“Training has to be functional. What’s the point of putting yourself through the rigours otherwise?” Anyone who’s ever stepped into a gym (or has a friend who lives in one) will know this. And the growing knowledge of how our body works means that modern fitness has evolved from its spandex-clad explosion of the 80s into something more holistic. These days, “functional fitness” is the standard when it comes to physical training. But what exactly makes fitness functional?
Functional is subjective
First of all, not everyone needs to or even should train the same way. The training objectives of a competitive athlete would be quite different from that of a 70-year-old retiree. What is functional depends on the “payoff” the individual hopes to receive from the training. In other words, you wouldn’t adopt a training regimen that is geared towards helping seniors attain pain-free movement when what you want is to win a medal for weightlifting.
Functional is specific (to a degree)
“At its core, functional fitness is a form of training that prepares our bodies for everyday life. So think lifting and pulling movements that support endurance, strength, balance and flexibility,” says Natalie Dau, certified personal trainer and creator of fitness app Rockstar Fitness. “It depends on your fitness level and experience with movement. Exercises can involve weights and be quite complex, such as a Turkish get-up, or be as simple as an air squat. These can be incorporated into your fitness routine depending on your goal.”
Almost anything can be “functional”
One focus of functional training is incorporating multi-joint, compound movements into one’s regimen. Deadlifts, squats, pull-ups and presses involve multiple muscle groups and have a better carryover to everyday activities.
While these “big” lifts certainly deserve recognition, should movements that fall outside this sub-category be ignored? If getting better at compound movements creates better results, then shouldn’t the use of auxiliary exercises for improving them be considered “functional” by extension?
The purpose of the functional training movement is to toss out the fluff in poorly-conceived training plans. As Bruce Lee once said, “Absorb what is useful. Reject what is useless. Add what is essentially your own.” Yes – functional training should be effective at achieving goals but it should also be a custom fit. Adopting a cookie-cutter approach would be akin to wearing a suit made for someone else – it might sit on your body but it wouldn’t necessarily complement it.