The What, Why, and How of Functional Training
“People always ask me when they see me working out, ‘what are you training for?’ The answer is, I’m training for life.” - Laird
What is functional training?
The idea of fitness being used for “function” can be dated back as far as ancient Greece, when citizens would toss heavy balls to each other to improve health and engage in targeted exercise to prepare for battle. The term functional training, however, emerged tentatively in the 1980s and 1990s before exploding into the fitness industry in the 2000s.
The modern definition of functional training refers to creating strong carryover from what you do in the gym to what you do in life, rather than chasing aesthetics or increased weight and reps as your end goal. In bodybuilding workouts, the primary focus is on muscles. In functional strength training, the primary focus is on movement patterns.
Why do we use functional training?
When humans existed as middle-of-the-food-chain creatures in the wild, simply surviving meant living a highly active lifestyle. There was no training. Only hunting, carrying, climbing, walking, and other consistent natural movements. In modern industrial society, most of our time is spent sitting and working, yet we still seek a certain level of physical capability. This could be for specific reasons like being strong enough to play with and carry your child, pick up boxes for a move, prepare for a physical adventure, train for a marathon, or, more generally, avoid injury and ready yourself to perform in any circumstance that life throws your way. Because of this, we have to dedicate time to functional training.
How to implement functional training into your workouts?
As XPT Nutrition Advisor and strength and conditioning expert Dan Garner says, “Put simply, functional training is about using the right tools at the right time to create the stimulus needed to gain your desired functional adaptation.” Functional exercises range across many different movement patterns. The most basic moves are the squat, deadlift, hip hinge, lunge, row, and pushup. A deadlift, for example, can help you train to pick up a heavy box without injuring your back, a squat can prepare you to sit and stand, etc. Not all functional movements mirror their intended purpose. For example, a row may be used to improve scapular control, which is targeted to boost shoulder stability for a tennis swing.
Effective functional training is possible with just simple tools and/or your body weight. The key is to define your needs and then strengthen the patterns needed for that task. From there, you can advance the movement as you adapt by adding resistance andpace, and by compounding it with other exercises.
The XPT Life app has you covered with a comprehensive library of Functional Strength workouts that will each guide you through true movement optimization and take you one step closer to reaching your functional potential.