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. 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.
So, let’s get to the bottom of what functional training is, and how you can use it to improve your 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 strength training 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 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 to make daily activities and movements easier to perform.
To improve your everyday movement patterns, choosing exercises that mimic regular movement are ideal. Exercises that isolate muscles and joints focus on strengthening muscles, not movements, and don’t translate to functional strength in the same way that compound exercises (or exercises that work more than one muscle group) do.
For example, a squat will have a much greater effect on one’s ability to stand up from their desk chair than a quad extension. This is because a squat effectively mimics the motion of sitting and standing in a chair, while working the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, erector spinae, lats, traps, and more. While a quad extension focuses on strengthening your quads alone. 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.
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 exercises that involve forward to back, side to side, and rotational movements.
Because of the variety of movement in just one compound exercise, they are typically best completed with free weights or bodyweight. Just a few examples include squats, deadlifts, lunges, lateral lunges, pushups, overhead press, wood chops, and medicine ball throws.
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.
How to Incorporate Functional Training into Your Routine
When it comes to functional fitness, performing the movement correctly 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 and functional fitness, 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. As you get stronger, and more coordinated you can add a bit more volume, and even some of the fun fancy stuff.
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. 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.
Functional Exercises to Include in Your Next Workout
Ready to incorporate functional training into your routine? Start with a solid group of compound exercises. If you don’t know where to start, I’ve compiled a few of my favorites below.