What is functional training

It seems as the function training is on the rise among the fitness community members but it’s actually among the oldest types of training there are. It started from the physical rehabilitation field. Its creators are physical therapists who aimed to improve the recovery of the patients after disability or injury.

They developed particular exercises which helped the patients regain their functions and return to the regular daily life. From then on functional training is adopted by the fitness community and morphed into a new shape.

And here are the basics…

What purpose does functional training have?

Well, the purpose of functional training is… to function. It improves the ability to deal with the daily activities. It’s kind of training not a specific muscle but for the entire movement.

Like, if we take jumping as an example – this movement is a coordinated effort of the cardiovascular, nervous, musculoskeletal and respiratory systems.

Application of functional training

To properly apply functional training effectively in your training sessions you need to stimulate the activity you want to improve. Focus on similar contraction types (concentric, eccentric, isometric), range of motion, speed and coordination. The closer the exercise is to the actual activity, the more effective your training session will be. For instance, if you are training to improve your bike riding, train with exercises which closely simulate the activity of riding a bike and focus on strengthening the muscles which are used in this activity.

Fitness training and strength training rely largely on exercise machines but those devices focus mostly only on one body area and don’t simulate the actual activity you want to improve. Functional training involves every system required to perform a particular movement or activity. So, to take the above example again, if you are a biker, you must not only work on the quads but also on all other muscles required for riding a bike.

Types of functional training

There are two main types of functional training:

  • High-intensity
    Incorporated by the US military in soldier training to promote the physical
    preparedness in different situations by implementing endurance, cardio and strength
    training in the work-out regime. But this type of functional training is high in intensity
    (as the name implies) and, as such, may pose a greater risk of injury to the general
    population. So the safety of high-intensity functional training needs to be further
  • Low-intensity
    A lower intensity variant of the functional training has helped older people achieve
    better lifestyle and maintain their activities. Physical therapist and scientists by the
    University of WI-La Crosse did a study which compared two groups. One of them did
    functional exercises while the control group continued with the regular training
    routine. After four weeks it had been shown that the functional group had better
    improvement of endurance, balance, flexibility, strength and agility.

Can everyone do functional training

Well, like always, if you are just starting a new work-out program or have medical issues which may affect your safety while exercising, check with your general practitioner. Don’t go into a routine which puts you at injury risk. Slowly start increasing the intensity so your body can adapt to the movements.

Functional training can work for almost everyone and to make sure your training is effective and safe, we recommend that you work with a fitness professional.

Key points

First, determine your goals. Your functional fitness program should be tailored to the activities you do daily.
Then, take into consideration what your health is and what your level of fitness is.
Include various exercises for strength, coordination, endurance, flexibility and power. Design the program with careful monitoring and slow steady progression. Include exercises which offer movements on multiple planes and all kinds of muscle contractions (eccentric, concentric and isometric).
Don’t use machines but rather use bodyweight and equipment like resistance bands and free weights.

Incorporate exercises which stimulate the movement you want to improve. Of course, doing the activity itself is most beneficial.


We’ll quickly mention some of the functional training exercises you can incorporate:

  • Foam roller fly
  • Foam roller press
  • One leg dumbbell row
  • Pull-up
  • Elevated feet push-up
  • Chin-up
  • Shoulder-press
  • Planks
  • Planks with foam roller
  • Plank with ball
  • Step overhead press
  • Burpee to broad jump, etc.


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