The functional exercises may seem strange and difficult to understand at first, but it’s actually very easy to explain.
It simply consists of a set of movements that reproduce the gestures of everyday life and transform familiar actions into a bodybuilding exercise.
By movements of everyday life, we mean lifting, pushing, climbing, pulling, etc. in infinite contexts. No reference is therefore made to the daily life of a sedentary person in the 21st century who spends his life sitting.
In our case, we are talking more about the daily life of the hunter-gatherer of many, many years ago. They used all of his muscle groups to perform much more complex movements than lifting a load, with a single muscle in isolation.
Nowadays, it can also be active people who work their entire muscle chains on a daily basis, whether it is cleaning, moving loads, gardening, walking in real nature. Walking paths or urban parks, where to move forward you sometimes have to jump, hang on, climb, pull yourself up, etc.
Where does functional training come from?
Functional training is originated in the United States. It comes more specifically from the field of rehabilitation. In addition, Physiotherapists and occupational therapists also use this approach to allow patients with motor disorders to get back in shape.
By using exercises that mimic the same movements of everyday life, patients can more easily turn back to everyday life or work after an injury or surgery.
For many years, bodybuilding and other fitness disciplines have moved away from practicing movements that are close to everyday life, to focus on specific goals, such as developing a massive, skinny physique.
Today, modern fitness ideology emphasizes several goals, including functionality, focusing on compound movements (poly-joints) rather than isolation exercises.
For this, many types of equipment have been introduced, such as battle ropes (wavy ropes), weighted bags (sandbags), kettlebells, and suspension straps. Not to mention more traditional equipment such as medicine balls, bars, and dumbbells.
New functional fitness practices have also emerged, such as Cross Fit, TRX, obstacle courses, and other forms of training.
Functional exercises focus on movements, not muscles
There are actually two main issues from a functional standpoint with most strength training programs.
- They exercise specific muscle groups (biceps, pecs, quads, hamstrings, etc.). Rather than movements (e.g. pushing, pulling, climbing, walking, crawling, and jumping).
- They usually take place on a single plane.
The problem is, human movements generally don’t recruit one muscle group at a time, and they certainly aren’t confined to a single plane of space.
Indeed, they occur in three planes: sagittal, frontal (lateral), and transverse (rotary).
But functional training is not limited to doing compound movements like the squat and “non-sagittal” exercises like the lateral lunges or the dumbbell reverse chop.
True functional training also promotes freeloads compared to machines, emphasizes the mobilization of muscles over their entire range of motion, and incorporates a lot of work in instability.
Functional training emphasizes unilateral movements
When BOSU balls first appeared in the late 90s, they immediately became one of the staple tools in functional training.
Performing movements like squats on an unstable surface, whether on a BOSU, vibrating platter, or similar device would result in more stability and balance. And this reasoning is correct, to some extent.
But today we know that training on unstable surfaces only improves balance and stability on unstable surfaces. So, if you are a surfer, tightrope walker, or windsurfer, keep doing squats on BOSU.
On the other hand, anyone else wishing to improve their balance and stability in everyday life will have every interest in keeping at least one foot on a stable surface.
This brings us to one-sided training, the cornerstone of functional training.
If you’ve ever performed the Bulgarian split squat, single-leg straight-leg deadlift, or kettlebells snatch, you are familiar with one-sided training.
Not only can this kind of training help fix muscle imbalances, but it also adds an instability factor that establishes balance in everyday life.
What are the benefits of functional training?
If practiced on a regular basis, with the correct technique and a thoughtful approach, functional training offers many advantages:
- The harmonious gain of muscle mass.
- Increase in strength.
- Improved aerobic capacity.
- Greater flexibility.
- Better posture and mobility.
- Increase in calories burned (and therefore decrease in body fat)
Who is functional training for?
Functional training is not just for rehabilitation patients: we all need it to facilitate the activities of our daily lives!
Of course, it is rewarding to train and have a lean, muscular physique. But for many people, strength training is also a way to keep fit or improve quality of life, and that is the goal of functional training.
This comprehensive training method tests strength, balance, agility, range of motion, and use of the deep core muscles. It can be applied with both bodyweight exercises and weighted exercises. This, therefore, makes it a style of training that can be practiced at any age and at all levels, as it is easily adaptable to individual goals and needs.
What types of exercises are functional?
Functional exercises are composed of multidirectional movements, as everyday life is not synonymous with simple flexion/extension movements.
Working in multiple directions and in rotating movement patterns not only increases mobility but also strengthens the spine and builds abdominal strength.
Here are some examples of functional movements and exercises:
- The squat
- Plyometric exercises
- Kettlebell exercises
- Weightlifting exercises (snatch, clean & jerk)