Functional training has become The Messiah of the fitness world, with claims that you can lose weight, get strong and ripped, and become a better athlete. Trainers, coaches and laypeople alike throw this term around like dirty underwear in a hamper... But what does it actually mean?
The new salvation known as functional training has its origins in the rehabilitation and sports medicine fields. By definition, functional training is training with a purpose. Thus, the goal of therapists is to return athletes to their respective sport and/or return patients to everyday living more easily and without injury. They could achieve this by integrating multi-planar multi-joint movements such as lifting, bending, pushing, pulling, twisting, squatting, lunging and anything else that is applicable to their work/sporting environment.
However, the controversy begins when labeling some exercises as "functional" and others as not. Although any exercise, including isolated linear movements as well as multi-joint resistance exercises, can be classified as functional, the key is knowing why. Thus training with a purpose.
For example, an isolated machine-based exercise, such as a seated cable row, can be considered functional for many reasons. First, somebody new to training and fitness may be too uncoordinated for any compound movements. Second, because of their injury, they will be significantly weaker in one part of their body and thus have to strengthen these weak muscles to put them back in balance with the rest of their body. And third, it is functional if they are unloading groceries out of the trunk of their car and they have to reach and pull a box deep from within the trunk to get the groceries out.
Another example is a multi-joint resistance exercise, such as a squat and overhead press. This might be functional because it mimics the individual's work environment. For instance, if one must pick up a box from the floor and put it on a shelf above their head, then it becomes directly functional, because the exercise is the same movement this person performs everyday on their job.
Now that we know what functional training is, what about these claims of losing weight, getting stronger, leaner and being a better athlete? By doing these high-intensity compound multi-planar exercises, you increase your heart rate and burn more calories, thus losing weight and getting leaner in a shorter period of time than any other isolated exercise. Functional training also builds muscle which helps to increase your metabolism to burn more fat. And the bonus, is that you become more fit.
Secondly, if you want to become stronger, then look no further. Multi-joint functional exercises such as the squat and the dead-lift are the kings of exercises for making you stronger. Just look at olympic lifters and strong-man competitors; they are the strongest people on the planet. You can’t argue that. And if you think these functional exercises don’t accelerate your heart rate and burn more calories, think again.
Finally, if you want to be a better athlete, functional training is the most ideal training modality. It simulates the same movement patterns and actions as your desired sport. And like any sport, it is unpredictable and the only way to get better is to play that particular sport. Off the field, however, you must recreate that same environment as best as possible and by repeating the same action or movement pattern over and over again.
For example, if Tiger Woods wants to be a better golfer, he must practice every facet of his game from his driver to his putter. For instance, he must spend countless hours at the driving range repeating the same shot with the same club over and over again. Then do the same thing with every other club and in different situations, such as long grass, short grass and sand until it's second nature and he has the confidence to do so in a game situation.
The only drawback to functional or compound movements is that you cannot load an exercise too much too soon. If you do, the risk of injury increases and thus the exercise becomes unsafe, especially with novice lifters.
Functional training can fulfill all of your fitness and training goals, be it losing weight, gaining weight, getting ripped, getting bigger, stronger, faster and becoming a better healthier athlete. It just depends on the needs, abilities and goals of the individual, because it conditions specifically for sport and /or everyday life.
The Saviour is here. Reap the benefits. This can be a new beginning for you as it transforms your body, your game and your life.