For the last 5+ years there has been a trend in the world of physical fitness that started out as a niche, and grown into something that is beyond what most believed it would be. I’m talking about the “functional training” movement.
Before we go any further, let’s first discuss what “functional training” is and what it is not. Of course it will depend who you ask, but in general the term functional training describes training that helps to restore your body to its intended function. Although this can be applied to a number of human traits, it originally stems from the physical therapy community, a group of professionals who specialize in helping people recover from injury. In other words, they have an injured joint or muscle (or both) and they wish to restore function to that part of the body.
The term (and trend) eventually made its way from the doctor’s office to the gym floor, with its proponents claiming that training “functionally” means training the body in the way it was intended to be used, and the results would be an improvement in every day life. This meant that workouts which included multi-joint movements and full body workouts, as opposed to the very common isolation exercise for specific muscles, and whole workouts dedicated to a single body part.
At its surface, functional training seems like a good idea, and in reality, it probably is, but is it really for you? And where does functional training end and sports or athletic training begin, and why aren’t they the same thing?
In truth, exercise at its simplest form is synthetic human movement. In other words, before our current cultural norms, technologically assisted lives, and the plethora of other elements that have changed our lives, we used to have to hunt and gather for our food. We used to have to run, jump and climb to evade danger. We used to have to walk anywhere we wanted to go, and walk for long distances during seasonal changes. We used to have to lift and carry materials to build our homes. Humans, like animals, were very physically active, every single day. Obviously our lives are nothing like that today, and because of sitting on couches, at desks, and riding in cars, trains and planes, and buying food, and clothing and shelter rather than building it, our bodies deteriorate from lack of use.
So, our exercise at its bare bones is to replace the movement our bodies were supposed to be doing. There are a few problems with this, of course: If you’re daily life is extremely sedentary, 2-3 hours a week of exercise won’t do much to overcome those many hours of inactivity. On the other hand, restoring function and building a body capable of handling day to day life is actually quite simple (depending on how far gone your body’s function is), which means, if we can reach near full functionality in as little as a few months…what the heck is all this other training for?