What Does it Mean to be “Functional”?

Functional Training; a phrase that often used in fitness but rarely understood.

What does it mean to be functional?  What seperates a true functional workout from one that adopts this monicker yet fails to live up to it’s promises?

Functional training/exercises or workouts have a direct tie in to basic human movements.

The workouts or exercises strengthen primal movement patterns.  At the advanced level functional training seeks to create efficiency in those primal movement patterns.

We define primal movement patterns as the basic ways that humans explore and experience their environment; crawling/climbing, running/walking and swimming. If something does not “strengthen” one of these patterns it is not a “functional” exercise.  Wait a minute, what about squatting, deadlifting, pulling and pushing?  Don’t worry they are all there. Those are the foundational patterns that allow us to walk, run, climb, etc.

The most effective functional training practices look a lot like sport training; where movement skill are substituted for the sport specific skill.  For example, good tennis players consistently work on the fundamentals.  They seek to master the “simple” aspects of a forehand shot then repeat, repeat, repeat until it becomes automatic.  This way when they are on the court there brain is available for higher level processes such as strategy since it is not being dragged down by the step by step instructions of how to hit the ball.

When we deadlift we are teaching the body to stabilize the lumbar spine and maintain a neutral position before actively flexing and extending the hip.  This one relatively simple joint action is one of the primary building blocks for walking and running, even though the exercise does not look like the end product it still has a direct correlation.  In short it is more often than not that when someone has a fault in their deadlift pattern they also showcase a movement compensation in their walking or running gait.

A true functional training program seeks to break the body down into key joints and look at their ability to perform their preferred tasks.  Certain joints are responsible for mobility and are where “movement” come from while others should be “stable” resisting change in position (or movement) to maintain the bodies structure.  In a functional training program we identify each of these areas and make sure they are doing their jobs and their jobs only.  If they are not we look to “correct” the issue buy selecting exercises or techniques that will help mobilize stuck joints or create improved stability in others.

The final and most important piece of the puzzle is that functional training has to per personalized.  There is no blanket approach here (believe me I’ve been looking).  We are only able to offer someone a truly “functional” program when we are able to address the personal dysfunctions they may have.  Without that personalized data it is impossible to correctly design a program or workout for that (or any) individual.

So where do you go from here?  Come on in to Performance Locker where we can take you through the FMS movement screen and identify what your personalized “functional training” goals are 🙂

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