Functional Training: Truly functional or just a trend?

Every year new fitness trends arrive such as Plyo, Zumba, High Intensity Interval Training (i.e. P90x or Insanity), but functional training isn’t only trendy. When you look up functional training it is typically defined as an exercise program that promotes improvements in activities of daily living. These activities including moving from sitting to standing, climbing stairs, opening the refrigerator, walking, reaching over head, and the list goes on and on. Makes sense right? But! You know what is trendy? Using various pieces of equipment to make up hard yet useless exercises (i.e. balancing on one leg on a Bosu ball while flinging around a resistance band). These exercises will not increase your strength, balance, or improve normal function if you can not perform the main movement patterns of everyday life efficiently and without injury/pain. There are 6 movement patterns that should be covered in everyone’s workout program:

  • Push: push ups (wall, railing/bar, bench, floor), chest press
  • Pull: pull ups (TRX suspended row), DB/KB/Cable row variation
  • Squat: box/chair squat, goblet squat, safety bar, barbell
  • Hinge: DB/KB from a box, conventional/sumo dead lift, good morning
  • Lunge: split squat, walking lunges
  • Carry: farmers walk, suitcase carry, waiters carry

Functional training is very important and should be the basis for most training programs. The foundation of an exercise program, especially for those that are just starting out, should incorporate exercises that support each of these movements. I recommend incorporating a variation of each of the above mentioned exercises to help with tasks of every day life. You can start with the assisted variations and progress to the full body movements and heavy loads. Try to stay away from machines, unless your are using them to support your main movements (i.e. hamstring curls to improve stability as you squat). While you can increase your strength using machines, they may not translate to improvements in every day activities. So do not depend on the leg press machine to increase lower body strength. Using body weight, dumbbells/barbells/kettle bells, TRX, or any other free standing movement will be best. Below is an example total body workout that incorporates all 6 movements:

  1. Farmers Carry – 3×20 steps
  2. Incline or Smith Machine Push Ups – 4×12
  3. Goblet Box/Bench Squat – 4×10
  4. TRX Suspended Row – 3×15
  5. Medicine Ball Good morning – 3×12
  6. Split Squat – 3×8 each side

Create your own workouts with variations of each of these exercises. Perform exercises as super sets, in a circuit, or each on its own. To improve each of these movements you will need supplemental exercises that focus on your individual “weak” spots. Turn to your local experienced and educated trainer for a fitness evaluations, movements screen, and exercise program.