What is functional training?
Properly designed workouts include functional training!
Functional training has its origins in rehabilitation. Physical and Occupational therapists often use this approach to retrain patients with movement disorders or to help patients recover from injury.
- Capable of operating or functioning
- Capable of serving the purpose for which it was intended
Specificity to your world
Everyone in this world is unique (insert ubiquitous “snowflake” comment here). With everyone being different, the term Functional Training has multiple meanings. I often hear people or trainers throw the term around when speaking of certain exercises, as if this is “functional” and that one’s not!
The more appropriate question is Functional to what? (reference number 2 above) When you’re designing your own fitness routine, you should assess your goals and then create an exercise list of movements that will help you accomplish that goal. Here’s a list of basic questions you need to ask yourself:
- Are you an athlete looking to improve performance for a certain sport or activity (soccer, hiking, snow skiing)?
- What is your primary occupation or functional task that you do daily (logger, grocery clerk, sit in a cubical, transport your kids around in your car)?
- What can you do in the gym that will improve your performance in your daily life?
- What movements should you choose?
Ask a trainer or fitness professional for some quick tips to assist you in this task. Its well worth the time and cost as you’ll get more purposeful and avoid injury.
Does functional training matter if I just want to be fit and healthy?
Absolutely! If you’ve ever watched me work with clients, their workouts are a mixture of programming.
I believe every session should be filled these elements: cardio intervals, strength movements, core strengthening, balance work, movements to increase mobility and flexibility, and functional movements.
What functional movements do I choose? That’s a very good question; I get to know my clients and ask them very specific questions about them. I gave you a sample of some basic ones above. If someone has a previous injury, then I focus on physical therapy type exercises to improve their skeletal muscular ability to regain full function of the injured area (example: rotator cuff, lumbar spine, etc). If my client has a very challenging job, like working in an assisted care facility, then I work on exercises that would be helpful in lifting disabled people.
Understanding what you do daily makes all the difference in either assessing what’s injuring you or how to help you improve. If you sit all day at work then I’d focus on stretching, mobility movements, core stability work, and specific lower body strength exercises like dead-lifts and squats.
Functional training, when performed correctly, will provide better joint mobility and stability, as well as more efficient motor patterns. It will prevent injuries and train our bodies to move in all 3 different planes of motion.
Studies have shown that people improve balance, strength, and decrease joint pain when part of a comprehensive functional training program.
Components of an impactful functional exercise program
When designing your functional program, it should include/be:
- Tasks directed toward your everyday life activities or sport
- Individualized- a training program should be tailored to you and meaningful to your tasks not others
- Integrated- Include a variety of exercises that work on flexibility, core, balance, strength/power, and focused on multiple planes
- Progressive- training should steadily increase with resistance or difficulty of task
- Attempt to emulate the objects in your normal daily tasks with items in the gym (balls, pulleys, weighted items)
I strongly recommend that you seek an assessment of a trainer or professional to help guide your exercise selection and resistance load for the best results. I hope that this overview has been helpful to you.
Let’s all get ready for the spring and summer months by prepping for your activities now! Please reach out to me if you have any further questions or comments.
Stay Healthy and Active,
Scott A. Jansen | Fitness Expert