If you have any kind of interest in fitness and exercise, the chances are that you’ve heard the phrase ‘functional training’ somewhere along the line. It’s become a bit of a buzzword in the industry, but what actually is it and should you be doing it?
In short, functional training helps you build strength, power, and mobility that translates beyond the gym. It involves specific exercises that most closely replicate and enhance the execution of activities of daily living (ADLs) and movements associated with sports.
Most traditional strength training routines aim to isolate individual muscle groups to increase overload instead of adopting whole movement patterns (pushing, pulling, stepping, crawling, jumping, squatting etc.) and typically in a single plane of motion. However, with functional training, compound exercises which recruit multiple muscle groups at a time and in multiple planes of motion (sagittal, frontal and transverse) are utilised, whilst heavily favouring free weights over machines and incorporating great amounts of unilateral work. These exercises allow the body to execute a greater ROM and hugely increase core stabilisation, allowing greater control of the body.
Functionality is not only determined by the exercise itself; the characteristics of the athlete, reps, sets, execution, phase of training, overall training program, and several other variables are all factors. As such, functional training is extremely subjective. For instance, an athlete may train to become more functional in his/her sport, however some people may train simply to be more functional in performing daily activities such as mowing the lawn.
1. Injury prevention
Functional training originated as a method of physical therapy for the rehabilitation of injuries in athletes and soldiers, and as a result has gained a reputation for being key to injury prevention. It helps to improve posture and balance by strengthening the body (especially the core) so it is more able to perform everyday tasks. By properly preparing the body using functional exercises, injuries are much less likely to occur.
2. Fat loss
Due to the nature of this type of training using multi-joint compound movements, the calorie burn of a functional workout is significantly higher than that of an isolating exercise. This makes it a great basis for a program aiming to increase fat loss.
3. Stabilising/correcting imbalances
No one is completely balanced throughout their body as we always tend to favour one side. Functional training focuses on unilateral exercises such as a Bulgarian Split Squats or Single Arm Bent Rows, recruiting the core stabilising muscles and helping to correct muscular imbalances.
4. Flexibility and coordination
ROM in functional training is typically quite large, which increases flexibility and coordination. This again helps with injury prevention and is also transferrable to many sports.
5. It’s fun!
If you don’t enjoy your training, you won’t stick to it, period. Functional training will challenge you and bring some variety to your gym sessions, and in turn, will increase adherence to a program.
Next time you hit the gym, consider adding some functional based movements to your session and reap the benefits!