The Benefits of Functional Exercise Training

Published on: February 12, 2011

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“No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training… what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” – Socrates

What Is Functional Training?

Functional training has exploded in recent years owing to the popularity of Cross-Fit which has seen a move away from machine-based weights. There are many proponents of functional training within the health and fitness industry to include: Paul Chek, Gary Gray, Chuck Wolf, Douglas Heel, Gray Cook, Michol Dalcourt and many others.

If this concept seems foreign to you, stick with me as I outline a simplified version which will make sense. What does functional training mean? Well, according to Paul Chek, functional training must incorporate the following attributes:

It must support life by not detracting from vitality. The exerciser must train not detrain. Many people are guilty of this.

Functional exercise is a means to an end. Gathering wood to stay warm, lifting and stacking stones are a few examples. The movements must be specific to your sport or work duties.

Every exercise must have a physiological reason for its selection. It must take you toward the fulfilment of your desired goal, not detract from it.

The exercise selection must enhance one’s mental, emotional and spiritual aspect. They must not be detrimental to the individual in order that aesthetics prevail.

With this in mind, functional training has become integrated within health clubs around the world. Despite that bodybuilding is still common in gyms, it is universally accepted that functional training has wider benefits. Bodybuilding is considered a form of body sculpturing, popularised by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joe Weider, Frank Zane, Ronnie Coleman, Lee Haney and others.

If you are training for aesthetics reasons and have a background in exercise physiology or a related discipline, you are in an ideal position. It is vital for the human form to move in various planes or permutations. The benefit of functional training is that it allows you to move in three dimensions. Your joints articulate movement in all three planes. It’s essential that you exercise accordingly.

The humble chair has become the root cause of injuries and ailments. People spend countless hours sitting at a desk without taking regular breaks. In my speaking engagements, I regularly advocate that people drink water consistently throughout the day. Not only does water nourish the muscles, organs, spine and connective tissue, it allows the person to take regular breaks, thus promoting movement.

It is disheartening to see young people spend countless hours sitting in front of televisions and the computer, without regular breaks. Your glutes muscles (bottom) are neglected when you sit for prolonged periods. Dr Stuart McGill, a pioneer researcher in back pain called it gluteal amnesia. In other words, your bottom forgets how to work properly as a result of excessive sitting. Why are your glutes an important muscle?

Your glutes serve a number of anatomical functions. They are the de-accelerator of the knee in forward motion. They are the stabiliser of the hip and the hinging mechanism between the upper and lower extremity. In my practice, I mostly see people suffering low back pain as a result of a faulty hinging mechanism. They’re unable to extend themselves properly from a flexed position. Instead of the glutes being the powerhouse of the hip complex, the lower back bears the subsequent load. Your lower back is not equipped to handle the stress or load of repetitive forces and movements you subject it to.

Functional training allows you to move as nature intended. Have you ever taken notice of the Eastern practice of Tai Chi or Qi Gong? The movements apart from being graceful and elegant, allow the participant to move in three dimensions. There is a good deal of hand and leg movement which facilitates circular rhythms in tune with one’s breathing. This allows the muscle’s natural movement, as well as tonifying the organs and meridians within the body.


My recommendation is to include functional movements in your training. Avoid two dimensional workouts where possible. Apart from being incredibly boring, these exercises do nothing to raise your metabolism and place repetitive strain on your muscles. Such movements may often lead to overuse injuries.

Functional movements on the other hand, allow for bigger movements in all three planes. Your limbs move, accelerate and de-accelerate allowing maximum caloric expenditure during training. My clients irrespective of age, all perform functional movement patterns regularly during training sessions. My senior client at age sixty four, performs many of these movements with the agility and strength of a twenty year old. He feels energised and invigorated following each workout and remains injury free.

If you have struggled to lose weight by performing the same routine on the cardio machines, take a break and consider functional training. Find a well trained health professional in your area. If you belong to a health club, enquire into a complimentary session from a qualified trainer versed in functional training. Most are willing to provide you with a free complimentary session. Have them take you through a workout after discussing your goals and undertake a comprehensive assessment.

You will feel more energised than your previous workouts and notice muscle soreness in parts you never felt before. The internet is an amazing resource. Google functional training and look up You Tube clips on the topic if you wish to learn more. There’s a plethora of information readily available at the click of a mouse.

Start with basic movement patterns. If finances are tight and you cannot afford a trainer, research the topic independently. Speak to people who are knowledgeable in the area. In no time, you’ll achieve the body you’ve always wanted. You’ll be injury free and move with the suppleness of an athlete – instead of a robot. Nature intended you to move with such grace and suppleness; not like a ticking clock.

Get started now and add some spice to your training regime.

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