What the heck is functional training, anyway?

I do my best to make sure that my approach to functional training is one that develops a balance of movement, strength, stamina, mobility, and stability and flat out makes it more fun to be alive.

Unfortunately functional training is one of those catch-all terms that can bring to mind any number of images which might not be helpful.

Maybe someone doing heavy squats while standing on a stability ball. Which, for the record, is a bad idea! Or some fitness guru doing all kinds of elaborate movements without much load or weight, and who swears that anything other than their unique method will explode your spine, bulk women up like Hulk Hogan overnight, bring Luke over to the Dark Side, or all of the above.

I’ve seen a lot of silliness that falls under the category of “functional fitness” and it’s pretty clear I’m not into that sort of thing, no matter how cool the guru seems.

Like I said, I use functional training as an overall approach that makes someone better for everyday life. Which begs the question: what qualities should be emphasized? What activities are going to provide the most benefit?

These are important questions because my clients have limited time to work out, so everything we do has to have a lot of bang for the buck.

Functional training should help, well, improve overall function

We don’t want to pile work load on top of bad movement patterns or imbalances and then just power through until something snaps.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.

It doesn’t have to be super complicated. If someone is tight through their shoulders, they should start with pressing one arm overhead rather than both. If they have a hard time keeping their spine straight and not locking their knees, then they should practice a basic hip hinge using a stick and not jump right into kettlebell swings.

It’s not rocket surgery.

Functional training includes stamina or the ability to put out force for a duration of time

By performing strength movements back to back or paired with athletic drills, we get more benefits across the board than if we did each element one at a time. Cardio and strength together is way more time efficient than just doing one or the other.

Functional training includes mobility

“Strength work performed through a full range of motion will do more for your flexibility than all the ballet classes at charm school.” – Dan John 

Using straight ahead mobility work is also a great way to get some rest in the middle of a training session. Trust me, it’s way better to include a short recovery and unload the spine than to feel like you’re frantically chasing your tail for the duration of a workout. Even if it takes you out of the Red Zone or whatever the latest term is. 

Speaking of which…

Functional training is sustainable

It’s challenging, but it still allows you to have the energy to do something the next day.

I’ve seen more than my share of programs and machines designed to induce the most metabolic disturbance legally allowed in the continental US. And sure, you can Red Line it for a while, but generally speaking a lot gets sacrificed. Adrenal health. Movement quality. Joint integrity. Little things.

I’d rather see people push themselves, move well, and have energy and motivation to get back out into life, than to see them just sit and wait for the soreness to go away so they can workout again.

Functional training includes strength performed with control, across multiple angles

Especially as adults, almost everything we do movement wise is in one plane of movement. Jogging. Cardio machines. Bench press. biceps curls. Sit ups. You get the picture.

Not only do you address potential weak links in the chain, it helps you move better in “weird” ways that most people start losing pretty quickly after childhood. So you’ll be able to move better and be more likely to trust yourself and do cool things.

Like my client who started with me a few months ago because her back would go out frequently. She recently hiked to the top of an inactive volcano with a 20 pound sled on her back.

Or one of my personal training clients who went partner hang gliding in her late 70’s. As in run down a hill, off a cliff, and hang glide alongside a pilot.

That’s pretty darn cool!

Functional training addresses body composition – putting on muscle and reducing fat

Yes, muscle. It’s mission critical. In terms of staying fit, in terms of body composition, it’s make or break.

There are trainers who act like they don’t think that muscle and body composition are important, but they generally come off like a geeky 14 year old boy saying that the really cute girl two grades above him doesn’t matter or at all weigh on his mind. “I’m too busy watching Doctor Who and reading ElfQuest to even think about her!”

Yeah. Right.

Something outward like putting on some muscle and losing fat can have a huge impact on someone’s life, from improved confidence, expanding horizons, and flat out feeling like a better version of themselves. I see it all the time with my clients and I’ve experienced it firsthand.

I used to be one of those guys who was all about movement.

Going from a gawky 150 to a strong and fit 178 has had a huge impact on my life. I feel like a different person. It feels like I’ve transformed from pre-serum Steve Rogers. I wouldn’t say I’m up to Captain America standards yet, but this is a much better place to live.

Functional training addresses power and athleticism.

These are the first two things to go as we get older and these are the first two things that the vast majority of people stop working on as soon as they’re done with organized competitive sports.

It’s always a bit of a rude surprise if you haven’t run a sprint or played a sport for a while and then try to jump back in where you left off.

We watch sports and hear about how so-and-so has lost a step in the last couple of years (and it’s their job to stay fast and athletic), but this is the last thing that most of us work on. And then we’re shocked when we have to move fast only to find that we’re slower than we remember and that we have a serious hitch in our giddy up.

And this isn’t just about sports. How about having to suddenly run after a child or a pet that’s gotten loose? Or hurrying up to cross the street? Or being able to continue playing a sport you love? That’s about as functional as it gets.

If this approach to functional fitness sounds good to you, then you are welcome to stop in and try a class. 

The best way to get started is to contact me at 513@gmail.com.


Train hard, stay safe, and have fun!


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