Why You Should Embrace “Functional Training”

A Kettlebell
Great for squats, swings, presses and Turkish Get Ups!

I’m a believer in the benefits of functional training. It was first developed as a rehabilitation tool by physiotherapists, but has since become more widespread and is a common feature in gyms. Rather than a body-building focus on isolation exercises and machines, Functional Training promotes whole-body movement. My own gym has a wide range of kettlebells, unstable balancing platforms, 2 “TRXs” and slamballs. My friend and P.T. Eddie uses these items as tools to make training in the gym more fun, more practical and more transferable to real life.

Here’s just a few reasons why Functional Training can be a useful tool:

Functional training focuses on the movements required in normal life and hence is goal-orientated to suit the individual. Here are some examples – Training a young mother? Help her pick up children by teaching a correct hip hinge and squat through the kettlebell goblet squat and deadlift. Rehabilitating an injured athlete? Build stability from the ground up and reinforce motor patterns through utilising the TRX and correct coaching. How about preventing an elderly patient from falling? Developing balance and reduce sarcopenia with exercises from balancing on one leg with isometric contraction, to using more advanced balance boards.

By using peculiarly shaped objects and equipment that resembles real-life challenges, functional training loses any stigma of barbell weight training. I understand the weight room can be an intimidating place for many gym newcomers – clashing metal, grunting adult men, its own feral etiquette. In fact, functional training is where Eddie starts new clients – “I find functional training a must for new comers as it helps to re-establish motor skills lost through modern day living, the movement and stability built through function training, in my opinion, builds a strong foundation to progress to more advanced training systems”.

It doesn’t have to focus solely on rehabilitation. Rather, it can be used to aid fit athletes’ development, and promote ‘prehabilitation’. I personally use functional training to supplement and refresh my weight training by regularly providing new stimuli. In my own experience, the enhanced core stability and proprioception developed when performing functional training is easily transferred to my compound lifts such as the squat and more complicated movements such as the clean and snatch.

I believe using functional training to ‘grease the groove’ of motor patterns may have benefits that can be seen in skill based field sports, such as rugby and football. Furthermore, training with odd-shaped objects like kettlebells or unstable pulley-systems like the TRX can increase joint stability through increased strength and proprioception.

Functional training is the newer, more informal cousin of traditional weight training. It can be trendy, and more appealing than the chalk dust filled air of the weight room. Perhaps it can appeal to and encourage people from different walks of life to exercise in a safe setting. By promoting movement and stability over a multi-plane range of movement in a goal-orientated manner, I’d recommend functional training to all people, regardless of age and gender. I’ve even seen videos of my Granddad performing functional exercises on a cable machine! Perhaps we should instate functional training gyms into workplaces and carehomes for the elderly?

I think functional training is great and hope to follow up on this post with sample programmes and movements. However, I’ve probably forgotten some important points. What functional training exercises do you rotate into your training routine? Contact me, or let me know in the comments.

With thanks to Lóránt Dankaházi for the kettlebell image from his flickr page.

You can find Eddie’s instagram here

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