Published on 1/14/2020, Updated on 8/4/2021
You may have heard the buzz about the latest fitness craze - functional training. And while it may be currently trending, I’m here to confirm it’s anything but a fad. Let’s get to the bottom of what functional training is and how you can use it to improve your fitness routine.
Functional training is all about quality training with a purpose, and regardless of your fitness goals, it should be a part of your regular fitness routine.
What is Functional Training?
While traditional strength training focuses on general strength gains, functional training focuses on bringing both intention and efficiency back to your workout routine. Functional training can be thought of through the wide lens of human movement.
Throughout the day, you might perform a variety of movements such as walking, jumping, running, sprinting, climbing, pushing, pulling, turning, lunging, starting, stopping, pivoting, carrying, and so much more!
The goal of functional training is to train with the purpose of increasing functional strength - or strength that directly enhances activities of daily living (ADLs) or movements outside of the weight room.
That can mean a wide variety of things, whether you’re an elite athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or average joe. For most people, that means making daily activities and movements easier to perform.
Why Functional Training is Important
When properly applied, functional training can improve mobility, coordination, stability, and core strength. In turn, it helps you move purposefully and confidently to achieve movement throughout your day safely and effectively.
By incorporating functional training into your routine, movements you do every day like carrying groceries, opening doors, or lifting and putting a box in your car will become easier.
In addition, because functional training relies on compound exercises, your body works harder to complete each exercise, involving multiple muscle groups to complete the full motion. The larger recruitment of muscles makes functional training a more efficient way to train and contributes to a higher calorie burn.
What Makes an Exercise ‘Functional’?
To improve your everyday movement patterns, choosing exercises that mimic regular movement is ideal.
Don’t rely on non-movement exercises that isolate muscles and joints that focus on strengthening muscles only – they don’t translate to functional strength in the same way that compound exercises do (or exercises that work more than one muscle group).
For example, a squat will have a much greater effect on one’s ability to stand up from their desk chair than a leg extension. A squat is a much more efficient way to train from a functional strength perspective while also training your muscles to work together, which is perfect since they never operate alone in real life.
This is because a squat effectively mimics the motion of sitting and standing in a chair while working the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, erector spine, lats, traps, and more. In contrast, a quad extension focuses on strengthening your quads alone.
While there is a time and place for isolated and traditional machine-based exercises - especially when it comes to improving targeted weakness or acute injury; functional training is all about multi-joint or compound exercises that involve forward to back, side to side, and rotational movements.
Just a few examples of compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, lunges, lateral lunges, pushups, overhead press, wood chops, and medicine ball throws. Because of the variety of movement in just one compound exercise, they are typically best completed with free weights (like dumbbells or kettlebells) or bodyweight.
How To Incorporate Functional Training into Your Routine
When it comes to functional fitness, performing the correct movement is much more important than the amount of weight you lift. Think about it, if the end goal is to improve everyday movement, but you practice improper form in the gym, it’s more likely to contribute to injury than improve function.
Start with a few basic exercises. If you’re just venturing into the world of free weights, it can be a lot at once. Even if you’re not new to the idea, it’s okay to start by just adding a few new exercises to your routine.
If you’re new to free weight training, I recommend starting with just your body weight and maybe a PVC pipe (in place of a bar) or light dumbbells.
As you get stronger and more coordinated, you can add a bit more volume and even some of the fun fancy stuff. Get the hang of the movement before adding on more weight; it will all be worth the extra effort when you see the results tenfold later.
Get Started with Functional Training
Ready to incorporate functional training into your routine? Start with a solid group of compound exercises. Follow along with this awesome functional kettlebell workout with Sunny Trainer Alexa designed to help you improve your activities of daily living.