Subscribe to Our
Sports Medicine Blog

Sports Medicine Facebook

Functional training

A classification of exercise, functional training prepares the body to resume activities performed in daily life. Functional training originated from rehabilitation programs that duplicated daily movements, thus allowing patients to return to activity as soon as possible.

Functional training concentrates on four major human activity requirements:

  • Coordination
  • Muscular contractions – including concentric, eccentric, isometric
  • Speed of motion
  • Range of motion

The human body performs a wide variety of movements – walking, jogging, running, sprinting, jumping, pushing, pulling, stopping, starting, bending, twisting, turning, lunging and standing. By applying the core principles of movement to functional training, the participant is able to focus on the specificity of the desired activity. In essence, the closer the trained movement is to the specific activity of daily living (i.e., work, home, kids, yard projects, etc.), the greater the training will benefit the activity outcome – either in the form of accomplishment and/or improved performance.

Why functional training versus weight machines?

Standard resistance training machines utilize "fixed" movement patterns that rarely mimic natural movements. Weight machines typically focus on single muscle groups rather than engaging secondary and/or stabilizing muscle groups. By isolating muscles in a controlled atmosphere, machine-based single joint movement or "non-functional" strengthening does not address the four major components of functional training. However, single joint exercises can help focus on the "weakest link" – specific muscles that need to be strengthened before patients can attain full functional training status.

Relax – there is still a place in the gym for traditional strength training! Functional strength training was never meant to replace it, only serve as a supplement to this form of exercise. Preferred strength training options that incorporate functional training concepts include:

  • Dumbbells
  • Medicine balls
  • Cable machines
  • SWISS/exercise balls
  • Resistance tubing
  • Kettlebells
  • Balance disc/boards
  • BOSU ball

Functional training benefits

The bonus of functional training is it's wide range of applications – from elderly patients, industrial workers, to elite athletes. The principles remain the same; functional training merely adapts to the specific activity needs. By properly applying the training principles to the activity requirements, the benefits of functional training can be endless.

  • Increased strength through functional range of motion
  • Enhanced core stability and control
  • Increased balance
  • Increased joint stability
  • Increased coordination
  • Increased muscular efficiency
  • Reduced potential for injury

How does functional training apply to daily living activities? For example, when designing a stabilization exercise mimicking the movement from a "seated to standing" position, a "squat" is much more functional than performing a machine-based leg extension. Using functional training techniques, how would you prepare for these activities?

  • Picking up your child
  • Carrying bags of heavy groceries
  • Reaching for something on a high shelf
  • Running with or after the dog
  • Going up and down stairs
  • Assisting a person out of bed

In conclusion, the core principles of functional training allow the participant to focus on the specificity of the activity to achieve the greatest amount of training improvement and overall transference of benefits to daily living.

For additional questions on functional training, other sports medicine topics or to schedule a FREE Injury Evaluation, call the Aurora Sports Medicine Hotline™ at (414) 219-7776 or (800) 219-7776.