Why functional training works

This week I felt like writing about this topic because I think there are still many people who do not fully understand the concept of “functional training”. Yes, we read it everywhere, all the gyms have it and the influencers practice it every day. Okay.

But it’s true that when I read posts about functional training it’s all pretty abstract and I think that people who are not very familiar with the world of fitness (most mortals) wouldn’t understand it. It took me a while to understand what functional training really was and why it was better than traditional training.

After years in the gym, I suddenly came out of that platonic cave and it seemed to me that everything I had experienced before was a “lie”. Don’t you want to read on now?

Functional training vs. Traditional training

Many times it is easier to understand a concept for what it is not than for what it is. Just as if something is salty, it is not sweet, functional training is not traditional and with the differences between one and the other it is easy to make a mental picture.

The most popular activities in the gym until a few years ago were either going to the weight room (to gain muscle), or pedaling full throttle in spinning (to lose weight), or doing Zumba, aerobics or step activities (to lose weight too). On the other hand we have yoga and Pilates, but these I will leave aside for the purpose of this article.

Well, let’s just say that in none of the most popular activities in gyms was there a real goal of improving the quality of life based on the natural needs of human beings. How beautiful the phrase is, now it’s my turn to explain it: in our daily life, we neither lift up shopping bags making biceps nor ride our bikes nor go up and down a step walking around.

Obviously, the physical improvement that these activities cause helps us in our daily life, but in a much less efficient and slower way than if we turn it around and put as a priority the improvement of the natural movements of the human being.

If in traditional training the movements are analytical (one muscle is worked at a time), repetitive, on many occasions they are done sitting down (for example, when doing bench presses while lying down on a bench) and the cardiovascular work (of sweating) is usually separated from the muscular work.

Thus, many people combine their weight routine with 20 minutes of treadmill or do a BodyPump class and then complete it with spinning.

Functional movements: From everyday life

This is where the fitness revolution comes in and we forget about muscles to work movements that involve muscle chains. The first time I was told about these movements, I thought they were spoken to me in another language. Movements?

But we’ve always done legs, back, arms… And of course, my gridded mind was trying to classify those movements by muscles, but it doesn’t work that way. Because the movements are complex, they involve the whole body and, to make matters worse, they combine with each other.

The movements you do in functional training are the same ones you do naturally in your day-to-day life:

  • Stride: this is the same movement you use when running.
  • Squat: to sit and stand, to bend over.
  • Pushing: when you open a door (or close it, depending on how) or when you move a piece of furniture around.
  • Pulling: every time you “pull” something, such as when you pick up a water bottle from the floor.
  • Active plate: this is sometimes the most complicated to understand. It is about activating the core area (abdomen) to protect your back or to keep your balance when you go on the bus and brake suddenly.
  • Hip hinge: if you bend down with your back instead of your legs, so in most cases where you tie your laces while standing, you perform this movement.
  • Rotation or anti-rotation: this is one of the most important movements because in the past it was not trained and it is the one that can cause more injuries. Has it ever happened to you that you turn to take something from the back seat and you get some muscle “stuck”? That’s why it’s important to train it.

All these movements are practiced in a functional training session, using materials or simply the weight of the body itself. As you can see, they are complex movements in which the whole body participates in one way or another.

Moreover, they are executed in three dimensions (yes, like the cinema) because they include displacements and changes of plane. So, when you have to run to get to the bus or when you carry your shopping bags too much, you will have developed the necessary skills to face it.