Functional Training
Training For Everyday Life

Functional training is a classification of exercise which involves training the body for the activities performed in daily life or specific to a particular sport.

With its origins in rehabilitation, physical therapists developed exercises that mimicked what patients did at home or work in order to return to their lives or jobs after an injury or surgery.

Thus if a patient's job required repeatedly heavy lifting, rehabilitation would be targeted towards heavy lifting, if the patient were a parent of young children, it would be targeted towards moderate lifting and endurance.

Training involves mainly weight bearing activities targeted at core muscles of the abdomen and lower back.


Functional exercise is integrated exercise using many related muscle groups and body parts together throughout the movements usually involving body weight as a resistance.

Whereas nonfunctional exercise is isolated exercise using only one specific muscle group at a time not in relation to other muscle groups, and characterized as being performed seated on machines while not requiring core muscles to stabilize.

Integrated training gets results by allowing muscle groups to develop in conjunction with one another as the body moves in its natural patterns.

Isolation training gets results by focusing on only one muscle group at a time not in relation to the other complementary muscle groups or body parts to the muscle being worked.


Examples of Non-Functional exercises are:

  • Bench press
  • Lat pull down
  • Seated triceps extension
  • Seated leg extension
  • Leg press

Examples of Function exercises are:

  • Push up
  • Pull up
  • Dips
  • Lunge
  • Squats

Functional training may lead to better muscular balance and joint stability, possibly impacting the number of injuries sustained and an individual's performance in a sport or life activities.

The benefits arise from the use of training that emphasizes the body's natural ability to move in three anatomical planes of motion. Although machines can often be safer, they restrict movements to a single plane of motion, which is an unnatural form of movement for the body and may potentially lead to faulty movements, patterns or injury.

Some specific benefits are:

  • Everyday life gains: integrated training helps you develop your muscles to work together synergistically as a team, resulting in an overall increase in strength, balance, co-ordination, and power.
  • Stronger core muscles: e.g. a push up will require your chest, arms, shoulders, and those important stabilizing core muscles to work. While a seated chest press will allow the core muscles to sleep.
  • Calories burned: more muscles used equals more calories/energy burned.
  • Time: saved by working several muscles at once.
  • Money saved: you don't need fancy expensive equipment.

Standard resistance training machines (weight machines) are of limited use for functional training as their fixed patterns rarely mimic natural movements, and they focus the effort on a single muscle group rather than engaging the stabilizers and peripheral muscles.

Cable machines, or pulley machines are extremely useful as they allow a person to recruit all major muscle groups while moving in multiple planes.

Preferred options include:

  • Cable machines
  • dumbbells
  • Medicine balls
  • Resistance tubes
  • Rocker and wobble boards
  • Balance disks
  • Sandbags

To be effective a functional exercise program should include a number of different elements:

  • Specific to the sport or targeted rehabilitation goal working to develop and maintain strength in a specific body area.
  • Should be integrated including a variety of exercises that work on flexibility, core muscle growth, balance, strength and power.
  • Should increase core stability which allows for a more efficient transference of power from the lower to the upper body and an increased ability to maintain correct posture over long periods of time.
  • Program should be progressive, steadily increasing the strength demand from workout to workout.
  • Program must be individualized meeting the specific rehabilitation or sport needs of the person.
  • Remember: if this type of exercise, or any other exercise, is new to you start off slow with short sessions and build your way up gradually. If you have any health concerns or medical conditions be sure to check with your doctor for advice before you begin a program.

Functional training obviously has some benefit both in rehabilitation and sports development, and can be a great addition to a well-designed strength and conditioning program. Most trainers do recommend a combination approach, which utilizes machines, free-weights, bodyweight, balls, bands, and anything that is going to deliver the desired results.

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