What Is Functional Fitness Training?
More and more people are signing up to gyms these days, but worryingly a lot of those people seem to believe that the quality of the gym they join depends more on the definition of the TV screens in the treadmills than any definition their torso might see from training correctly. It seems that in the Fitness and Leisure industry, far too much emphasis is being placed on the leisure rather than the fitness… but fortunately there is another option for those who truly want to improve, and more and more people are realising this: enter Functional Fitness Training.
Now there are many Internet articles and threads that simply debate the definition of functional fitness training… this is not one of them. I understand that any training can be classed as functional depending on what you’re training for. For example if you’re job description includes a need to have to largest biceps in the world then yes, 2 hours of bicep curls a day could be classed as functional training.
The goal here is not to argue the vagueness of the term, but to highlight the benefits, so for the purpose of this article functional fitness training will refer to an exercise or group of exercises that mimic, adapt and allow the improved performance of life’s daily tasks for the majority of people, with a reserve left for individual goals.
Here a goal could be, and usually is, to improve quality of life outside the gym; that is to have an increased capacity for recreation and play, whether this be a grandmother having fun with her grandchildren, or a teenager playing football.
Life’s daily tasks include movement in the 6 degrees of freedom, namely back/forward, up/down, left/right, roll, pitch, and yaw. Or more specifically to human movement, push/pull, jump/squat, step, twist, and bend. So functional training is training that seeks to improve as many of these movements as possible through one or a series of exercises. So consider functional fitness training defined… for this article at least!
So, if there exists functional fitness training, does this mean some training is un-functional? The answer to this is a definite yes…
Much of what goes on in gyms today is impossible to recreate outside of that environment. Functional fitness training allows you to develop strength in a controlled environment and then apply it to everyday life outside of that controlled environment.
Many favorable improvements gained from functional fitness training are down to the amount of ‘fitness bases’ covered in any one session. Indeed in one movement you could be improving strength, coordination, balance, agility, accuracy, flexibility, endurance and stamina. There are very few activities that can produce an improvement in both neurological fitness (balance, coordination, agility, accuracy) and physical skills (strength, flexibility, endurance, stamina). This is achieved by using a large number of the body’s joints and muscles at once, training your body as one unit… (Your body was designed to be used like this!)
Training your muscles to work together this way means more focus is on training movements rather than isolating individual muscles. Anytime you’re body is moving rather than remaining stationary you rely on dynamic balance as opposed to static balance, and dynamic balance requires a great deal of core stability amongst other things. Functional fitness training will only seek to further improve core stability and strength, which has the knock-on effect of improving most aspects of your moving life, in particular, improved intra-abdominal pressure, posture, and injury prevention. So, functional fitness training boasts numerous physiological benefits, but there is more to it than this…
One of the most important aspects of functional fitness training is that it can be scaled to suit anybody’s level of ability. Intensity, duration, and resistance can be altered on all of the movements trained to match the individual levels of fitness and allow everyone, and anyone to get the most out of their training. On top of this, functional fitness training is constantly varied and is very often different every session, a trait that should be absolutely necessary in any fitness plan or schedule. The ability to not get bored with your training is a luxury that very few people training in conventional gyms have.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the return from your exercise investment that you get from functional fitness training. Your exercise investment includes the money you spend (on your gym membership, kit, nutrition, and travel) and the time/effort you put into your training. As alluded to earlier, for most people using conventional gyms the value is more in the luxuries and less in the fitness aspects, where as, when it comes to functional fitness training, the return you get is the increase in your capacity to enjoy your recreations and play having reached your goals. In short, it gives you an increased work capacity over all fitness domains, which means in any given time period you can do more of whatever it is you want to do. Essentially, functional fitness training is real fitness training!