gym but still not being able to handle furniture shifting at home. Functional training is a form of exercise that enables most of the muscles in your body to work together to perform routine tasks. Our bodies are made to function in a way such that all muscles work together to act.
Functional training, therefore, includes basic forms of exercises like walking, pushing, and pulling, and some advanced workouts like squats, lunges, etc. It can help improve your balance, endurance, and flexibility while strengthening your muscles. The best way to tell if you need functional fitness training is when you’re having difficulty performing daily activities.
What is the main goal of functional training (functional fitness)?
The goal of functional training is to “wake up” the body and give it mobility for life. This is done through
- targeted movement of ideally all of the body’s muscles and joints,
- targeted movement and activation of the spine,
- activation of the neurological system,
- activation of the nervous system, and
- activation of the muscular system.
What does functional fitness look like?
With functional fitness, you’ll be doing squats, lunges, stretches, and pumps that are closer to home. All of these movements will resemble the actions you do in everyday life (beneficial for your daily routine). Following are some examples:
- Walking lunges
- Overhead press
- Box jump
- Lateral bounds
- Incline chest press
- Jumping jacks
- Bear crawl
- Farmer’s carry
- Kettlebell swing
- Renegade row
Take lunges as an example. Lunges are the movement of stretching out and bending your leg. Though you’ll never be found walking in this cycle, it’s imitating the movements you make in more extreme cases. Going up the stairs and running use the same actions as walking does, but with more strength and power. By doing lunges, your muscles and joints become accustomed to the strong pull and strain and therefore perform more effectively as you run.
Traditional bilateral-based lifts like the squat, bench press, and deadlift can be valuable tools to develop fundamental sagittal plane strength and stability. However, after achieving entry-level competency, you should progress, using a complete functional program, from classic powerlifting- and bodybuilding-influenced lifts to unilateral exercises that challenge stability in the frontal and transverse planes.
Other exercises like HIIT can count in functional training as well. Each exercise mentioned above focuses on actions needed to survive the daily routine and perform regular tasks. These improve muscle stability, endurability, movement, and balance.
That said, your exercises shouldn’t interrupt your schedule, but rather flow inside of it. A 15 to 25-minute routine is enough to make a difference, so long as you’re implementing this workout every day. You don’t need anything that hard, just simple repetitive movements to properly pump your muscles.
When you start out, keep all of your moves minimalistic. Nothing too extravagant that’ll pull your muscles before you’ve even used them. No weights in the beginning. They will strain your muscles far too quickly. Once you’re used to the burn from simpler workouts, you can apply small two or three pound weights. Never start out big, as it’s unhealthy, unrealistic and impractical.
What are the main components of well-rounded functional training program?
A comprehensive, well-rounded functional training program should include all of the following components:
- Mobility training to optimize tissue extensibility and joint health
- Movement preparation drills to improve movement quality and efficiency
- Unilateral, bilateral, and multidirectional power exercises to develop deceleration skills and power expression
- Full-body strength exercises that address knee-dominant, hip-dominant, pushing, pulling, and core strengthening movement patterns and challenge the strength and stability of the body in multiple movement planes
- Energy system development that addresses the specific metabolic demands of the sport
What are the main characteristics & principles of functional training?
In summary, functional training has the following characteristics:
- everyday and sport specific
- individual, yet still specific
- versatile and varied
In doing so, it follows five global principles:
- Integrate, not isolate. Training complex movement sequences, meaning not just isolating individual muscles, but rather entire muscle chains the way they are also used in everyday life.
- Multidimensional bandwidth. Training movement patterns from daily life (everyday life, job, sports) that require the use of multiple joints on different planes.
- Quality over quantity.
- Use the body’s own stabilizers, especially core stability instead of external stabilizers, such as chairs or benches.
- Address correctable compensations and dysfunctions.
What are the benefits of functional fitness (functional training)?
There are multiple benefits to functional fitness that can easily become part of your daily routine. To convince you further of the powerful impact functional fitness can have on your life, here are some benefits that functional fitness can provide you with.
Functional training is:
More adapted to organic physiology
- It emphasizes the relationship between the locomotor apparatus and the environment.
- In younger subjects and particularly in older ones, it optimizes the synthesis of vitamin D (the lack of which leads to an increased risk of fractures).
- It allows all 11 endogenous systems to activate spontaneously.
- It takes place mostly in the standing position. How often do we forget we are bipeds? And yet, statistically, we stand for only two hours a day. Presumably the bodyweight load at the lumbar level is the main cause of back aches.
Far more functional
- Because you do it standing up (an athlete always ought to train standing!).
- Because it activates long kinematic chains.
- Because it trains muscular chains according to the action-function combination.
- Because it trains all of the coordination skills.
- Because it follows our evolutionary history.
More effective for training compared to the classic indoor disciplines
- In biomechanical terms.
- In muscular terms.
- In terms of the endogenous systems involved.
