What is functional training? (Elite Functional Fitness)

What exactly is “functional training” and “functional fitness”? Mychael at Elite Functional Fitness asked that question back in February on his site and I think it’s a great question. He has a great answer, but I think it really varies for each individual.

Mychael says… “What is functional movement? This is not a simple question nor is there a simple answer. If you do a quick google search one definition of functional movement is ‘exercise which involves training the body for activities performed in daily life.'” He goes on to point out that though that’s a great answer, it’s pretty vague.

functional-fitnessLet me tell you a little story about my mother. She just turned 70 and her life today is very different than it was during my childhood. Both she and my father were gymnasts growing up and held races to see who could walk on their hands faster down the front sidewalk to the fence. She and my sister would occasionally roller skate from our house to the public library or the elementary school about a mile away. She performed in theater and could dance, play piano, and sing as well.

That was before rheumatoid arthritis took all of that away a little at a time. Now she’s had both hips and knees replaced, had surgery on a hand, and had a nasty bout with pneumonia a few years ago. It’s safe to say she’s had her ups and downs. But she stays active. She does some low key aerobic exercise in a class setting with other folks her age and though she may not be walking on her hands, she continues to live a full and active life.

Would you think that her level of “functional fitness” – either perceived or actual – is different from 40 years ago to today? I think the answer is an obvious “YES!”

So the activities she performs in her daily life now are quite different to the way they used to be. The methods she uses to deal with those activities performed in real life have changed drastically. Limited range of motion and simple physical capability dictates what she can do to a severe degree. She relies on putting things in reachable locations or uses what she calls “extenders” to help her achieve mechanically what she can’t do with her own two hands.

Let’s start there.

I like to move it, move it!

I like to move it, move it!

In the article, Mychael talks about the basic activities we use for survival. Breathing. Standing. Walking. Running. Throwing. Fighting. Carrying loads. They all involve different muscle groups, expend energy, and require moving with a certain amount of efficiency.

My mother doesn’t do much running, throwing, or fighting these days but continues to struggle with the other four. Getting up and down has its own difficulties, let alone reaching for items and moving things around. She’s found ways and continues to adapt, which is what we all do I think.

He goes on to talk about improving posture, which helps breathing and movement. Improved movement increases speed (in some cases) and strength (in others). Simply improving how we walk can improve how we run. Improving range of motion and strength can help us throw, carry, and fight when the need arises. Functional training then would follow to improve the muscle groups and techniques used for these movements to better improve our functional fitness.

My mother has done some occupational therapy to help her learn how to use her current capabilities to survive, which I would argue is a form of functional training. She has had had help from occupational therapists, physical therapists, and the trainers in her aerobic classes to learn how to move better and deal with everyday tasks like taking things off of shelves.

And I can speak from my own experience with CrossFit in terms of my functional fitness. When I began, I was far out of shape and could barely hike a mile, let alone do anything in the least way athletic. After three years, I was able to successfully hike 5 miles this past summer at about 10,000 miles of elevation, not to mention be able to move more effectively and build strength at the same time.

It’s amazing to be able to keep up with my family when a few years ago it wasn’t even possible.

Ultimately there are different degrees of functional fitness and many different types of training. I think CrossFit is a good approach, but not the only one and definitely not appropriate for people of all levels and abilities. But in all cases, the goal should be to “improve the functionality of the body,” as Mychael points out.

So long as we are moving and working to improve our physical condition to the best of our ability, I think we’re headed the right direction. What about you?

For the entire article from Mychael, check it out at the Elite Functional Fitness site. And, as always, be sure to check out Mychael’s Elite Functional Fitness Facebook page, his YouTube channel, and his blog for more!