Here at Barefoot we’re often asked about buzzwords in the fitness space and a phrase that regularly comes up is functional training. You’ve probably seen the term used in fitness advertising and many trainers offer it as a part of their exercise programming. So we want to discus the functional approach to exercise, the benefit it provides, and give you a few tips on how to ensure your exercise involves a functional component.
Let’s begin with the term functional.
- having a special activity, purpose, or task.
“a functional role”
- designed to be practical and useful, rather than attractive.
“a small, functional bathroom”
With this definition in mind, the concept of functional training involves performing exercise that has purpose and will be useful to the exerciser. To assess the practicality of the exercise you are currently doing it is worth considering the kinds of movements that are purposeful to you. Or to put it another way, what movements are you required to do everyday in your environment? This varies from person to person and depends on variables such as work, sport, life stage, and personal goals and hobbies. Programming exercise with a functional approach, therefore, must take into account such variables in order to be practical and useful. As it turns out, a majority of the time, the complexity of human movement can be broken down into just a few basic fundamental movements – pulling, pushing, squatting, lifting, and walking/running. When you see “functional training” offered as a part of a fitness service generally speaking it is offering an exercise program that involves training these fundamental human movements. It should also be considering your individual goals and lifestyle.
In many cases exercises that could be considered as “functional” involve movement of multiple joints, action of multiple muscles and ultimately has a basis in fundamental human movement. The reason for this is that this reflects many of the movements of day to day life – think carrying groceries in from the car, picking up and holding children, placing objects up on an overhead shelf, even running to catch a train – each example involves movements of multiple joints and muscles, and has a basis in one of the fundamental human movements – sound familiar?
By performing exercise with a functional approach not only do you receive the benefits of exercise and gain strength but the movements and moments of day-to-day life become easier. If you can train what it is going to be useful to you in the real world environment your ability to carry out physical tasks improves.
This also means your resilience to injury improves too!
Want to make your training more functional? Here are some things to consider.
- Ensure your trainer understands the sort of physical activities you do regularly. This will give them an idea of your movement profile and whether you need to train for strength, power, or endurance.
- If you’re already doing certain exercises ask yourself how the exercise will be useful to you. If you’re told an exercise is functional consider asking “functional for what?”. Often times, exercises involving multiple joints and muscles will be more practical since they mimic the movements of day to day life.
- Keep in mind that not everything we do in our day to day lives needs to be trained in the gym. For example, the best way to train your good sitting posture and build endurance in your postural muscles, is to use your time in the office to practice!
Regardless of the term you use to describe your exercise just remember to move often in a variety of ways and above all find something that you enjoy. Exercise can come in many forms. There’s lifting weights, rock climbing, martial arts, yoga, running, gardening, barefoot bowls…the list goes on. Just be sure to move often and if you find this difficult find something you enjoy as this will make your movement habits easier and set yourself up for success.
Want to know more? Or meet with one of the physios to discuss how you can get your body moving again? Click here.