The term ‘functional training’ is now overused as a marketing tool. It makes us feel that if we’re not participating in functional training, we must be doing the opposite, and who wants to be dysfunctional?
Functional training is a term used to describe fitness development with a high transfer of specificity. What particular function this specificity is for, usually isn’t declared. Therefore, I assume that it is often relevant to activities of daily living, work, or sports.
The term functional training has no scientific definition, and not much, if any real evidence to support the types of training claimed to be functional. This poses a problem of authenticity because it means that just about any activity can be claimed to be functional.
The other problem is that activities for sport, work, or daily living may not align with how the human body has evolved to function over the past few million years. It poses the question of what a more accurate definition of functional training should be. Perhaps it should be fitness development that aligns with and optimizes the natural functions of the body. Those being the muscles, joints, systems, and movements that align with how the human body has evolved to function.
CORE FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENTS
The human body can function in many ways and is capable of many different movements. However, its evolved core functional movements before current living standards are relatively limited. These are; get up, walk, run, jump, climb, squat, lift, carry, push, pull, and throw. To maintain optimal fitness, it makes sense then that the exercises you choose should build up strength and conditioning associated with performing these core functional movements.
When exercising for general fitness and strength, training of the major muscle groups, shoulders, back, chest, torso, glutes, and legs, should always be performed.
Even if you have a somewhat regular requirement to carry PVC tubes filled with water and flip tractor tires, training in this way is not functional training. It is unconventional training, or perhaps more accurately, you could say that it is just doing random s#!t.
This unconventional training in the form of flipping tires, hurling sandbags, swinging along monkey bars and the like can be fun. There are no tires or sandbags in my gym, but I do enjoy feeling like a kid swinging from the monkey bars. Conventional gym equipment is readily available, and it’s ‘functional’ benefits are well known. Therefore, I wonder why the hell would I bother trying to add flipping tractor tires into my workout?
To work only the one body part of the back muscles, in the gym I can do at just about any weight of the following:
- Low pulley row.
- Chest supported row.
- T-bar row.
- Barbell bent-over row.
- Dumbbell bent-over row.
- Kettlebell bent-over row.
- Supine bar row.
- Ring row.
- Single arm dumbbell row.
- Split stance dumbbell row.
- Renegade row.
I don’t feel the need to add anything unconventional to that list. It’s enough variety for me.
My main concern is that I see plenty of people in the gym performing poor technique of conventional exercises. Therefore, it’s hard to believe it couldn’t be anything but terrible for unconventional training. Proper technique for conventional exercises such as deadlifts and barbell squats has been rigorously studied and fairly clearly established. This allows us to perform these exercises safely and see results.
Unconventional training also has its limitations, e.g., how do you manage progression? And how do you easily add periodization or drop sets, or adjust your weight load? For this reason, anyone serious about developing their strength and conditioning will do conventional exercises using conventional equipment under the guidance of a great coach.