“Functional Training” – What the bajeezus is it?

By Camille Pruitt

I hear this phrase a lot in many gyms, workout facilities, bootcamps and outdoor groups. So many people say they do Functional Training, but what exactly is it? And how many people really are training functionally?


According to the dictionary Functional Training is – a classification of exercise which involves training the body to perform the activities of every day life more easily and without injuries.

But Functional Training is a vague and often misused term. I see many trainers even making up exercises they deem to be functional just because they are different and use the body in some weird way. The “single leg lift with side kick to rotation with your hands behind your back while standing on a bosu ball” will almost certainly gain you a place in Circe Du Soleil but is it really doing anything to help you with your daily activities?


Ideally we should be aiming to have our bodies work the best they can for the longest time possible, without injury. We want to be able to do all the things we love well into old age. Take my parents for example. They are in their 80’s and have just walked a 5 day trek through the mountains carrying all their own food, water and bedding in a pack. That is functional. They also go on regular mountain bike rides from one town to another, covering 60-70km in a day. They have never done some of the so called Functional Training workouts but they do move every day with purpose. They work on their farm, shifting sheep, carrying firewood, fixing fences, planting trees and doing all the stuff that keeps them physically active and able to the things they love to do. Like Hike. Did I mention they were 80?!

Functional training really is something that should meet the needs of the individual so that they are able to perform the tasks that they want to do. It needs to be goal oriented. So if your goal is to run a marathon, then the training needs to be running specific. There’s no point going and doing a load of one armed pull ups just because they are a so called “functional” exercise! Unless you are planning to pull yourself over that finish line… (I’ve actually seen this done!)

Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. Such as squats. They train the muscles that allow you to get up out of your chair, to pick up objects off the floor… By adding weights and plyometric moves to these exercises you train your body to do these things extremely efficiently.



So in essence what we want to be doing in our workouts is train our body to be physically able to perform tasks in everyday life. Like squatting down to pick up the kids, carrying the groceries or shooting some hoops with your mates… Most people wouldn’t say they live to exercise, in fact they would say they exercise to improve their quality of life.


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