Functional Training: what is it?

Over the past decade or more the term functional training has become quite common in the exercise and rehabilitation realms. Why? That’s what we’re going to hash out.

Functional training encompasses and includes any activity that:

1. Is holistic in nature.

Typically, this means that the entire body or a segmental chain is incorporated into the activity. Balance training is a common way to accomplish this, as is core and low back training.

2. Includes foundational movements.

This means movements or exercises that are basic to human function. For example, roll, crawl, push, pull, hinge, squat, balance and carry a load. These are most basic movements that all movement and exercise is built upon.

3. Balances out activity specification.

Everyone has some sort of activity specification occurring in their lives. It may be from sitting at a desk all day at work or playing a sport year-round.

4. May be multi-dimensional or multi-sensory.

Basically, this means that somehow your nervous system will be challenged via multiple inputs during the activity.

Overall, functional training’s goal is to: 1) help prevent injury; and 2) help you better achieve your regular daily activities.

Yet, the thing I really love about functional training, is it is person specific.

Functional training should be tailored to your activity and needs. So, if you’re a volleyball player who’s jumping and hitting all the time functional training would be geared towards making sure you maintain things like shoulder strength endurance, core strength, landing mechanics, and balance. If you’re a cyclist it would include things like pelvic stability, core strength, fluidity of movement, thoracic mobility, general flexibility, and balance. Nevertheless, everyone’s program should still be tailored uniquely to them. Additionally, functional training should be performed regularly, be progressive in nature, and be periodized. This means that functional training exercises should get harder as you go along. Then when proficiency has been achieved exercises should be varied for continued improvement. Now I think it’s important to note here that this does not mean once you become proficient at a movement you never practice it again. Proper periodization will cycle you back through previous exercises to ensure that proficiency is maintained and future progression can occur.

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