Functional fitness is all about training for multiple abilities. Functional movement training incorporates multi-joint exercises that allow you to move your body freely in space, in all planes and axes. In many different, unpredictable ways.
To be able to jump, crawl, swim, run, fly, roll, sprint, and walk with ease, is such a gift. Don’t let the pain be the major sign for you to start working out, and instead, start now and move, there is nothing better than ease, fluidity, mobility, and flow.
- What is Functional Fitness?
- 1. Muscular Strength
- 2. Muscular Endurance
- 3. Balance & Coordination
- 4. Flexibility & Mobility
- 5. Cardiovascular Endurance
What is Functional Fitness?
Functional Fitness is a type of training that incorporates compound movements with the goal of improving the functionality of our bodies.
This can translate into everyday life, as the point is to improve your body’s ability to move, twist, lift, and so on. The point is to enable your body to function optimally.
Functional fitness is also useful in many different areas, such as injury prevention, postural improvements, pain reduction, performance enhancement, and increased range of motion. Before starting any exercise, it is important to note that a functional warm-up protocol needs to take place.
Is functional training the same as compound movement?
Functional fitness is a fancy term for compound workouts that include the basic physical functions of the body. Since everyone is different, functional training is meant to be individualized to one person. However, because usually, the majority of the population has the same or similar problems, functional fitness workouts are becoming most popular to be trained in groups, such as group fitness.
For example, if many people have a head tilted forward, slouched shoulders, or lordosis, there is a set of exercises that can improve the triggers of these problems, which are weak core and gluteus, shortened hip flexors, tight shoulders, and reduced activation of back erectors.
Is functional training effective?
Yes, functional training is one of the best or most complete workouts you can do. Before you attempt to go on one, you should first read this. Any workout now, from CrossFit boot camps to TRX and Booty camps, yoga, and Pilates sessions might be considered “functional fitness”. It is important to understand that even though the majority of exercises used in functional fitness are used in bodybuilding, CrossFit, Pilates, or many other disciplines, functional fitness is best when individualized.
Functional Movement patterns
Every functional workout should incorporate multi-joint or compound movement exercises, also known as primal movements. These are well used in everyday life, whatever you are doing, and can improve your posture and form.
By building the needed muscular strength, improving joint mobility, and increasing specific muscle flexibility, we can learn to improve our muscle activation, posture, and form to live longer and healthier lives.
7 Primal Movement Patterns and Exercise Examples
The hinge happens when you decrease the angle in your hip joint, by bending your torso forward. Anytime you stand up, tie your shoes, or pick something from the ground you are actively doing the hinge. Keeping a neutral spine here is a crucial step.
The top hinge exercises incorporated in functional fitness are barbell deadlifts, good mornings, kettlebell swings, and pull-throughs.
The ultimate compound exercise is the squat. It is the most natural, most popular, and most common exercise that we should do. Not that it just works our hip mobility, core, and leg muscle strength, it also activates the biggest muscle groups.
When squatting, we activate almost all muscles of our legs, especially the quadriceps, gluteus, hamstrings, tibialis anterior, calves, core, upper and lower back muscles.
The most important element you should work on to improve your squat form is hip mobility. An optimal squat would be the one in which we keep our spine neutral, knees are pointing in the same direction as our toes, and feet are hip-distance apart.
Some exercise examples would be goblet squats, dumbbell front squats, barbell squats, front squats, barbell overhead squats, Wall squats, pistol squats, pile squats, frog squats, and many others.
Push and pull are the two most important compound upper body movements, that work the back and chest muscles, along with traps, shoulders, and triceps.
Now push motion is a complex compound movement involving force transmission through the wrists, elbow, and shoulders. This usually requires quite good shoulder mobility and stability.
Anytime we push something, especially higher loads of weight in the gym we should strive for an optimal line of gravitational force, which means a straight line from the lift to the shoulders which are the endpoint of force transmission of the upper extremities.
Also, if lifting overhead, positioning the spine, knees, and feet is very important. We should strive for a neutral spine and knees that point in the direction of our feet. Sometimes when dealing with higher loads, it is good to push the head forward (without causing kyphosis) to allow full shoulder extension (upward).
Pushing motion occurs:
- Horizontally (frontal)
- Vertically (upward)
- Vertically (downward)
An example of push motion exercises would be the dumbbell bench press, barbell bench press, elevated push-up, decline push-up, overhead military press, dips, incline press, and push-downs.
The best effect of the pulling exercise is straight back. Yes, improved posture is the main side effect of properly exercising pulling motion. This is why the back day is equally as important as chest day, to prevent the forward-headed kyphotic posture.
Pull motion exercises can be highly manipulated, made both unilateral and bilateral, a combination of hinge and pull, standing or sitting pull (horizontal on the machine), and lying on a bench (on your stomach).
