Is It Time to Rethink Your Definition of “Functional” Training?

What is Functional Training?


Seriously, think about it? We use this term every day, but few people think about what it means.

Would “concentration curls” be a functional exercise? What about bicep curls, leg extension, box jumps, Olympic lifts, cable chops, chin-ups, or treadmill sprints?

My official stance is “it depends on what you are trying to accomplish”. I would argue that ALL of those exercises could be termed “functional” at various times.

Let’s take a closer look…


According to the Oxford dictionary the word functional means “Of or having a special activity, purpose, or task”.
Put in simpler terms, something is functional if it is “useful to accomplish a specific objective”.


Under this definition (and mine), it’s not the exercise that determines function, it’s the purpose!

If your goal is to run a marathon, Olympic Lifts aren’t very “functional”. Sure, there are many positive benefits that can come with doing Olympic lifts, but it won’t matter how good you get at your clean and snatch. They won’t have a substantial impact on your ability to run 26.2 miles.

Yes, this seems like an extreme example, but going down this path makes us THINK a bit more!

That’s a good thing.
Many trainers take a “one size fits all approach to training”, or get stuck in a routine of programming.
We all have our “go to” exercises and movement patterns, but I encourage you to think beyond that.

I think of “functional training” as the ability to constantly adapt your programming, coaching, cueing and modifications on moment to moment basis for every single person.

This applies whether you are working with individuals or a group.
What if someone is struggling to master a movement, unable to maintain form due to fatigue, getting bored, has an injury that requires modification, or needs to be challenged in a new way? Are you able to find the correct variation and effectively cue them to perform it within a few seconds?
Even more important than finding and cueing the modification is your ability to thoroughly understand the implications of that change on your client. By making the adjustment, what happens to the:
● Force distribution throughout the body
● Neuromuscular activation and firing patterns
● Effort level
● Impact on the goal and purpose and outcome of the movement


THIS is what great coaches, trainers, and instructors are able to do on the fly.

It requires a base level of knowledge, experience, and more importantly, a willingness to think differently about movement and function.

Tim Borys
Author, Speaker, Coach, CEO
FRESH! Wellness Group

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