Functional training

Functional training: What it is and why it matters

Functional training is based on exercises that condition your body to be strong for the activities of daily living or ADL’s. For example: carrying groceries, shoveling snow or playing with your kids.

These activities require stability, core strength, and the ability to move effectively in multiple planes of motion.

In other words functional training strengthens your muscles and teaches them to work together as a team to accomplish physical tasks.

Examples of some functional exercises include: squats, push ups, lunges, pull ups, planks, kettle-bell swings and Russian twist, just to name a few.

All of these exercises are compound movements (more that 1 joint involved) and require joint and core stability to perform. Additionally, they mimic the movements you need for ADL’s: stand up from a chair, push open a door, pull your kids in a sled or mop the floor.

Examples of less functional exercises include isolation exercises like the bicep curl or fully supported exercises like using machines at the gym. That does not mean isolated or supported exercises are “bad” per se. They are appropriate for most people, but for targeted goals, such as corrective exercises around injury rehab or sport specific goals like cycling faster or jumping higher.

Functional training matters because:

It makes physical tasks easier and safer! It does this by improving your: balance, agility, strength, endurance, body composition and cardio-respiratory capacity.

Balance and agility will improve because functional exercises require your muscles to execute complicated interactions that, when repeated improve your neuromuscular coordination or your “brain – body” connection.

This is important because every time your body moves, nerve signals travel from your brain to your muscles to make that movement happen. This pathway, your “brain – body” connection, gets stronger and more refined each time you use it. In other words, by using functional exercises you can “bolster” this critical connection. You literally develop more control of all your movements.

You will gain strength because functional exercises, which are generally compound movements “recruit” more muscle mass than other exercises. The more mass you recruit during exercise, the more “adaptation” or bodily response will occur. And, because your body adapts to exercise by adding muscle, you become stronger.

Body composition (fat v.s. lean mass) will improve because functional exercises generally require more energy (calories) than isolation or supported exercises. So, when you do them you burn more fat. And, as an extra bonus, your resting metabolism will increase due to repeated functional training sessions which will burn more fat 24/7!!

Cardio-respiratory capacity improves because functional exercises result in increased heart rate and respiration. Your hear rate and respiration will increase so your body can deliver more oxygen to the working muscles. When heart rate and respiration are consistently increased through functional exercise your body will adapt by improving the capacity of your heart and lungs.

So there is a lot to gain from functional training!

If you would like to learn more or wondering how functional training might fit into your wellness plan please give me a shout!


George Curtis

All stories by: George Curtis