You’ve heard it thrown around, but what actually is Functional Strength Training, and why should we do it?
Functional training can help to improve our quality of life by improving our ability to manage daily physical tasks that may otherwise be causing us issues such as lower back pain. In this article, we’ll cover the benefits of functional training and help you determine if it is right for you.
What is the definition of Functional Training?
Functional training is a blanket term for exercises that help you to perform activities of daily life with greater ease. Generally, this definition includes compound exercises that involve squatting, pressing, pulling, and carrying, as these have the greatest carry over to activities that you may encounter in daily life (i.e. lifting and carrying a heavy box). Essentially, functional training seeks to mimic movements that challenge you in daily life, with the ultimate goal of improving your capacity in these movements.
One issue that is prevalent in the fitness industry today is how the term ‘Functional Training’ has become a buzzword for convoluted exercises that serve no real purpose other than to garner attention on social media platforms. While not all training may be considered to be ‘functional’, all functional training should be simple and accessible, as the aim is to improve quality of life for anyone and everyone.
How is it different from non-functional training?
Functional training typically comprises of challenging exercises that focus on progressively overloading day to day movements such as weighted carries, squats/deadlifts (improve posterior chain strength and proprioception) and pressing movements.
Non-functional training may include things such as bicep curls, where the desired training adaptations are primarily for aesthetics, rather than helping an individual to perform activities of daily living with greater ease. This does, however, depend on the purpose of your functional training – for instance, if bicep curls help you to achieve your daily tasks with greater ease (e.g. an elderly person picking up their young grandchildren), then there is no reason why this would not also be classes as ‘functional training’.
If an exercise helps to improve your strength in a way that improves your ability to perform daily tasks, then the exercise is functional. Just don’t get caught up in ridiculous exercises that serve no purpose, such as barbell squats on a stability ball – the only thing you’ll gain from this is an injury!
What are the Benefits of Functional Strength Training?
Functional training can be ideal during periods when you have a specific goal or if you are recovering from an injury. In this section, we’ll break down some of the main benefits of including functional training in your programme.
Resistance training adaptations
As with any form of resistance training, functional training will elicit similar training adaptations that are beneficial for your overall health and performance. Increased muscle mass, increased bone density, body composition management and improved cardiovascular fitness will all contribute to a reduced risk of disease. This is especially important in older populations, where processes such as sarcopenia & osteopenia result in gradual muscle and bone density loss as a result of aging. Resistance training in general can mitigate these changes, helping to reduce the risk of falls and injuries like bone fractures.
Reduces risk of injury
The focus on core strength in functional training can help to protect the spine when doing other forms of exercise that expose us to additional risk of injury. Improved flexibility and strength as a result of this style of training can also help to reduce the prevalence of injuries such as muscle strains.
Ideal during injury rehabilitation
If you are undergoing rehabilitation from an injury, then functional training is ideal for you, as it emphasises proficiency in movement patterns. Functional training can help you to work around a present injury or simply strengthen the movement pattern that may currently be causing pain or discomfort.
Improves movement competency
Increased core strength, muscular power and proprioception will all carry over to athletic performance, no matter what the sport is. Many modern resistance training programmes focus far too much on bodybuilding-style movements, simply aiming to enhance muscle mass. While this is an important part of training, functional training helps to improve your competency in movement, meaning you are better able to meet the demands of your sport or daily activities.
Take home message
Functional training is essentially any form of exercise that helps you to become more proficient in performing daily tasks, whilst simultaneously reducing your risk of injury. To implement functional training into your training routine, simply evaluate what your needs are, and compare them against your current abilities. Use functional training to bridge any gaps and improve your quality of life in the process!