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What is Functional Training and How Can It Benefit You?

The term "functional training" gained prominence in the fitness industry during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. While it's not possible to pinpoint an exact date or individual responsible for making the term popular, its origins can be traced back to various fitness disciplines.

Functional training's rise in popularity is attributed to its effectiveness in improving functional fitness, reducing the risk of injury, and enhancing athletic performance across various disciplines.

Today, functional training has become a fundamental aspect of many fitness routines and training methods, influencing practices in areas such as physical therapy, sports performance, and general fitness.

What is Functional Training?

Functional training encompasses any type of exercise directly related to movements performed in daily life. 

Whether in 

  • a specific sport

  • during training

  • or at work

The main goal of functional training is to maintain or improve current performance and overall fitness. 

Many physiotherapists and sports physiologists use functional training, especially for rehabilitation after an injury or surgery. After an injury, movements that mimic daily activities are promoted. 

For example, if we consider a dancer who wants to resume dancing after a knee injury, they would focus on movements that help them perform dance moves again, such as jumping squats, lunges, rotational movements, and more.

In comparison to "traditional" training, functional training has several differences. The main principle of functional training is to ensure that the exercises performed are meaningful and relevant to your daily routines.

Traditional training, such as classic strength training, can help develop muscles, but this does not always necessarily extend beyond aesthetics. Functional training can also effectively build muscle. 

Functional exercises typically engage the entire body, meaning multiple muscles are activated simultaneously, and the focus is on strengthening deep muscles, balance, and stability. By mimicking movements of daily life in training, such as squatting, reaching, bending, or carrying heavy objects, you are is already doing functional training. Building functional strength will enhance overall quality of life in terms of movement and reduce the risk of injury.

In-depth knowledge for your new & fit self.

functional training

Differences Between Functional and Non-functional Training

Bodybuilding-style strength training - which often focuses only on a single muscle group - does not offer as many benefits in terms of functional fitness as holistic functional training. 

This doesn't mean that bodybuilding is inherently bad or ineffective. However, if your goal is to train holistically, build muscles, and improve overall fitness, functional training should be prioritized over isolated exercises. 

For example, a bicep curl targets only the biceps, whereas a combination of a bicep curl and a lunge engages the entire body and also challenges your balance, coordination, and stability. Depending on a person's athletic goals, every exercise has the potential to be functional in some way.

Movements that engage multiple muscles and joints typically offer the greatest benefits for functionality.

The Biggest Differences Between Traditional- and Functional Training

Functional Training

Traditional Training

Primarily focuses on full-body movements.

Incorporates both full-body and isolation movements.

Aims to reduce the risk of injury and promote all athletic components.

Aims for increased blood flow ("pump") and muscle sensation or burn.

Includes dynamic movements and stability exercises

Dynamic movement and stability exercises are less frequently included.

Training focuses on diverse skills (e.g., balance, coordination, stability).

Training focuses more on isolated physical performance (e.g., endurance, strength, or hypertrophy).

Emphasizes overall holistic fitness and performance.

Primarily focuses on external appearance.

Who is Functional Training For?

Functional training is suitable for anyone looking to improve their overall fitness and quality of movement. It's particularly beneficial for:

  1. Athletes and former athletes: Functional training helps athletes to enhance their sports-specific skills, agility, strength, and endurance, improving performance on the field or court.

  2. For bodybuilders seeking variation in their training routine: Whether you're a 'regular' gym-goer or professional bodybuilder, Introducing new exercises and movement patterns through functional training can provide mental stimulation and prevent boredom in typical training routines.

  3. Rehabilitation after injuries: Physical therapists often use functional training to help individuals recover from injuries or surgeries by focusing on movements that restore function and mobility.

  4. Older people: Functional training can help older people maintain independence by improving balance, flexibility, and strength, reducing the risk of falls and enhancing overall quality of life.

  5. Sedentary People: People who spend long hours sitting can benefit from functional training to counteract the negative effects of sedentary behavior, improving posture and reducing back pain. If you have a desk job and don't move a lot - Try it! In essence, functional training is for anyone seeking to move better, feel better, and perform better in their daily activities, whether it's sports, work, or simply enjoying life to the fullest.

functional training

Summary: Benefits of Functional Training

  1. Engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously in a movement or exercise.

  2. Focuses on using one's body weight and stability.

  3. Strengthens the body for better movements that can be adapted to real-world scenarios.

  4. Exercises are practical and can mostly be done at home, outdoors, and often without equipment.

  5. Utilizes 100% muscle engagement without overloading or stressing the joints.

  6. Often results in quicker and better training outcomes while reducing the risk of injury.

  7. Primarily promotes motor skills, coordination, conditioning, and joint stabilization.

  8. Emphasizes holistic training.

  9. Suitable for everyone and every fitness level.

  10. Time-efficient and can be as intense as desired.

  11. Focuses not only on individual muscles but also on executing the complete movement and coordinating multiple muscle groups.

  12. Provides enjoyment for many people and can add variety to training routines.

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Sources Of Information:

  • de Resende-Neto, A. G., do Nascimento, M. A., de Sá, C. A., Ribeiro, A. S., Desantana, J. M., & da Silva-Grigoletto, M. E. (2019). Comparison between functional and traditional training exercises on joint mobility, determinants of walking and muscle strength in older women. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 59(10), 1659–1668.

  • Westcott W. L. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Current sports medicine reports, 11(4), 209–216.

  • Grgic, J., Lazinica, B., Garofolini, A., Schoenfeld, B. J., Saner, N. J., & Mikulic, P. (2019). The effects of time of day-specific resistance training on adaptations in skeletal muscle hypertrophy and muscle strength: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Chronobiology international, 36(4), 449–460.


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