Functional Training, What is it, What are its Benefits

Functional Training, What is it, What are its Benefits

Combining Functionality and Sport has resulted in Functional Training which is thought to be a type of training that moves away from weights and gym bars… Let’s see what this is all about!

What is Functional Training?

It can be defined as a physical activity that uses certain exercises and/or materials to perform movements and patterns that can be used in our daily lives.

What is Functional? According to the dictionary, “Of or relating to a function or functions”. If we want to be more pragmatic, we could could define this concept in the following way: which has a practical utility

Functional Training Definition

Isometric Contraction

The Origin of Functional Training

It is born as a rehabilitation mechanism for people who have suffered certain injuries and who need to recover the mobility that they have lost, as well as accelerating the recovery process in order to go back to their normal lives and perform the tasks they used to at home or work. The type of exercises tend to involve several joints, using the own weight of the person or free weight, specially on unstable surfaces.

Rehabilitation Exercises

Unilateral Bench Press on an unstable surface (Fitball)

When does Functional Training appear?

The truth is that this methodology has always existed. Many personal trainers and other members of the fitness community have used it as a training concept. This type of training goes hand in hand with the design of new activities and sport disciplines, like Crossfit (which is from the last century), for a public that looks for new styles and ways of training instead of following conventional methods. There is clearly a growing interest for these type of sport workouts both in sport centres as well as the own individuals, who use this type of training as a base for their workout plan.

Collective Lessons

Collective lessons are another way of discovering Functional Training

What are the foundations of Functional Training?

Its purpose is to activate the stabilizer muscles to focus on the rectus abdominus muscle, abductors and hip rotators, and the scapular stabilizers. There are people who tend to go for a more dynamic performance, so we could adapt the previous definition to harmonious complex movements, with a workload that will allow to increase the heartbeat, which would add a component of cardiovascular work.

Foundations of Functional Training

Functional Training Session where we can see the use diverse materials, stabilization, and the use of light weights

Objectives of Functional Workout

The main purpose or goal is to produce an adaptation to improve our daily habits through exercises that mimic the movements that we are used to make in our day to day lives. Gaining maximum strength in dead lift is laudable, however, we could say that it will not have a practical use for most of us, since we will not use such amount of weight any day soon. On the other hand, walking downstairs or upstairs with bags, lifting objects over our head, getting the groceries out of the car and putting them on the fridge… these are tasks that we usually perform and we can encourage a better posture in order to reduce the risk of suffering an injury.

Unilateral Dead Lift

Unilateral Dead Lift can produce an stimulus in order to improve our balance and stability, and its practical use could be to be able to solve an action-reaction, like avoiding a fall…

Benefits of Functional Training

Benefits of functional training

Type of Workout

Each session of functional training will be full of dynamic elements, like steps, jumping rope, lifting or throwing sandbags, unstable surfaces, exercises that use our own weight like squats, scissors, or push ups, unilateral movements, pull down with rope, abdomen exercises, use of elastic bands, resistance elements like a vest with weight… All of this within an infinity of combinations that are adjusted to each person’s level under the criteria of the coach or teacher.

Free area for Functional Training

The most up-to-date sport centers tend to reserve a space, known as the free area, for the development of the different elements that are taught at functional training

Types of Functional Training

We can find several types of workout depending on the variants and premises that we have previously mentioned. The most common ones are:

  • Workout with Kettlebells: it uses the famous Russian Kettlebells with are an excellent alternative to dumbbells. You can do most of the exercises with the latter, however, their weight is not well distributed due to their shape and the position of the grip, this means that we will have to stabilize it with the strength of our stabilizer muscles.
  • Suspension Training or TRX: we can train the whole body by performing exercises that are very complex without the support of the bands (one leg squats for example); we use gravity and our own body as resistance elements, and our gravity centre is constantly being moved so that our stabilizer muscles will have to do their job.
  • Ropes Training: it involves several meters of rope, with a diameter that moves between 6-8cm, and which takes advantage of gravity and the strength in waves that is produced by own rope, which activates a lot of muscle mass, specially in the abdomen in order to counter these forces.
  • Circuit Training: this modality combines a number of exercises (stages) with a determined time, and pauses between them. The objective here is to encourage the cardiovascular work with the benefits of each of these exercises. You can achieve remarkable results at a metabolic level.
  • Plyometric or Jump Training: it mainly involves jumping on boxes or any other platform. It allows us to use maximum force in each jump, and the intensity will correspond to the type of obstacle or its height.

