Functional Training

Functional strength training should be thought of in terms of a movement continuum. As humans, we perform a wide range of movement activities, such as walking, jogging, running, sprinting, jumping, lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, twisting, turning, standing, starting, stopping, climbing and lunging. All of these activities involve smooth, rhythmic motions in the three cardinal planes of movement- sagittal, frontal and transverse.

Training to improve functional strength involves more than simply increasing the force-producing capability of a muscle or group of muscles. Rather, it requires training to enhance the coordinated working relationship between the nervous and muscular systems.

Functional strength training involves performing work against resistance in such a manner that the improvements in strength directly enhance the performance of movements so that an individual’s activities of daily living are easier to perform. Simply stated, the primary goal of functional training is to transfer the improvements in strength achieved in one movement to enhancing the performance of another movement by affecting the entire neuromuscular system.

In functional training, it is as critical to train the specific movement as it is to train the muscles involved in the movement. The brain, which controls muscular movement, thinks in terms of whole motions, not individual muscles.

Exercises that isolate joints and muscles are training muscles, not movements, which results in less functional improvement. For example, squats will have a greater “transfer effect” on improving an individual’s ability to rise from a sofa than knee extensions.

Components of a functional exercise program

To be effective, a functional exercise program should include a number of different elements which can be adapted to an individual’s needs or goals:

  • Based on functional tasks directed toward everyday life activities.
  • Individualized – a training program should be tailored to each individual. Any program must be specific to the goals of an individual, focusing on meaningful tasks. It must also be specific to the individual state of health, including presence or history of injury. An assessment should be performed to help guide exercise selection and training load.
  • Integrated – It should include a variety of exercises that work on flexibility, core, balance, strength and power, focusing on multiple movement planes.
  • Progressive – Progressive training steadily increases the difficulty of the task.
  • Periodized – mainly by training with distributed practice and varying the tasks.
  • Repeated frequently.
  • Use of real life object manipulation.
  • Performed in context-specific environments.