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What the func is Functional Training?

If you were to walk into a lot of commercial gyms these days I would imagine you would find a functional fitness area with, no doubt, a fantastic selection of kit.  If you can’t find it it will likely be nestled in a corner away from the high tech aerobic and resistance machines.  Alternatively you might find something like this...

Yep, that is a 'functional training' rig... WTF!!

I would imagine that, unless there is an instructor there to help use it, a lot of people would be unaware of what training to do and why, much less there being a functional purpose.  Don't get me wrong, I am sure you can do plenty of stuff on that, but for all but the uninitiated it is overkill!

The advent of functional training has become a marketer's dream!  It's not that it hasn't been around for a while, it's just becoming the latest buzz word.  Take a word and bend it as far as possible to fit any product/situation.

Here is the dictionary definition of functional from Merriam-Webster

1 a :  of, connected with, or being a function

b :  affecting physiological or psychological functions but not organic structure

2 :  used to contribute to the development or maintenance of a larger whole

; also :  designed or developed chiefly from the point of view of use

3 :  performing or able to perform a regular function

Each individual is unique and our individual days demand different things from us and, therefore, our body needs to function for our own environments.  Recalling my doctor analogy from my posture and movement analysis post the provision of 'functional' training equipment is akin to having the keys to the pharmacy and saying "everything you need is there, help yourself!"

Inability, discomfort or impeded performance of a regular function are the symptoms, movement assessment is the diagnosis, functional training is the treatment in order to be more 'able to perform a regular function'.  I don't know about you but I rarely find myself swinging across a rope or on the monkey bars at the park; well not anymore!

The treatment, aka training plan, should focus on movement patterns by mobilising, stabilising and then building strength.  My friends at Sideways8 aptly sum it up as follows:

'All movement is built upon a base of mobility and stability.  Therefore, prior to developing a specific movement, we often need to address our clients mobility and stability...."

"...Simply put, this means that the parts that should be stable are stable and the parts that move should move correctly which leads to postural stability. Once that stability has been established, you can commence the process of (re)learning how to move the body.'

The point of this is that functional training needs to focus on whole movement patterns whilst building stability and mobility in all the component parts.

Functional training done properly should use various tools e.g., bodyweight movements, bands, kettlebells, to help increase mobility, stability and strength.  Functional training done properly should be specific to your individual needs and improving areas that are less strong or impeded when undertaking regular tasks.

I have a history of back pain so my own training includes back rotations, to mobilise my spine, followed by anti-rotational kneeling chopping exercises to increase the stability in my trunk and lower body by engaging my bum and core.  I don't have a cable machine, as depicted on FMS, so I use a band secured to a pole and a broom stick; it is remarkably effective and necessity is the mother of invention!  The use of Kettlebells also helps my hip mobility, trunk stability and strength and properly engaging my bum and core to further build a strong foundation.

Functionally this enables me to get through my days more easily, ride my bike for longer without discomfort as well as generally improving my posture.

Given the increasingly sedentary lives the population leads through prolonged sitting at work, commutes in cars or trains, functional training should focus on moving better, more frequently and with confidence in the ability to perform regular functions.  Above all else functional training should provide a strong platform for managing everyday tasks with relative ease.


Functional Resistance Training