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What is functional training and why does it matter?

 

For the most part, people exercise because they want to lose weight, gain muscle, “tone up”, and/or relieve stress. Those are all valid reasons to commit to a fitness routine, but you can also exercise to simply improve the way you move day-to-day and keep off the inevitable rust of old age. Think of functional training as “better-at-life” forms of exercise.

Typically, I think people tend to build and conduct their workout programs around muscle groups – the classic one being chest/triceps, back/biceps, legs/shoulders, and then repeat. If this is you, I would suggest switching it up and to start thinking about training patterns of movement instead of isolating specific muscles. While it makes sense if you desire a larger chest area, arms or glutes, to isolate these specific areas, the same outcome (hypertrophy of the muscle) can be achieved through functional training yet with more benefits.

Functional training helps to develop the strength, stability, and mobility needed to thrive in different aspects of your daily life and sports while also building muscle. You use basic functional movement patterns like pushing, pulling, hinging, squatting, rotating, carrying and gait patterns (walking and running) every day. Functional training utilizes exercises that improve your movement proficiency in these primary patterns to give you an edge so you can achieve your goals safely and with good health.

The reason I would suggest this switch is because isolating muscle groups can lead to bad posture, injuries and asymmetry across your kinetic chain and depletion of movement proficiency. While isolated movements like the chest fly or the leg extension are great for filling the muscle with blood and getting “the pump” they aren’t necessarily good for much else, I suppose this is a good time to use the phrase “smarter not harder”. The best way to look at it is, a bi-product of strengthening proficient movement leads to big strong muscles, but alternatively developing big strong muscle doesn’t always lead to proficient movement.

An example of a functional movement program is as follows:

Session: Squat
Date
Sets
Reps
Back Squat
A1
4
8
Banded Hip Bridge
A2
10-15
BB Bench Press
A1
4
8
Rotator Cuff Work
A2
15-20
Dips or Push-ups
C1
4
AMRAP
Machine Row
C2
10
KB Swing
D1
3
20
D2
Session: Deadlift
Date
Sets
Reps
Trap bar Deadlift
A1
5
6
Plank
A2
45 Seconds
Staggered RDL
B1
4
6
BB Bent Over Row
B2
6-8
FacePull
C1
4
15
Machine Hamstring Curls
C2
12
Sled Push 
D1
4
1/2 a lap
D2
Session: Upper
Date
Sets
Reps
Seated Shoulder Press (work up)
A1
4
8
Wide Grip Lat Pull
A2
8
Alt Kneeling Arnold Press
B1
4
8
Overhead Machine Pulldown
B2
15-20
Farmers Carry
C1
4
15
Straight Arm Pulldown
C2
15
Overhead Tricep Rope Ext
D1
3
20-25
Spider Curls
D2

Regardless of your fitness goals, abilities, or limitations, functional training should be a part of your exercise routine. You plan to live a long, healthy life, so start preparing your body for the journey now. Think function not aesthetic, and stop training for the bodybuilding contest you’ll never enter (unless you are a bodybuilder in which case, best of luck).

Written By: Ashley Dunwell, MS, NASM-CPT