Functional training actually began in the field of rehabilitation, through work with physical and occupational therapists.
These professionals work with patients after injury or loss of function to retrain them with the goal of functioning independence. The therapists work with the patient and physicians with careful consideration of the condition and the goals. They ensure that the goals of treatment are realistic and achievable.
The focus of functional training exercises outside of rehabilitation is very similar. In other words, they are exercises that use easily accessible materials and multiple muscle groups and joints to improve your overall fitness and prepare you to engage in real world activities.
Compare that with the goals of weight training for linebacker on the football team or point guard on the basketball team. Both those fitness programs will be structured to improve their athletic performance and not necessarily improve their ability to do daily activities.
However, the case can be easily made that the linebacker and point guard probably already perform daily activities pretty easily.
Targeted to Averages Athletes
Thus functional strength training is often for the average athlete and not the highly competitive professional. As we move throughout our day our body performs a wide range of movements.
Each of these activities, such as walking, twisting, turning, climbing and stopping, involve movement through 3 planes.
These movements in 3 planes in space require training for more than just a force produced over a muscle group.
Functional strength training exercise combines both the increase in strength and force potential with the coordinated relationship between the neurological system and the musculoskeletal system.
Proponents of functional strength training recognize that it is essential to train the body in the specific movement necessary to achieve the goal.
Rehabilitation of Injured Athletes
In the case of rehabilitation of an injured athlete, improving the strength of a sprained ankle also included balance, coordination and strength in all planes so the joint is more stable and strong than it was prior to the injury.
Unlike powerlifting, functional strength training is not an all or nothing concept. Instead it exists along a continuum for the actual activity you are training for.
You shouldn’t rely on just one group of exercises to achieve your goal but should supplement functional strength training with your traditional training.
In some circles the term functional strength training has come to be synonymous with real-life strength in a real-life world, using exercise as the means of measurement.
But comparing the strength of a man who can bench press 500 pounds versus a woman who can run around all day with a 30 pound baby strapped to her hip is a bit silly. In each case, the individual has specific strengths and endurance that allows them to perfect their real-world needs.
Functional Strength Training Exercises
Some exercises that used for functional strength training include:
Dumbbell Clean to Press – trains for real life pushing, throwing
Barbell Deadlift – trains for real life lifting or carrying objects
Chin Ups – trains for real life climbing, dragging, wrestling
Kettlebell Swing – trains for real life lifting or carrying objects
Squat Jump – trains for real life Jumping, standing up fast
Kettlebell Snatch – trains for real life Jumping, standing up fast
Barbell Front Squat – trains for real life jumping, pushing.
Exercises for functional strength are usually done using targeted equipment.
This is because traditional resistance training machines are of limited use for functional training. Their fixed patterns rarely mimic natural movements, and they focus the effort on a single muscle group, rather than engaging the stabilizers and peripheral muscles.
In most cases functional training refers to the exercises that work over multiple muscle groups and joints to decrease your overall risk of injury, improve your coordination and balance and just make everyday activities even easier.