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What is Functional Training?

Published February 04, 2019 (Revised: January 15, 2020) Read Time: 5 minutes
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

Fact-Checked By: Jenny Lau BS in Kinesiology

<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context":"", "@type":"BlogPosting", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Ben Kissam, BS" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Warrior Made", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "", "image": "" } }, "headline":"What is Functional Training?", "datePublished":"2019-02-04", "dateModified": "2020-01-15", "description":"What exactly is functional training? This short guide will teach you everything you need to know.", "image": "" } </script> <script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "What is a functional training workout?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Functional training uses multi-joint exercises that mimic real-life activities and typically combines with another fitness modality like HIIT to deliver results." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "What are the best functional exercises?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Squats, Push-ups, Lunges, Hinge exercises (drinking birds), Upper body pulls (rows, pull-ups), Core, Running, Walking" } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "Why is functional training important?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Functional training is important because it keeps you healthy, pain-free, and can improve your quality of life." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "Is functional training the same as high-intensity training?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "They are not the same thing. Functional training is characterized by the type of exercise you're doing, High-intensity training refers more to the intensity and time-efficiency of an exercise." } }] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">What is a Functional Training Workout?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">What Are The Best Functional Exercises?</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">Why Is Functional Training Important?</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">Is Functional Training The Same As High-Intensity Training?</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">Functional Training: Wrap Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>Everyone has their own reason for working out (or wanting to).</p> <p>But many of those reasons revolve around the same things: <i>looking good, being healthy,</i> and <i>living pain-free.</i></p> <p>If that sounds about right, it might pique your interest to know that functional training can help you achieve all three of those goals.</p> <p>But <i>what exactly is functional training?</i></p> <p>The term gets thrown around <i>a lot</i> in the fitness world, so if you're unclear, you're definitely not alone.</p> <p>Here's a short but comprehensive guide on functional training. You'll learn what comprises a functional workout, the best exercises, why it's important for health and fitness, and one common misconception about functional training.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>What is a functional training workout?</h2> <p>There are three components to a functional training workout.</p> <p><strong>First</strong>, functional training workouts emphasise basic, multi-joint movements.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a></sup> Therefore, single joint exercises like bicep curls or leg extensions don't qualify as functional exercises.</p> <p>What's the difference? </p> <ul> <li>Multi-joint exercises force the body to work together as a unit instead of isolating one muscle at a time. Studies show this type of training is more effective and efficient for adding strength and muscle.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup></li> <li>Multi-joint exercises are considered more therapeutic. You're at a lower risk for injury because weight is being distributed through several joints.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a></sup></li> </ul> <p><strong>Second</strong>, functional training workouts use exercises that mimic or reinforce movement patterns you perform <i>outside</i> of training (walking up stairs or doing yard work, for example).</p> <p>And <strong>finally</strong>, functional training workouts incorporate other fitness modalities (sets/reps, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), etc).*</p> <p><i>(*See section: "Is functional training the same as high-intensity training?" for more.)</i></p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="best functional training"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>What are the best functional exercises?</h2> <p>Here's are some functional movements you can add to your workouts, categorized by fitness type, as well as a workout example.</p> <p><strong><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Functional strength</a></strong></p> <ul> <li><strong>Squats</strong> - strengthen the <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">glutes</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">hips</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">lower back</a>, abs</li> <li><strong>Push-ups</strong> - strengthen the <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">chest</a>, shoulders <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">triceps</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">core</a></li> <li><strong>Lunges</strong> - strengthens the <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">quads</a>, glutes, hips</li> <li><strong>Hinge exercises (<a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">drinking birds</a>)</strong> - back, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">hamstrings</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">abs</a></li> <li><strong>Upper body pulls (rows, pull-ups)</strong> - <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">lats</a>, shoulders, core</li> <li><strong>Core</strong> - plabks, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">hollow holds</a></li> </ul> <p><strong>Functional cardio</strong></p> <ul> <li><strong>Running</strong></li> <li><strong><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Walking</a></strong></li> <li><strong>Swimming</strong></li> <li><strong>Biking</strong></li> </ul> <p><strong>Example of a functional training workout</strong></p> <p>Do 20 seconds of exercise, followed by 10 seconds of rest for 8 rounds (20 on, 10 off x 16)</p> <ul> <li><strong>Push-ups</strong></li> <li><strong>Squats</strong></li> <li><strong>Sit-ups</strong></li> <li><strong>Walk/run</strong></li> </ul> <p>Do 4 sets of 20 on, 10 off of each exercise, then rotate to the next movement. Use a <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">beginner variation</a> if you can't do any of the movements listed.