What is functional training? Answer: The most overused term in the fitness industry

We've all heard it before.

“I’m into more ‘functional’ training”

Often said by that guy wearing those weird Vibram finger shoes while doing band assisted single leg squats on a stack of 4 foam pads.

hunter bennett performance. Functional training, stability ball, balance, strength, resistance training, athlete

 

But what does the term 'functional' actually mean? Heck, does it even really exist?

In my opinion, there isn’t really a specific type of training that is ‘functional’, but rather an exercise becomes functional if it improves the ability of a particular function. Now obviously this could mean anything, but it’s true.

It’s all in the context.

Now some people will suggest that squatting on a bosu ball is functional. My most common response is ‘why?’

Funnily enough, the answer I often get goes something like this – “uhhhhh ummmm…. Glutes…….. ummm balance….. stability”. In other words – “I don’t know”.

Now if the goal is rehabilitation of an ankle injury, then squatting on a bosu ball may be considered perfectly functional, as it has a direct impact on the outcome goal, which is returning stability to the ankle joint.

In similar light, the bench press normally gets torn to shreds by ‘function fitness gurus’ for being useless, as it is not ‘functional’.

But what if my goal is to get a stronger bench press?

Suddenly it becomes pretty functional, right?

Similar to the leg press. I would argue that majority of people in the fitness industry would say it’s not functional. But what if you’re a rower? A sport that requires you to be in the seated position, pressing through both legs simultaneously, requiring minimal lower body stability component? Suddenly it’s functional.

If a body builder wants an additional assistance exercise to promote hypertrophy of the quads? Leg press probably has a function. But as a sprinter, or a field athlete, it becomes less functional as it becomes less specific to their performance goals.

So what I’m actually getting at is that we should always consider our exercise selection carefully. Any exercise could be considered ‘functional’ if it provides an appropriate way to achieve a particular goal.

We shouldn’t do exercises just because they look cool or exciting, but because they will directly impact the goal that we want to achieve.

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