“Functional Training” is a buzzword thrown around a lot over the Internet…and often it’s used incorrectly. So, what exactly is functional training?
Functional training means exercising in a manner that directly translates to everyday activities. Its primary goal is to help individuals move through life more easily and lower the risk of injury when doing so. Hence, “functional.” What is deemed functional for someone depends on the individual’s lifestyle, such as their occupation. For the majority of the population, this means learning how to walk, pick up heavy objects, get in and out of chair, etc. with ease.
Functional training is particularly important when it comes to injury prevention. People don’t tend to injure themselves in the gym, where they’re being mindful of their movement patterns. They injure themselves outside of the gym doing activities such as moving a couch. They’re less focused on proper form and mind-muscle connection and instead driven by the end goal of getting the couch in its new spot. Functional training is meant to increase kinesthetic awareness during these activities so moving the couch with proper form becomes a natural activity.
Typical functional training movements includes squats, deadlifts, or push-ups, or primarily compound exercises that involve free weights not machines. It’s teaching the body how to recruit multiple muscle groups to work as one instead of overreliance on a single set. This again will translate directly into everyday life as the muscles learn to work together. Exercises such as triceps extensions or bicep curls (isolation exercises) don’t usually qualify. How often do you lean forward and extend your arm back behind you? Probably not often, if ever. But how often do you bend your knees to pick something up off the floor? Or push open a door? Isolation exercises serve their purpose, but they don’t fall under the “functional training” category.
Another exercise commonly miscategorized as “functional” are box jumps. Now, if you’re an athlete whose occupation involves power training, box jumps could be considered functional. For the average individual who works at a desk 9-5, there is unlikely to be many situations where they have to scale a 36” wall.
That’s not to say to never include triceps extensions or box jumps in your routine; if you enjoy these exercises, go for it! Just make sure you include plenty of the functional training movement patterns as well (push, pull, hinge, squat, rotation) and watch the difference it makes in your daily routine.