What is Functional Training

If you’re a member of a gym, then you’ll probably have noticed that in the past couple of years, the owners have invested in a giant functional training frame that sits in the middle of the workout area and includes a bunch of different areas for a variety of exercises.  You may also have noticed that it’s something that daunts a lot of the members, and as a result probably doesn’t get used that much.  That’s a shame, because it can offer you a very diverse workout that has major benefits, and helps you to get a much more rounded, real world level of fitness.

functional training frame

Typical functional training frame

Put simply, functional training is intended to focus on taking you stronger and more efficient at the movements that you make in day to day life.  You lift weights in ways that reflect real tasks, and carry out exercises that are designed to reflect actual situations (albeit in a gym).

The core concept of functional training is the idea that the thing a lot of people want to achieve in the gym is a better level of fitness for their daily life, and that their training regimes should reflect this.  While being able to bicep curl 30KG on each arm has benefits, and makes you stronger, it basically makes you better able to curl 30KG on each arm.  An analogue in functional training might be to work lift a weight from the floor up onto a shelf, which would help you in a true scenario and work all of the muscles that you would use in that particular movement.  A lot of the exercises in a functional work out tend to include multiple groups of muscles and include longer movements than you might use with traditional weight training.

A lot of functional training focuses on stabilising muscles as well as the muscles that carry out the work itself.  For example, if you’re interested in building strength in the rotator cuff muscles in your shoulder, then you would probably do some push-ups.  Functional training recognises that strengthening the rotator cuff muscles alone won’t make you better able to use that muscle – you also need to include effort to work the scapula stabilisers.  They provide the ability to control or manage the strength in the larger muscle and give you more usable strength.

A Functional Training Workout

While there are plenty of functional training plans available, they’re not necessarily right for you.  Why?  Because everyone is different and requires an individual workout plan that reflects the type of things that you do in everyday life.  Your strength requirements are unique to your daily life – your job will often define what muscles you use.  Note:  One of the key reasons for choosing to follow a functional training plan is sport.  If you want to be a better swimmer, or footballer, then you will have a good idea of the kind of movements that you use when competing, and as such will find it easier to determine the areas that you need to work.

Functional Training Key Muscle Groups

Irrespective of your strength and movement goals, the core part of functional training is … the core.  As we said above, the main difference with functional training is the focus on working the stabilising muscles.  The four main areas that are included in most functional exercise plans are:

  • Scapula Stabilisers
  • Hip Abductors
  • Hip Rotators
  • Deep Abdominals (internal obliques / transverse abdominis)

In order to work these muscles, you need to work your body in a multi-joint exercise.  Think about longer movements in which multiple steps are conducted in sequence.  For example, with a clean and press exercise, you move the following joints:

  • Wrists
  • Elbows
  • Shoulders
  • Hips
  • Knees

As you move through the exercise, you move the strain of the weight through your body, enabling multiple muscle groups to be worked at once.

This is where the functional training frame comes in.  The frame is built to enable you to simulate movements against resistance in a wide variety of different exercises including jumps, hanging weights, lifting, punching, and more.

Should You Do Functional Training

The simple answer is yes.  The benefits of functional training are clear and it complements the other training that you’re doing, giving you more control over your body and helping you get more overall strength.

You probably don’t want to just do functional training, on its own, it works better to complement your wider blend of strength, endurance, cardio and flexibility.