Why Functional Training Is Helpful ?
If you’ve browsed for new group fitness classes to try lately, chances are, you’ve seen “functional training” in a workout description. Like most health and fitness terms, it may seem like a meaningless buzzword at first. But unlike marketing speak meant to confuse you and sell you the latest and greatest product, functional training actually refers to a legit type of workout. In fact, it’s something every single person should do as part of their fitness program.
Yes, really, everyone should do functional training (though you may not need to shell out for a trendy workout class to do it). Here’s why.
Functional training has a purpose and translates to an activity beyond your workout.
“The main word here is function. Function is purpose. So functional training is just training that has a purpose,” says Eric Salvador, a certified personal trainer at the Fhitting Room in New York City. More than that, functional training is focused on movement patterns that have a purpose.That purpose can be related to getting better at everyday activities—like walking, squatting to pick up something heavy, pushing a revolving door, or getting in and out of a chair—or preparing to compete in a sport, like soccer, football, or tennis. A functional workout is simply one that strengthens you in a particular way that directly translates to an activity outside the weight room. For most people, the practical application of functional training is to make daily activities easier to perform, says Dan Henderson, cofounder of the Functional Training Institute in Australia.
Increasingly, fitness studios are adding classes that can help people get stronger in their everyday movement patterns. Henderson says that functional training has become more popular because “a lot of studios and gyms are making it very accessible for the consumer to try this form of training.” Some fitness studios even have “functional” built into their names, like F45 and Fhitting Room (FHIT stands for functional high-intensity training). When you add social media to the mix, it becomes something people hear more about and decide they want to try.
A functional workout typically consists of compound exercises like squats, lunges, and deadlifts.
Compound exercises require more than one muscle group to work together, like a squat, deadlift, lunge, or push-up. Because of that, they typically mimic everyday movement patterns—like pull, push, squat, hinge, rotation—better than isolation exercises, like a biceps curl. Think about it: How often do you simply stand in place and lift something from waist level with just your biceps? Probably rarely, if ever. Now, how often do you squat to lift something off the floor? Or lunge to tie your shoe? Or push a door open?
“A majority of functional training movements are multijoint, and a functional training program should incorporate movements in multiple planes,” says Henderson. That means moving forward and backward, side to side, and incorporating rotational movements.
For the same reason, functional exercises require free weights, not machines. Machines require you to move in a very specific and rigid way, says Tara Teakle, head trainer at F45 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. That doesn’t mimic how your body actually moves IRL. “For example, think of the leg extension machine,” she says. “You’re never going to just use your quads. They’re going to work with the glutes, hamstrings, and core.” Doing a functional movement like a squat instead is much more efficient from a strength-training perspective and also allows you to train the muscles to work together seamlessly—since they never really operate alone.
That’s not to say that isolation exercises don’t ever have a purpose, says Salvador. “If a client came to me with an acute injury and I needed them to strengthen a particular muscle group, I might have them isolate that muscle group,” he explains. “But that wouldn’t be my primary area of focus.” Most people’s workouts—if you’re working out to be in shape and improve overall health—should consist mainly of compound and functional movements, with isolation exercises peppered in as needed to address a weakness or improve stability in a certain joint (like your shoulders).
Functional training improves your body’s ability to work efficiently as one unit.
By training multiple muscle groups at the same time, you are helping your body function better as a whole, says Teakle. You’re training it to be a system and not just individual parts that work independently. “Training [different parts of your body] to work together is going to keep you safe,” Teakle says.
Part of that is because both your mind and muscles will learn how to recruit multiple muscle groups to get a job done instead of relying on just one. “Recruiting multiple muscle groups is going to prevent strain injuries that happen from using one muscle group,” says Teakle.
Think about lifting a heavy suitcase. If you do it incorrectly and just bend over instead of squatting or deadlifting, you’re likely to use—and potentially strain—your lower-back muscles. You may even end up really hurting yourself by, say, rupturing a disc (an extreme but not unheard of result of improper lifting). But if you’ve been focusing on functional movements in your training, you’ll be way more comfortable lifting that suitcase properly: by using your entire body. You’ll squat and deadlift it from the floor, using your glutes and legs and keeping your back flat and chest up like you’re used to doing with a weight in the gym.
It also improves coordination, balance, and body awareness, which will help you avoid unnecessary injuries.
Moving your body in a way that recruits multiple muscle groups at once requires a certain level of coordination, focus, and core strength (which is why compound movements are so good for building core strength and stability). The more you train functionally, the better you’ll become at working your entire body as one system, says Salvador, ultimately helping you improve your coordination.
Functional training also gives you an excellent kinesthetic awareness (awareness of how your body moves) and teaches you how to move safely, says Teakle.