In summary, benefits of functional training include:
- Improves posture
- Enhances body control
- Improves balance
- Reduces risk of injury
- Increases (inner) strength
- Improves sports performance
- Has a positive effect on spinal health
- Tones and strengthens muscles
- Improves speed, agility, and mobility
- Enhances flexibility
- Improves body awareness
- Increases quality of life
How functional training differs from other forms of exercise (bodybuilding & powerlifting)?
First you have to fully understand that human body has evolved to develop a great many interconnected systems that allow people to move dynamically throughout daily life. An athlete’s ability to run, jump, and throw can be attributed to the body’s amazing network of bones, muscles, tendons, and fasciae that allow them to flex, extend, and rotate as an integrated unit and produce force with a single coordinated outcome.
Shaping your body in the gym and training your muscles to perform your daily tasks effectively are two different purposes. Many of the traditionalist approaches to strength training are based on “dead person anatomy,” overly focused on single-joint, machine-centered exercises influenced by origin-insertion-based anatomy. Isolation (single-joint exercise) do not accurately represent real-life movement. Nothing in the body occurs in a silo. While this approach may be valuable for targeted hypertrophy (muscle growth), it should be avoided in the development of a functional training program.
Training influences from bodybuilding and powerlifting lead many athletes astray, such that they train solely for muscle size and strength with no thought of how this may translate to their sport. Functional training, instead, is based on living, moving anatomy with a focus on using multiplanar- and unilateral-based exercises with the goal of improving function and carryover to sport.
Therefore, human body functions as an interconnected unit, all pieces interdependent on one another, constantly adjusting function to carry out the desired task. In designing functional training programs, one must take into consideration not just the anatomy of the human body but also how anatomy functions in an integrated way in specific sporting environments.
- Focuses on bodybuilding techniques
- Places less emphasis of the integration of movement chains
- Places a large emphasis on bilateral and machine-based strength exercises
- Neglects developing strength unilaterally
- Promotes motor learning
- Promotes neurological adaptation and core stability
- Promotes progressive stimulation of neuromuscular and proprioceptive systems
- Everyday and sport specific, versatile and varied
How to integrate functional training into fitness training?
An easy way to integrate functional training into fitness training is to write down what your clients do every day, what their physical challenges are. Has your client noticed that her legs and back hurt at the end of her workday because she is constantly sorting binders and lifting them from the floor to her desk or placing them on shelves? Then that should be the first body region you work on. Examples of functional movements that use multiple joints and muscle chains are
- multidirectional lunges,
- standing bicep curls, and
- step-ups with weights
Multidirectional lunges prepare the body for many different everyday activities, such as vacuuming or yard work. In doing so, the lunge is not just performed in a forward direction, but in many different directions at various angles. It is recommended to start with exercises that use only your own body weight for physical loading. Weights and resistance can be integrated into the exercises as the fitness level increases.
Any good fitness subscription services like V-Shred can take you on the right track by following your diet and fitness routine and providing you with other helpful fitness tips.
Is functional fitness a good option for losing weight?
The health benefits of exercise, like functional training, are not only limited to strengthening your muscles, but you also get a chance to lose weight (shed belly fat at home) quite easily at home. When all your muscles are in motion, your bodies burn more calories, so you don’t have to worry about losing fat from your stomach but not your neck area.
Functional training is an effective way of losing weight as your body burns calories from every part. You don’t need to follow a strict diet or routine; you can follow a simple diet to lose weight but be careful not to miss out on your functional training.
- Functional training is the old concept of putting all your body muscles into action to perform routine tasks effectively.
- Functional fitness can be performed anywhere at any level of difficulties. For instance, you can even use your own body weight to perform the exercises without using any gym equipment. As long as you’re moving in a way that can benefit your body, you’re doing some kind of functional fitness. It’s better than lifting the heaviest weights and then snapping when you’re trying to load groceries into your car.
- It’s a great way of losing weight, strengthening your muscles, and making your body more athletic in terms of fitness.
- Functional training varies from other types of training for its aim, results, and workout plans.
- It includes exercises like squats, lunges, planks, etc. Any exercise that matches the actions you perform commonly in your daily life can count in functional training.
- You can use programs like V-shred for better guidance on the diet, training, and routine that you should follow.
Final Thoughts: Why functional training?
Functional training has become a hot topic and a popular training approach. In spite of a lack of specific research or clear definitions and a fair amount of controversy surrounding its methods, functional training is everywhere.
In typical cases, functional fitness can cover most people’s necessities. Whether you’re hunting for a better body or a more productive day, functional fitness reaps the benefits to aid you down that road.
Functional training simply means that the exercises you choose are specific to what you are training for. For example, a functional exercise for a woman whose primary job is taking care of a house and her kids is very different from a functional exercise for a female professional soccer player. Whereas the domestic goddess needs strong and powerful legs to squat down to pick up her kids, the soccer player needs strong, powerful, and fast legs to run around the field and kick a ball accurately. In this way, functional training is very goal oriented.
Bodybuilding often focuses on bilateral isolated movements that do not require the body to create stability authentically and that fail to accurately represent the stressors of real-life movement. The main goal of functional training is developing strength unilaterally, in an attempt to represent the way the body moves in everyday life as well as in sporting activities.