Functional training became a hot topic in 2019 and keeps gaining momentum in mainstream fitness.
But what is functional training really? Functional movement or training, has it all in the name.
Its philosophy is not like that of bodybuilding or CrossFit, where improvement and progress is measured by aesthetics, or performance stats. Functional training focused on the root word, function.
In 2016, I first became enamored with functional training; that’s when I realized that my body wasn’t adapting to all my training how I had imagined it would. For some reason, after years of training and focusing on building muscle and athleticism through bodybuilding and strength training, I still had a hard time deadlifting, pulling in general, and connecting with my backside (or posterior chain).
At first, I thought I was just “weak,” or didn’t have enough muscle to move optimally. But the truth was much simpler than that. The truth was, I was not training my body how it was intended to move. I didn’t know how to properly hinge with just bodyweight or a light load. I didn’t know how to control rotation, or how to even create tension in my hamstrings.
In short, functional training pretty much blew my mind. It taught me how to move my body with respect to proper biomechanics, and it taught me how to achieve the gains I was missing out on! To me, functional training built the foundation that I was missing, and taught me how to create both more stability and mobility in my joints.
As a coach, I have found that functional movement and training techniques have helped everyone improve their training and overall movement regardless of their fitness level. As modern humans, every single one of us can benefit from training focused on balanced, integrated, and foundational movements.
To implement functional training movements into your routine, follow the exercises and format below:
Repeat the following exercises for 3 to 5 rounds, with 1 to 2 minutes rest in between each round.
- A1: Kettlebell Half Range of Motion Press
- A2: Corkscrew Squat
- A3: Half Kneeling Lateral Stretch
- A4: Squat to Mountain Climber
- A5: Kettlebell Chest Loaded Swings
1. Kettlebell Kneeling Half Range of Motion Press
- 6 reps each side
Start in a half kneeling position, stacking your knee, hip, and shoulder vertically. Bring the kettlebell into the rack position on the side of the lifted knee. Maintain a long spine, and tension in the glutes and abs throughout the entire movement.
From the rack position, sweep your arm out to a 45 degree angle before initiating the press, then only come up to 90 degrees relative to your shoulder. Hold this position for a count of 1, then slowly descend back into the rack. Repeat all repetitions on one side before switching.
Focus on trying to use your lats to initiate the press, and control the descent.
2. Corkscrew Squat
- Alternating x 20 reps total
Standing tall with a neutral spine, tight abs and glutes, turn your feet out to 45 degrees. Turn your torso and gaze towards one foot as you descend into a rotational squat, letting your back heel lift off of the ground (let foot pivot). Only go as low as you can control. Come back up to standing and alternate sides.
Try to keep a vertical spine (don’t lean forward) as you descend into the squat.
3. Half Kneeling Lateral Stretch
- 3 Round, 60-sec each
From a half kneeling position, tuck your pelvis under and squeeze your abs and glutes. Keep a long spine, and laterally bend towards the side of the lifted knee. Pull your arms in opposite directions as you reach overhead. Try to relax your neck, and breath deeper into the stretch.
Maintain tension in the abs and glutes the entire time.
4. Squat to Mountain Climber
- 3 rounds, 5 reps each side
Standing tall with a proud chest and tight core, grip the floor with your feet and drive your knees out slightly to engage your glutes. Complete 1 squat, then squat down again, bringing your hands to the floor in between your feet.
Step one foot back as you come into a mountain climber. Lengthen through your spine as you pull your shoulders down and back, driving through your back heel as you squeeze your glutes. Come back to standing and repeat the sequence, alternating sides.
Try to keep a proud chest and long spine throughout the entire movement.
5. Kettlebell Chest Loaded Good-Mornings
- 3-5 rounds, 10 reps
Stand tall with your shoulders down and back, abs and glutes tight. Bring the bottom of the kettlebell to your sternum. Imagine trying to spread the floor with your feet throughout the movement as you hinge at your hips, pulling your hips back. Keep your shoulders above your hips, and maintain a slight bend at the knees. Come up to standing tall with tight abs and glutes.
Exhale at the top, and inhale at the bottom of the movement. Imagine being pulled back at the hips by a rope (not bending at the hips).
Functional Exercise FAQs
What is functional exercise?
Every exercise could technically be functional, but the idea of functional exercise is more a of training philosophy. The main root for functional exercise is that it’s grounded with the idea of promoting overall improved function for various movements throughout daily life.
Can functional exercise build muscle?
Yes! Any form of exercise that is rooted with strategy and some form of progressive overload can strength and build muscle. The rate in which it can will vary greatly from individual to individual depending on context of its use.
What makes an exercise functional?
This is tough to define, as really any movement could technically be functional in nature. The main differentiation is the philosophy when programming workouts based around the idea of functional training.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.