What is Functional Training?

by Annisa Belonogoff 3936 views Training

What is Functional Training?

Functional training is the buzz phrase you hear in nearly every gym today said by almost every personal trainer. It seems like every fitness personality is trying to sell you a ‘Functional Training’ fitness program.

But what is 'Functional Training' and should you be doing it?

The fitness industry describes 'functional training' as a class of exercises which involves training and preparing the body for the everyday activities performed in daily life.

So if you have or had ever, run, lifted weights, walked, walked upstairs, completed a group fitness class or even something as simple as stretching, you have done 'functional training'.  'Functional training' is just a buzz phrase today's industry has created for using, moving and strengthening your body. In other words ... EXERCISE.

Why would they do such a thing?

Why is the fitness industry trying to confuse you with buzz phrases, tricky terminology, and fluffy super language?

It comes down to branding and marketing. Before you get drawn into a new exercise craze or add a new fitness hipster term to your vocabulary, check it out and find out what it actually is. I can tell you right now there are fitness professionals throwing these terms around to their clients who themselves have no idea what they are saying, or what any of it really means.

So why create such buzz phrases? Like I said it’s branding.


The fitness industry is big business, in Australia, it generates about one billion dollars a year, it's a product and just like Heinz Baked beans, which needs to update its packaging for each generation, so does fitness and exercise. People are coming up with new exercise equipment, new fitness programs, and they are constantly finding out new research on what exercises are effective or ineffective. The best way to get this new information across is to brand it as something else and create a buzz term.

For example, over the years they have found that the most effective exercise for people are the exercises that help them improve their everyday movement and function for their individual life activity...

Hmm, what to call that so people understand its importance in their life?
Functional training…
Or as I like to call it, exercise for your body and your lifestyle.

Ok so I might pay out the buzz phrase of 'functional training' but the fact is the concept and idea behind it are actually a very important message. It has been lost a little in branding and fluffy throw around sales use of the term, but everyone should be doing functional training for his or her individual movement and strength needs.

We all need to sit, stand, be able to run, walk, lift heavy things and put them back down again, without injuring ourselves. That is what functional training promotes, strengthening your body for your needs.

How do you do that?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question because it really depends on the individual's fitness and strength needs for everyday life, but if you want the 'All Rounder' award from fitness primary school I would suggest having as much variety in your training as possible. Running, walking, swimming, lifting heavy things and putting them back down again, stretching, yoga, pilates, dancing. If you can think of something you’d enjoy, then you should do it. Balance your training so it involves some kind of strength training, cardio training, recovery (stretching and rest), as well as fuelling the mind and body by doing something like yoga or being active in social events with friends and family.

To me, 'functional training' means training your mind and body for everyday movement, without injury, not just for today or tomorrow but for a lifetime. Be smart with your training and don't just do something because someone said you should.

So what exercises should you be doing for your own personal 'functional training'?

There are a few questions to ask yourself first, which will aid you in your fitness journey and point you in the right direction:

1. What are your current physical or fitness limitations that you wish to improve on? This is a very important question to ask; ultimately you are finding out what weakness you can work on and strengthen to help improve your overall quality of life.
2. What do you want to achieve with your training? Add a personal touch with this one. What are your goals?
  To be able to run after your kids, do a half marathon, lose five kilos, be able to walk up and down the stairs with no knee or back pain etc? Or questions like; would you like to get stronger or would you like to lose body fat?
  Create a good understanding of what it is you are striving for before setting out an exercise plan, so that you can ensure you both enjoy what you are doing as well as achieve what you would like to achieve.
3. Two other important questions; What exercise do you enjoy doing? How much time do you have to exercise? “I don’t have time” is an excuse everyone uses…. Which I call you out on, because you make time for the things that are important, and this IS important, this is your LIFE.
  Most of the time people make this excuse, not because they "don't have time" but more because they believe they have to commit more time to exercise than they need to. If you only have 20 min every second day to do something, then use it.
Don’t over think it.

The body is like a car, if you don’t use it, look after it and maintain it, eventually all the problems will pop up and the mechanic won’t be able to fix it. The difference is, you can buy a new car but you can’t buy a new body. 

Another mistake people make is not going out and finding some kind of exercise they enjoy. Yes, you might not enjoy it all the time, but you want the feeling of wanting to go back and do it again, there just need to be a least a little sense of enjoyment or you won't commit to it. 

Where do you go from here?

When it comes to creating your own functional training program, as a general rule of thumb, involve some strength, some cardio, recovery, some stretching and make sure you involve exercise you enjoy.

How you want those ratios to balance in your fitness schedule is all up to you.

Of course, whenever starting a new fitness/exercise or health program always consult your doctor first and if you are really stuck don't be afraid to ask a fitness professional for advice or guidance, but make sure you are asking a professional in that field. You wouldn't ask a dentist about heart surgery, so ask advice from a fitness professional that has great knowledge and a proven track record in that type of exercise or fitness area.

Now go and make your body function the way it needs to for your lifestyle.

Annisa Belonogoff

Group Fitness Coach and Personal Trainer

I am a personal trainer and group fitness coach with a passion for many types of exercise from dance, endurance events, to bodybuilding. I have lost over 30kg in my fitness journey and I am a Nutrition Warehouse sponsored Athlete with a vast array of interests in and out of the fitness world. I have represented Australian twice in the INBA Natural Olympia and lucky enough to bring home some medals in figure events.

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