Here you have a video with what jump training has to offer

Functional Training Exercises

Movements are essential in any workout program. We have biologically evolved to move in multiple directions. If we analyze how the muscles work by observing most of athletic sports, we will see that we have to challenge ourselves at all the levels, not only to improve in our discipline, but also to maintain a proper integration and function of the main structures of the body. The Functional Training will help us to avoid a lack of movement and will demand more angles or planes. These planes are:

  • Saggital plane: it is the most common movement plane in workout programs. These are the movements that are performed onward and backward. E.g: squats, biceps curls, abdomen “crunch”, etc… This is normally an overused plane which we should use less.
  • Frontal plane: it is the movement plane that involves exercises from side to side. E.g: crab walk, lateral shoulder raise, lateral trunk flexion, etc… This plane develops the stability of the joints and main structures of the body.
  • Transverse Plane: movements that are executed through the rotation of the body. E.g: baseball pitcher, fighters, rotations for abdomen with cable or gums, etc… We barely train this plane and we could say that, due to our anatomy, is the one that best works the main functions of our body.

Functional Training Exercises

We can train a great variety of stimuli

Functional Training Material

There is a lot and varied material designed for functional training. The most common ones are platforms that offer instability, like the bosu, fitball, jumping rope, ab wheel, suspension ropes, gums and elastic bands, weights and dumbbells, even the bars and plates, Bulgarian bags, light weight maces, kettlebells, vests with weights, boxes for plyometric jumps.

Material para Entrenamiento Funcional

Equipment for Functional Training

Diet for Functional Training

The type of diet and nutrition that we have to follow in we choose functional training is not far from what we consider healthy habits, but if you are unsure or want to learn more, go to a professional (Dietitian-Nutritionist).

Rope Jump

Before advancing, we want to advise the use of hydration drinks before, during, and after the workout

Who can perform Functional Training?

From children to adolescents, adults, and even old people, there is no age for functional training. There is a place for everyone in this type of training. In the case of the population with a higher risk (children and the elderly) it will be absolutely indispensable that the person in charge of them has the necessary accreditation and he/she will have to supervise the proper execution of the exercises all the time, and even act as support and provide safety.

Functional Training in Young People

The youngest ones have to see sport as a game, and this is a task for the person that is in charge of them

How to plan a Functional Training routine?

We should bear in mind certain aspects like we would with any other physical and/or sport activity. We need to know the routine or circuit that we are going to practice. The duration of the workout will not be too long, since the activity will have a medium-high intensity. In general, each workout session will last around 15-30 minutes or even more, depending on the experience of the participants.

  • Warm up: before starting, spend some time “warming up” which will allow the heart to increase the blood flow to the extremities in order to prepare the tissues. Start with a light intensity so that the heartbeat increases progressively, and increase to a moderate intensity for a little time. Here we can use machines, like the treadmill, static bicycle, elliptical bike, rowing machine, or airdyne.
  • Cool down: this is just the opposite, we go back to our initial state and cooperate so that the organism can excrete metabolic substances that are produced during the exercise more easily.

Personal Trainer

The figure of the personal trainer gains a special importance, since it will be the one in charge that everything goes right during the workout session

Where can we do Functional Training?

The workout sessions can be performed in many places, on the street, at home, on the field… For example, those exercises that use the body weight, like a combination of push ups and jumps, can be done anywhere where there is some kind of platform or even a low fence. In other cases, if our sport center has the proper facilities, we will have the chance to enjoy a space with many more choices, as much as materials and possibilities that we may come up with, or leave this in the hands of an specialist.

Train Outdoors

If we have the chance, we should take the opportunity to train outdoors, since the sensations are completely different to those inside a building…

Functional Training at Home

If we want to set up our own “functional training center” we will have to consider our budget since, from that moment, we will be able to purchase more material which will increase the number of exercises or variations in order to enjoy ourselves. From my point of view, the following material would be a good starting point:

  • Jumping Rope
  • Ab Wheel
  • Kettlebell

Train at home

If you have enough space, I would not think about it twice….

Functionality according to the Context

What is more functional, a Unilateral Biceps Curl or a Dead lift? At first glance, most of the people with basic knowledge about sport would probably choose the multi joint exercise. However, this can change depending on the context… For example, let’s imagine: a waiter must hold and transport a tray with a considerable weight a lot of times throughout the day, wouldn’t it be more useful to enhance the muscles that are involved…?

Waiter Walk

The Waiter Walk, a great example of a functional exercise…

5 Examples of Functional Training

They are short but very intense exercises and, as we have previously mentioned, it is important to warm up first. To do so, you can spend 5 minutes walking upstairs and downstairs, or go out an run a bit for 6 minutes.

Functional Training Review

Fat Loss - 100%

Improved Physical Condition - 100%

Pleasant Activity - 100%

Improved Coordination, Balance, and Agility - 100%

Strengthened Core - 100%

Posture Correction - 100%


HSN Evaluation: 5 /5
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About Javier Colomer
Javier Colomer
"Knowledge Makes Stronger", Javier Colomer's motto, sets out his clearest statement of intentions expressing his knowledge and fitness experience.
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