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <h2>Why is functional training important?</h2> <p>Functional training is important because it keeps you healthy, pain-free, and can improve your quality of life.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup></p> <p>It's simply a reality that our bodies naturally begin to lose muscle mass, coordination and balance, and joint flexibility as we age.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">7</a></sup></p> <p>But it's also well-known that exercise slows the natural aging process.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">8</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">9</a></sup></p> <p>While <i>any</i> form of physical activity is better than none for combating age-related movement and fitness regression, functional training can be particularly helpful, because it reinforces the movements patterns we need to go about our daily lives.</p> <p>In that sense, functional training is important because it prepares us for the rigors of daily life.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="functional everyday training"> </picture> <h3>Other benefits of functional training</h3> <p>Here are some of the other health and fitness benefits of functional training:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Promotes total-body strength and fitness.</strong> Functional training recruits more muscles than isolation exercises.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">10</a></sup> As a result, you'll strengthen multiple muscle groups at a time and also receive additional metabolic and cardiovascular benefits.</li> <li><strong>Increase post-exercise calorie consumption.</strong> Functional training workouts performed at high-intensity has been shown to boost your metabolism and the number of calories you burn after exercise, according to multiple studies.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">11</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">12</a></sup></li> <li><strong>Scalability.</strong> Functional training is easily modifiable, meaning that people of varying skill or fitness levels can use variations of the same movement in their workouts. (For example, you can make a simple bodyweight squat more or less difficult depending on your strength/fitness level.)</li> <li><strong>Accessibility.</strong> Because you don't necessarily need weights or a gym membership, and the exercises can be scaled, anyone can do a functional training workout. All you need is floor space and your own bodyweight.</li> <li><strong>Time-efficiency.</strong> Because functional training is often done in conjunction with HIIT-style workouts, you can do a lot of work in a short amount of time. For example, the Tabata protocol*—which is usually done with functional exercises—only takes 4 minutes, and offers a lot of the same benefits as steady-state cardio.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">13</a></sup></li> </ul> <p><i>*Tabata follows the same 20 second on, 10 second off time interval of the workout example described earlier (see: "Example of a functional training workout").</i></p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <h2>Is functional training the same as high-intensity training?</h2> <p>It's a common misconception, but functional training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are not the same thing.</p> <p>Here's the difference:</p> <ul> <li>Functional training is characterized by the <i>type</i> of exercise you're doing—working multiple muscle groups and joints and mimicking movements or postures you might use outside the gym.</li> <li>High-intensity training refers more to the <i>intensity</i> (of the exercise) and <i>time-efficiency</i> (usually short, max-effort intervals) of an exercise.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">14</a></sup></li> </ul> <p>Based on these definitions, you could technically do a high-intensity workout using single-joint exercises.</p> <p>However, these two exercise modalities are most often used in conjunction with one another because of the many benefits described earlier (see section: "Why is functional training important?").</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="functional training"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section5"> <h2>Functional training: wrap up</h2> <p>Functional training uses multi-joint exercises that mimic real-life activities and typically combines with another fitness modality like HIIT to deliver results.</p> <p>There are different types of functional training—you can use these movements to improve not only strength, but cardio, too.</p> <p>Functional training is particularly important (and beneficial) because it prepares our bodies to perform movements and hold postures we use in everyday life. It can also offset the natural regression of our muscular strength and joint flexibility when done regularly.</p> <p>Other benefits include total body fitness gains, a metabolic boost after workouts, simplicity, time-efficiency, and scalability.</p> <p>If you're interested in trying a functional training workout, we encourage you to give one of our <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">latest workouts</a> a try. Each workout has a beginner, intermediate, and advanced option, so no matter what your current fitness level is, you'll be able to do it.</p> </section> </article>

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