What is Functional Training?

EXERCISE CONSCIOUSLY is not a tag line.
It is a life plan.

Trainer commanding middle aged female client to push weight bench across gym floor as part of her “functional training”.

Functional training is an overused word. It is applied to virtually every unorthodox approach. The picture to your right is real. It was taken in a gym by a friend and forwarded to me. A female middle-aged client was being instructed by her trainer to push a weight bench around the gym like a combine as part of her functional training workout.

Study the photo objectively. What do you think is the function, the intent, of this activity?

  • Is she training for winter bobsledding?
  • Is she needing to push a 200lb baby in a carriage?
  • Is she is a football defensive end in-training?

Why the use of the weight bench? It is unnecessary. He could have just as easily stood before his client, then instructed her to push him back across the floor while he countered with gentle resistance. It also would have been easier on her lower back. Look at her posture! As a professional, this activity is hard to defend as a necessary drill.

  • What’s the goal? What I see is a trainer trying to differentiate himself, using the only tools available to him to replicate an athletic field workout designed for a male football player. And why would I want to train a woman like I would a man?
  • Think of the liability! If injured, how do you explain to a judge why it was necessary for your injured client to push a weight bench across the weight floor?

What the hell? Got adequate health insurance?

Q. So what is Functional Training?

A. Functional Training was originally conceived by physical therapists. Functional training’s original intent was to condition patients recovering from surgery or trauma to regain function in their every day activities. These exercises were specific to movements needed for every day living, such as lifting oneself out of a seat, climbing out of a bath tub or lifting one’s arm overhead to reach an object. There is generally an element of balance involved, alongside weight-bearing movements that engage the core and back.

What are the criteria to begin a Functional Training Program?

  • A client should be assessed before participating in a functional training program. If you are lacking core strength, build the core first with planks and basic stability exercises. If you are unstable, deficient in balance, there is no need to stand on a balance board or Bosu ball. You already know you can’t do it. Do your strength training and balance work on the floor. Practice standing on one leg. Scale the challenges. Master the basics first then move on to toys and tools.
  • A functional training session should be cued, introduced in phases and specific to an individual’s lifestyle or sport. Functional exercise is a great supplement to traditional strength training. It should not be a replacement. You must still perform your strength training to support performance training. The trainer should be studied in how to progress this program. It is a continuum and you should have the blueprints in your hands. If you do not know how to workout with your trainer present, something is off.
  • Explosive exercises or high impact drills are simply not needed by most of us. We all need plyometric training but not every day, nor every workout session. Any functional training workout one does should be evaluated based on hobby, sport, activity and/or lifestyle. Does a middle aged man/women need to push a sleigh 50 yards? If you decide the answer is yes, please evaluate the benefits you are seeking and the measure to know the training is working.

There are many ways of teaching explosion and generating power. Are you picking the best option? You can arrive at muscle hypertrophy, build endurance, without joint impairment.

EXERCISE CONSCIOUSLY.

Additional Reading:
*Functional Training pdf by Steven Plisk, MS, CSCS*D
**What is Functional Training? ACE


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