What is Functional Training?

Functional Training (aka Functional Fitness, Functional Exercise or perhaps a hundred other ways) in my opinion is one of the most misunderstood terms in fitness.

“Functional” by my definition of the word means that exercise selection and programming needs to be targeted to achieve a specific outcome. In functional training, there needs to be a transfer of skills developed in the gym to the clients daily life.  By my logic, functional training will therefore vary from client to client.  

Also, based on my logic, a functional training program will vary depending on the skills and knowledge of the trainer.

Case Study: A client works in a warehouse where he repeatedly lifts boxes of various manageable weights off the floor and stacks them in shelving units.  Lighter boxes are stacked on higher shelves requiring the use of a ladder and heavier boxes are placed on shelves around knee height.  The client further has been experiencing a low degree of low back pain and has been cleared by his doctor for training with no restrictions and has no documented low back problems (I.E. bulging discs et al.)

Example Programming Possibilities:

Bodybuilding Trainer – Workout 1:  Leg Press machine, Calf Press, Hamstring Curl Machine, Sit Ups, Preacher Curl Rack, Shoulder Press Machine, Seated Row, Lat Pull-down cables and Seated Chest Press.  Sets and reps programmed for high reps/mid weights.


Strength and Performance Trainer – Workout 2:  Squats,Lunges,Deadlift,Standing Barbell Curl, Tricep Press, Standing Military Press/Dumbbell Press, Push Up/Bench Press and Pull/Chin Up. Core lifts (Squat/ Deadlift / Benchpress) are programmed for strength progression in a linear manner. Train abdominal complex in all three planes of movement.


Corrective Exercise Trainer –  Workout 3: Stretching Program with emphasis on hips, hamstrings and lumbar.  Screen for muscle imbalances. Inhibit overactive muscles, Activate underactive muscles, Joint mobility drills for shoulders, hips knees, postural and biomechanical corrections.  Strengthen clients abdominal complex through all planes of movement, hamstrings, glutes, erectors and hip flexors.  Teach client how to lift and move loads safely and efficiently. 

I typically favor workouts 2 and 3, but do use selected exercises from workout 1 as well. For me it depends on the clients needs at the time.  

“Humans have the ability to piggyback information and/or skills concerning posture, strength, flexibility, gross motor skills and proprioceptive acuity to real life movements that are “learned” and “controlled” by the central nervous system” 

Edward Reed PhD – Ecological Psychology -expert in Human action movements



This is how we as trainers fit our programs to our clients, not the clients to our programming.  The standards by which success can be objectively measured include volume (# of reps completed), intensity (lb/kg improvements) speed/duration/distance,range of motion or any other measurable means. Not how cool the client looks balancing on BOSU’s while swinging a kettlebell.


A much bigger kettlebell and two less BOSU’s are clearly called for. 



Somebody call the circus, I’ve found a new feature attraction!  Flat side up on the BOSU with two pink Kettlebells in the bottomside up press position while standing on one foot while wearing a singlet!  





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