What is Functional Exercise? PDF Print E-mail

What is Functional Exercise?

Column #8 23rd December 2006

Function is a buzz word in the health and fitness industry at the moment.  But what does it actually mean? It is important that we understand what it is and why we need to train for it.

Function defined:

Put simply, we first need to know what our objective is and then we train for that.  We need to ask the question ‘what is it that we want to and need to be able to do?’ and then answer with the exercises that will enable us to do this successfully. Fit for Function.

Unsurprisingly, function can be different for everybody.  Globally it is required for household activities, occupational demands, dressing, hygiene, training and conditioning, recreation and sport and therapy and rehabilitation.  To be able to perform with such function, we need to integrate many activities, including;

  • Twisting
  • Standing
  • Turning
  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Balancing
  • Pushing
  • Running
  • Pulling
  • Squatting
  • Lifting
  • Jumping
  • Bending

I’m sure that we all have varying degrees of requirements for all these and other movements.  Our ability to perform these tasks will have an impact on the health of our body, level of performance and ultimate well-being.

A Functional Exercise Program

Therefore, once we know what it is that our body needs to be successful at, then we train these movements, rather than those that will not transfer to our daily lives and performance requirements. For example, if you regularly perform the hamstring curl on a resistance machine, how often do you perform this movement in your life?  Yet that is not to say it hasn’t got a place in your strength training.  When designing your program, the question is can this strength be developed into a useful, integrated movement that makes us better at our goal, whether that is gardening, club running or 100meter hurdling.

Some advocates of ‘functional training’ distort the definition and state that it shouldn’t involve any isolated exercises such as a bicep curl, hamstring curl or bench press.  Yet when used correctly these can be an essential and valuable part of a conditioning program.  Furthermore, ‘bodybuilding’ exercises get criticized as non-functional, however they are perfectly functional for a bodybuilder as they are meeting their objective.

Training for function and the movements listed above means that you can develop a program that is balanced.  These total body movements bring further advantages.  Circulation is improved, which is especially important in these winter months and as we are using more muscles together we even burn more calories while we work out.

A final point of consideration

The human body performs and learns in movement patterns.  It uses various muscles and joints in order to produce movement.  This can be movement as simple as walking or picking up a baby from the play mat, to performing specific sporting techniques, such as a somersault in gymnastics.  Therefore, lets train in movement patterns.

So to be successful in what you want to do, start to train functionally.  If you are not already training, then start to ask yourself what you need to be good at.  What does a typical day entail?  If you are training already, then ask yourself whether it is meeting your objective.  As always, check with your physician and get advice before starting or changing your exercise routine.


Jack Walton
Written on Wednesday, 01 December 2010 21:12 by Jack Walton

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