Most pull motion exercises are compound since they involve your back, shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
An example of pulling exercises would be pull-ups, barbell row, chest-supported dumbbell row, seated wide grip pull, bent-over dumbbell rows, barbell deadlift, dumbbell single-arm row, and an inverted row.
One of the most important bilateral symmetrical balancing exercises is the farmer’s walk. Humans, we walk, a lot. Many times we carry a bag on our shoulders, talk on the phone, and hold the groceries in one hand. This requires stability, balance, and symmetricity.
Whenever we are carrying something in our dominant side, the other side is compensated by lateral flexion. This puts extra pressure on our joints because we are too lazy to activate the right muscles.
Farmer’s walk is one of the most popular exercises here, which is characterized by carrying weights (usually dumbbells, kettlebells, or even barbells) with proper walking posture. This is meant to strengthen your traps, arms, shoulders, grip, core, and legs.
The force produced in the lunge is split onto both knees forward and backward, but the lever is different. We have our feet further apart, which makes it harder for us to lift the same amount of weight, as in a squat.
The leg in the front is usually the one doing the repetitive contractions, while the back leg acts as a supporter but also contracts and is well-worked. Significant core stabilization is required for proper weight lunge.
Some variations are single-leg deadlift, Bulgarian split squat, clock lunge, reverse lunge, lateral lunge, kickstand dumbbell deadlift, curtsy lunge, lunge pulse, and dumbbell reverse lunge.
Twisting motion happens on a daily basis. Anytime we try to see something on the side, we twist our neck and torso. Obliques are the most important core muscles responsible for this motion. Whenever we twist to the right, we turn our ribs to the right, and we activate both left and right oblique muscles – left eccentric, right concentric.
Exercises that involve twisting can include rotation or anti-rotation, and can be static or dynamic in nature. Some of these include Russian twists, medicine ball throws, criss-cross, hip twists in plank, side plank, bear crunch, lateral cable chop, Hanging lateral leg raises, and many more.
Components of Functional Fitness
Functional fitness is made to improve your everyday life. It is compound and multi-functional with reason. Many people have high points of strength and low points of weakness. In the modern environment, rarely there is any balance.
To combat this, we need to exercise different moves and do different types of workouts. What have you gained if you can lift 400lbs on the bench press when you can barely breathe when climbing the stairs?
There must be some balance in our workouts that can include all important components of physical fitness. This doesn’t mean we should excel at everything, that is simply impossible. But we can work on our weaknesses to achieve some balance.
Even though there are many other subtypes or components of physical fitness, some of the basic ones our workout routine should take care of are:
1. Muscular Strength
Strength refers to your muscle’s ability to generate force. The higher load a muscle can push, the higher resistance tension it can provide, and the stronger it is. This can be divided into strength (amount of weight you can lift) or power (amount of weight in a certain time, known as explosiveness).
2. Muscular Endurance
Endurance is the ability of a muscle to repeatedly perform, contract, and produce force for extended periods of time. Workouts that implement both strength and cardio are most popular for this component, an example would be HIIT.
3. Balance & Coordination
It’s the ability of our bodies to feel where we are in space (proprioception) and produce efficient compensatory movement, also known as balance, while coordination has to do with our programming, anticipation, and preciseness of our movement. This one is especially important for older people, to prevent falls.
4. Flexibility & Mobility
Flexibility is the ability of a muscle to stretch out to a certain length. Mobility explains the range of movement a joint has, as a complex structure including the connective tissue and muscles surrounding it. The better your mobility and flexibility, the more fluid and painless your movement will be, plus the risk of injury is reduced. More doesn’t always mean better, so excessive flexibility and mobility can be detrimental to your stability.
5. Cardiovascular Endurance
It’s the ability of your body to perform physical activity for a longer duration of time. This has to do with how your cardiovascular system, heart, lungs, and muscles work together to keep you moving. Running, swimming and cycling are great examples of workouts for endurance. Subtypes can include anaerobic (lactate) and aerobic (oxidative) endurance.
So the point of a functional fitness workout would be to include a great ratio of all these components: strength, balance, endurance, mobility, and flexibility. This doesn’t have to mean that all these components are part of one workout, but a weekly regime of functional fitness should incorporate all of them.
Is functional fitness the same as CrossFit?
No. Even though many different workout styles incorporate what functional fitness (as a broad term) means, which is a compound movement, CrossFit is more performance-based than functional fitness, which is more about overall physical health and balance. This means CrossFit boot camp performers would workout harder, and since reps are very important, the proper form of movement might be neglected.
What is a compound exercise?
A compound exercise is a movement that involves bigger muscle groups and multi-joint activity, the basic primal movements such as hinge, twist, squat, push, pull and carry.
Can I increase muscle size only with compound exercises?
Yes. Compound movements are the most efficient ways to build muscle, with exception of a pro bodybuilder which might profit more from repetitive isolation contractions. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t involve isolation muscle exercises, but when starting out, the best is to keep a higher portion of your workout in the compound segment.
