“When life gives you a hammer, many things start to look like nails”. The same is true when it comes to functional exercise. As it’s becoming a trend – too many exercises are branded “functional” regardless if they have any carry over to other forms of training or life in general. When we consider what is functional training, we have to understand that not every exercise that involves hip flexion (i.e. step ups), standing on a bosu, lying on a swiss ball or involves 3 planes of motion means that you can call it “functional” as it doesn’t guarantee to improve your stability, mobility or reduce imbalances across the body. So what is functional training? One thing is for sure, it’s not defined by the way it looks, a simple truth that the fitness industry tends to overlook!
Let’s consider the deadlift for example. The idea is simple, you are going to lift stuff (not just gym weights) for the rest of your life, so you may as well do it right. Deadlifting loads the entire posterior chain and strengthens every postural muscle in your body which can give you a fantastic posture when done right. When you analyse the deadlift in the context of movement development you see that it’s a natural move. I don’t need you to deadlift and squat because I want you to have big / strong legs, I need you to do it because you should be able to do it. Babies can do it naturally as part of movement development and if you can’t, it means you have a dysfunction we need to address.
It’s silly to assume that practice makes perfect, if anything, practice makes permanent. Going to the fundamentals and handing out some corrective exercise as part of functional training is something many people regard as going back. However, those speed bumps in your training should get you excited. They are designed not only to increase your safety but also to increase performance at every level. Stabilizing muscles are often quick to respond as they are reflex based and if we can improve your hips stability (for example) this will have a positive effect not just on your lifts, running and athletic performance but also on more basic fundamental movement you do outside of the gym (i.e. walking, lifting things, getting stronger and avoiding injuries at every level). This is why true functional training should be considered for every type of training if you’re serious about getting good results. As a wise man once said “First move well, then move a lot”.