Functional Training

What it is and how it will benefit you!

One of the latest craze’s that has hit the fitness industry is functional training. Functional training is slowly making its way into mainstream fitness, but is still relatively new to most athletes and general gym users. A lot of current training methods were developed back in the 60’s and are still used today. Here is a brief overview that will help give you an understanding of the traditional beliefs in regards to performance training and tell you how functional training will benefit you.

History of functional training

Back in the 1960s, Universal and Nautilus built and marketed resistance-training machines for gyms and home use. These resistance machines claimed to provide a superior training stimulus due to their ability to isolate muscle groups. This movement towards muscle isolation created the current bodybuilding model of training, which most people use today. This training model has enjoyed some success in performance enhancement and has become synonymous with weight training. However, the aesthetic emphasis of bodybuilding has not optimised many performance parameters to the satisfaction of many athletes and individuals looking for better function. For example, bodybuilders might look good, but it doesn’t mean that they are fit and strong individuals. Put a bodybuilder into a boxing match and they would probably be beaten in minutes!

Lately, there has been a resurgence towards a more holistic approach to physical conditioning and the term, "Functional Training". Functional training is not a new concept. It has been around since the beginning of exercise and training. The main distinction between functional training and bodybuilding training is that functional training trains movements, not isolated muscles.

Functional training works on the concept of "specificity". Specificity dictates that you get what you train for. For example, if you train complex movements, you get better at moving. If you train one muscle, that muscle gets bigger. In simple terms, if one wants to get better and stronger at a certain activity, you would instinctively rehearse and train that activity, or at least parts of that activity. In sports, the best training for a certain sport is the sport itself! For example, marathon runners don’t train for a marathon by using a rowing machine to train on or doing loads of bench presses. Their main training is running. Although this is simplifies the concept of functional training, it sums it up in easy to understand terms.

Functional training is now the new training method in the fitness and sports industry. It has become popular because of its main premise of training movements not muscles. Functional training more closely mimics the movements one is trying to improve, whether it is carrying your kids upstairs, carrying the shopping, playing sport, running, or a golf swing. This movement training provides many benefits to the individual both from a performance and health level.

Benefits and advantages of functional training

    So how does functional training help in an every day basis as well as an athlete’s performance levels?

    • Improved balance and stability. This helps keep our neuromuscular function performing to its best and fastest ability
    • Increase in your sports performance, e.g., increased drive on a golf swing
    • Less wear and tear on the body due to a more holistic approach to training. Therefore less injuries to deal with as your body is trained to handle the stress of all movement planes.
    • Burns more calories because of greater muscle mass involvement.

    All of these benefits come with the best features of functional training - it's safe, effective and its more fun than sitting on exercise machines. Instead of sitting on these machines and doing three sets of ten repetitions on each one, functional training creates a playground-type training environment. This can involve training with medicine balls, resistance bands, balance equipment, swiss balls, weights, kettlebells, suspension trainers, bodyweight exercises and many other things. This training approach can be tailored to all fitness levels, from the senior population to the elite athletics.

    Incorporating functional training into your workout

    Simple considerations before your begin:

    • Be specific, or mimic the activity you are training for. This includes all the appropriate joints used in the movements as well as the speed and angle of the movements. Or in simple terms, “train like you play/live”!
    • Do not be restricted or supported by external means. So don’t use weight machines or positions where your body is fully supported.
    • Your training should focus and develop from the inside out. The first thing to focus on is the core of your body followed by the extremities e.g., arms etc. Also, begin with using just your bodyweight to load your system before adding extra resistance.
    • If you are training for a certain sport, you need to integrate a significant amount of controlled chaos into your training. Sport is unrehearsed and unpredictable! For example, boxers can’t do all of their training just hitting a heavy bag for 12 rounds of 3 minutes. Bags don’t move or hit back!!! You need to involve sparring with different partners to enable your body to react to the chaos!
    • When training/exercising, you need to deal with multi-joint and multi-planar movements. Sport and real life is full of these movements. Very rarely do we use a single joint or plane of motion. Your exercise/training should involve all directions and movements through up, down, left, right, twisting, bending etc

    Functional training addresses all of the training needs for today’s athletes and gym users. For those wishing to lose some weight, functional training is an excellent way to increase your cardio training and burn more calories, while developing a muscular body that performs as well as it looks. As for injury rehabilitation, functional training is the best choice for accelerated rehabilitation and can greatly reduce the likelihood of an injury occurring. And then the athlete or weekend sportsperson, functional training is the newest and fastest way to enhance performance with half the work volume (i.e. weight lifted) of more traditional methods.

    This article has
    been written by
    Terry Fairclough