The whole point of functional exercise is to properly structure one’s training to ensure that the required changes are met, through a proper form of exercise.
This doesn’t just highlight the physical form in terms of posture and movement, but also the intensity, rest, reps, sets, and so on.
As a kinesiologist, I have probably had more than a hundred debates about this whether functional fitness should be practiced individually or in groups and my personal opinion is: “If you can ensure an individualized set of exercises for more people in the same group, which are at a similar level of fitness, doing the same exercise, choosing the weight and rest by themselves, taking in consideration everyone’s posture, then yes.”
In practice, this is only possible when I train smaller groups of people (4) per workout, all at a similar level and already known protocol. This means if elderly people come, with adolescents and professional athletes in a group of more than 10 performers, this is practically impossible to be done correctly, and that’s the difference from CrossFit.
Individualizing a workout plan for someone takes into consideration their age, physical fitness level, medical condition, injury or pain, overall mobility, posture, and many other factors. This is why putting 20 people in the same circle to just do an exercise that they’re told to, is usually paid cheaper.
This doesn’t mean it is bad but depends on the group we have. Younger performers, with higher mobility and activity level, will almost fit everywhere, only by adapting the weight, reps, and sets.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is functional training good for weight loss?
Yes, different types of functional fitness will affect weight loss differently. Even the muscle-building ones can positively affect your body compositions because calories are used more efficiently when having higher muscle mass.
What are the 7 primal movements?
The top 7 primal movements are Hinge, Twist, Squat, Pull, Push, Lunge, and Gait.
Can I build muscle with functional training?
Yes, for sure. Functional training is in fact one of the best ways to increase your muscle mass while also working on your joint mobility and functional strength.
Example of Functional Fitness Workouts
We’ve all heard different workout styles that sound similar or refer to functional fitness such as core blast, shoulder stabilization, booty boost, TRX work, full-body functional workout, Bosu ball workouts, and many more.
Now whether every workout can go under functional is to be debated and highly depends on the quality of your trainers. Most of this equipment such as TRX, Bosu balls, kettlebells, dumbbells, and sticks are made with the intention in mind, to improve the versatility of a functional workout instead of sitting on a huge machine.
Les Mills Functional Workout Protocols
Here are a couple of examples of the functional workouts incorporated into Les Mills, one of the world’s biggest international Fitness Organizations, offering a huge variety of workouts, all around the world at the same time. This will give you an example of what functional fitness group workouts look like, and what kind of equipment is used will be described in the section below, so you can start on your own.
- BodyPmp is a Functional, full-body workout made with the intention to become fit, toned, and lean while adding muscle mass.
- BodyCombat is a non-contact workout that incorporates elements of martial arts like karate, tai-chi, taekwondo, and kung fu created as a more cardio, fat-loss-promoting workout while being extremely fun.
- BodyBalance is more of a flexibility and inner balance-based workout protocol that combines yoga, pilates, and breathing to improve overall body awareness and calm your mind.
- CXWorx is more of a core strength-based workout that provides the required strength or foundation for a vital and functional body, usually using a combination of weight plates and resistance bands.
- BodyAttack is a cardio-based workout made for a higher intermediate level of fitness population that uses high-energy movements.
- BodyStep is also a cardio dominant workout using a stepper that can tone your butt and things while burning a lot of calories.
- RPM is an indoor cycling class, made to burn calories followed by motivational music, with a specialized instructor.
Other Types of Functional Fitness Training Protocols
- TRX workouts use TRX Suspension Training System which is quite convenient equipment on the go, used by U.S Navy. It uses gravity as resistance, and works on building functional strength through compound movements.
- Jump Rope can be considered as a workout, combined with bodyweight exercise, or as a warm-up by itself. One of the best ways to shred fat and lose calories, especially if you have fun learning new movements.
- Resistance Bands Workouts are also very popular, especially during the lockdown, resistance bands are a great idea for anyone who doesn’t have weights, or wants to assist harder calisthenic movements.
- Bosu Ball is a great way to improve your core stability and activate more muscles. Is great for your spine shoulder and hip stabilization, due to increased co-activation demand.
- Boot Camps are one of the most popular groups workout classes, using some navy seal principles of training. It is high-intensity training made for those who are short on time, using many different tools like medicine balls, pull-up bars, big tires, jump ropes of kettlebells.
- Yogalates is a combination of yoga and Pilates, usually focusing on inner body strength, balance, and body awareness. Uses yoga or Pilates mats, blocks, straps, and cushions.
Functional Fitness is about building a broad range of physical abilities that can practically help you move in everyday life. This is supposed to allow for higher movement fluidity, improve your posture and reduce chronic pain.
Functional Fitness is not just strength, but also aerobics, coordination, endurance, balance, and so on. Compound exercises are a big part of functional fitness, as optimal mobility is important for fluid movement.