Functional Training is training that has a purpose. It is context specific and will differ for professional athletes and special need populations. However, to the masses ‘Functional Training’ consists of exercises that help people function optimally. These include mobilisations, releases and activations to ‘undo’ our modern postures and exercises based on primal patterns including squatting, lunging, pulling, pushing, carrying and twisting to help people get lean, strong and balanced. A majority of Functional Training exercises are done standing, include multiple joints, big muscle groups and include movements that cover all 3 planes of motion.
Here are some good reasons to get into functional training:
- Strength and Coordination: With compound movements, exercises involve integration of multiple muscle groups. In technical terms this is intramuscular coordination which means that multiple muscle groups are firing in a coordinated manner at the one time to produce a greater force.
- Posture and Mobility: To be functional, then functional training must require moving the body in all planes of motion that it was designed for. This includes bending, squatting, pushing, pulling, running, twisting and so on. So when exercising (with good form) in these movement patterns, it will result in strengthening the muscles that hold us in a great posture. Furthermore it will improve stability and range of motion at the joints. Not having good posture and mobility could lead to things like tension, headaches, osteoarthritis, musculoskeletal injury, sleep loss, weight gain, and the list could go on.
There are endless articles on the topic of Functional Training and I have read some that suggest that we are in a trend or craze. I would completely disagree and say that functional training is not something new, it has been around forever and will go on forever more.
In an industry that is going gangbusters; what we are seeing however is an ever increasing number of tools at our disposal that are designed for functional training. It’s these tools that I believe are often a current trend or craze. I’m not here to bag out any tools that fit in this category, instead point out the ones in my mind will never ever phase out.
- Kettlebells: Dating back to Russia some 300 years ago and after being introduced into the western world circa to the year 2000, and are now growing exponentially, for good reason too. Kettlebells are a powerful training tool with incredible versatility. Ballistic multi-joint movements require full body integration and core stabilization. A simple tool that has been absolutely proven to increase strength, stamina and coordination by challenging our muscular, cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems.
- Barbells: Used for Olympic lifting for a start, so that says something. Barbells are a staple in most gyms and a great tool that enables us to achieve and build on strength and power.
- Medicine Balls: A ball of weight that can be used for so many purposes including lifting, throwing and slamming.
- Sandbags: Another simple tool that has incredible versatility and the ability to take on the role of all of the above tools. It can be used to swing, perform Olympic style lifts, throws, carries and so on.
- Battling Ropes: Battling Ropes are amazing for developing power, anaerobic endurance, strength endurance as well as grip and core strength. They require coordinated movements between the upper and lower body and are challenging for all fitness levels.
There are of course other tools I could add to this list, but these are my favourites. The common denominator for mind is that these are training tools that have been around for the longest. The fact that the fitness industry and our scientific knowledge of exercise has evolved so much and yet the popularity and growth of these tools are ever rising, show that functional training and these tools are here to stay.
Rob is presenter for the Australian Institute of Kettlebells since March 2013. He is also the founder and director of his company, Dingo Sandbags. He is genuinely passionate and totally immersed in the health and fitness industry with particular focus on functional training methods. Rob is an advocate for functional training through his varied positions ranging from Teacher at the Australian College of Sport and Fitness and Personal Trainer. He devotes a lot of time toward his own professional development and is dedicated to imparting his knowledge and empowering people.