Functional training is exercise that focuses on improving the body’s ability to perform everyday activities efficiently and safely. The primary goal of functional training is to enhance functional fitness, which encompasses various aspects of physical well-being, such as strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and endurance. Functional training typically involves compound movements that engage multi-joint, multi-muscle movements, which can provide numerous benefits for your everyday life, including reducing the risk of injury and making daily tasks easier and more efficient.
While it’s true that most exercises can provide some functional benefits, not all exercises are designed to improve daily life functionality. Functional training exercises aim to target the body as a whole rather than isolating body parts; think of training movements rather than muscles. Instead of machines, functional training often incorporates body weight, resistance bands, free weights and medicine balls.
Some key characteristics of functional training include:
- Compound movements: Functional exercises often involve multiple joints and muscle groups, simulating real-life movements. Exercises like squats and deadlifts involve hips, core and legs, which are all muscles and joints you need to sit down and, get up, lift boxes. The more muscles and joints involved in training, the better.
- Balance and stability: Functional training emphasizes improving balance and stability by incorporating exercises that challenge these aspects. You can improve your ability to control your body and maintain your balance which is particularly important as you age, as falls are a common cause of injury in older adults. Single-leg exercises like a single-leg deadlift or skater squat are great for challenging balance and stability.
- Multi-planar movements: Many functional exercises require training in multiple planes (sagittal, frontal, and transverse), as opposed to traditional ones focusing on single-plane movements, such as lateral lunges. Life doesn’t happen just moving forward, so training in all directions is essential.
- Core strength: A strong core is essential for overall functional fitness and everyday tasks. Functional training often involves exercises that engage and strengthen the core muscles, such as plank rows, dead bug variations, and medicine ball throws.
- Adaptability: Functional training can be adapted to various fitness levels and specific needs, making it suitable for a wide range of individuals, from beginners to advanced athletes. The exercises can be modified in intensity, complexity, and equipment used.
So how do you add functional training to your exercise regime?
Consider an exercise like bicep curls, which is a body part isolation exercise. Bicep curls isolate the bicep muscle and primarily focus on building muscle size and strength only in that area. Although bicep curls can contribute to overall arm strength, they are less functional than exercises like rows or pull-ups, which involve multiple muscle groups and joints. If you want to do a bicep curl, do it in a half-kneeling or tall-kneeling position to utilize more core stability and hip stability or add more movement by adding a reverse lunge or squat. These additions make the bicep curl more functional.
Incorporating functional training into your exercise routine can provide numerous benefits, including improved muscle balance, increased joint stability, better movement efficiency, and enhanced physical performance. It can also help you become more agile and better prepared for the physical demands of daily life or recreational activities.
Shara Vigeant, BA, NSCA-CPT, CFSC