‘Functional training’ is a term that often gets thrown about within the fitness environment, however whether or not people truly understand what this is, and how it can impact on your training is another question.
This term has been described as ‘‘training the body for the activities performed in daily life”. This basically describes the concept of selecting workouts that are going to use the muscles that you mainly need for your sport/occupation, will work at an intensity that reflects your needs, and may also mimic actions that you will often use in your sporting/everyday routine. For example, someone that works in removals will spend a lot of time bending and picking up heavy furniture, therefore an obvious choice for functional exercises would be squatting and deadlifting.
Someone that plays football may choose cardiovascular workouts that vary the speed you work at, and not just go for one pace the whole duration of the exercise. In both cases the exercises are related to the individual’s everyday/sporting needs, however, you could argue that functional training should also incorporate exercises that the individual will be weaker in, and that may need developing for longevity of training and reduce the likelihood of injuries.
An example of this would be a team sports player that (in most cases) has a dominant side that they favour kicking/throwing the ball with. If they continue to train the dominant side with little focus on the opposite they may gradually develop tight overused muscles in one side and weaker ones in the opposite limb, and often lead to injuries. Therefore, away from their competition, their functional training might be totally focusing on the weaker side to try and restore muscular balance.
So, how would this affect someone in everyday life? The vast majority of jobs nowadays are sedentary, where people hunch over their computers for hours at a time. This causes problems with posture and often means people are not engaging their core enough when sitting/standing/walking. Therefore a good functional focus for this type of individual would be to identify their weaker muscles and train them, but also opting to do exercises that will ensure you use your core. Using free weights like dumbbells and kettlebells over static machines is always beneficial; kettlebells are especially good at using your core because the big multi-joint exercises you perform will rely on the use of the hips, lower back and abdominals (generally regardless of what action you are doing).
When we do our own workouts, we usually have exercises that we prefer doing, generally because you are good at them and have more confidence performing them. If you do continue to do the same actions and focus on a particular muscular group overtime, it may lead to a muscular imbalance, therefore it would be advisable to make sure you identify exercises that will work on the opposite of that action/muscle. An example would be someone that often performs push ups and presses; it would be a good idea for this individual to start incorporating more pulling actions into their workout.
In group training sessions the instructor will generally provide the whole class with the same types of exercises, they will often ask if there are any injuries that they need to be aware of, but if no one speaks out then they will continue to use the original exercises for all the participants. If someone is aware that they need to be focusing on a particular muscle/action, it would be wise to ask the trainer for their advice and adapt one or two of the exercises to ensure their training is more functional. Obviously if anyone is suffering from an injury they would need to modify/adapt exercises, or not train at all, but it would also be advisable to ask for alternatives before you get to the point of injury! It may also be necessary to ask for advice on exercises that will help to train weaker areas away from the normal group environment. Make the most of the training instructors and coaches; they are there for a reason!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…
Don’t train hard, train smart!