What is Functional Training?
As with most anything, there is a broad interpretation of the term "functional training". At it's simplest it can be described as any kind of fitness training that trains for a function you perform in everyday life. This is compared to plated weight machines that have a fixed range of motion. When was the last time you needed to sit on a machine and push weight upwards in a very specific plane of motion?
The idea with functional training and functional movement is it's all about how to improve the functions you perform in your everyday life. This can range from bending over to pick up a bag of groceries to becoming a more powerful and explosive athlete on the football field. Functional training and movement involves exercises that is not restricted by the direction a weight machine will take you and therefore the term "functional" to your daily life and activities.
While weight machines have you work one specific muscle group at a time, functional training exercises frequently incorporate the use of many in concordance with one another which simulates what happens in sports as well as everyday life activities.
If your goal is always lifting more on the bench press machine each week, or seeing how much weight you can stack on the leg press there is nothing wrong with that. In fact many individuals who use functional training as part of their training also do traditional weight machine and weight room training. As one of my TRX Instructors, Brandon Wagner put it so eloquently when referring to TRX he said "you can be gym strong but not TRX strong; if you are TRX strong then you are also gym strong" - you can follow Brandon on Twitter here
. What Brandon meant was that some of the more challenging exercises on the TRX Suspension Trainer need an incredible amount of core strength whereas many traditional lifting exercises require strength but it is more specific to the muscles being targeted such as the pectorals for a chest press etc.
How do I know?
I had ankle surgery in May to repair my post tibial tendon that was damaged from a water ski crash 7 years ago. Following my surgery I was anxious to get back to exercise but was unable to use my TRX to do much since I had a boot. Here is an excerpt of a post dated May 28th, a week after my surgery from my old blog: Leave the Gym Behind
Back into the regular uh - GYM? Despite the title of this blog- I decided to try going down to the community center I belong to and try some of those weight plated machines I dread so much.
Once in the gym I had decided in advance that I wanted to focus on some basic pulling and pushing exercises and also decided to work my arms for the heck of it. I decided on the following equipment:
- Tricep Press
- Seated Fly
- Pull Downs
- Chest Press
So through each of these exercises I did my best to follow the proper form and engage from the right muscles (for example making sure to engage my scapulas down for the pull downs) and did everything I could to engage my core. Well I knew the TRX provided a lot of core stability but I have a new appreciation for it since I haven't used plated equipment in over a year. Here are the conclusions I came to after today's workout.
- The range of motion was severely limited on the machines.
- No stabilizer muscles were at all challenged.
- No core engagement to speak of.
Here is the bottom line: Working the muscles in isolation was only strengthening them for the machine work not for anything else. I got no stability benefit at all from my core or other muscles.
What are some types?
Since the definition of Functional training is so broad, there is a wide interpretation of what constitutes functional training. Here are some examples of functional training, as you can tell I have a bias towards the TRX Suspension Trainer and Rip Trainer as my preferred modalities but there are other effective functional movements and exercises.
Here are a just a few:
- TRX Suspension Training & Rip Training (naturally)
- Free Weights
- Bosu Balance Training