What the h*ll is functional training anyways?
The dictionary definition is:
func·tion·al adjective \ˈfəŋ(k)-shnəl, -shə-nəl\
: designed to have a practical use
: working properly
There seems to be the predicted backlash against anything deemed “functional” exercise in the fitness industry.
The criticism appears to surround unstable surface training, like the BOSU or a stability ball.
Most of the issue deals with the cost versus benefit proposition when training on one of these implements. The risk of potential injury goes up and force production while balancing on an unstable environment goes down. In other words, you are not training max strength and you may get hurt.
The problem with this criticism is that it is supposing that every exerciser’s goal is MAX force production, and not something else (say, training balance alone).
In fact, that is the problem with all the criticism of so called functional training. It is always assumed that strength or power gains are the ultimate goal of EVERYONES training.
That’s not always the case.
What makes an exercise functional?
It is “designed to have a practical use.”
So, standing on a BOSU is functional for an older population attempting to train their balance to their potential.
A bicep curl is functional for a physique athlete needing to isolate muscle for size gains.
A handstand push-up is functional for a crossfit athlete needing this skill to compete.
These exercises may not be considered functional for a football player, but for the aforementioned populations, they are VERY functional. They have “practical use”.
Also, achieving a state of balance while standing on a BOSU (watching for compensations) usually means that your body is “working properly”, Same with the biceps curl example (while only a single joint is moving, many muscles are stabilizing to complete the movement). As long as form is good and compensation free, these exercises can be examples of the body “working properly.”
Bottom line, the definition (and criticism) of functional training comes down to the GOAL of the exerciser and the intent of the exercise. If max strength is the goal, then yea, BOSU squatting may not be the best choice. But that SAME exercise can be a functional balance trainer for another client attempting to increase whole body stability.
Exercises are not inherently functional or dysfunctional. It is the goal of the exercise that defines that. Does this exercise serve a purpose in getting the exerciser closer to their goal? If the answer is yes, then it IS functional.
Matt P.
It’s Your Turn. Emerge.