What is functional training?

What is functional fitness?

Functional fitness is natural, safe, essential to live and function, core to extremity, and multi-joint movements.  The most important aspect of functional movements is the ability to move large loads over long distances quickly.

900x380Natural movements that are essential to everyday living and function  are squatting, dead lifting, shoulder pressing, and carrying large loads from point A to point B.  If you are in a “functional fitness class” that isn’t using these movements, then that class probably isn’t very functional.

Have you ever head a doctor tell you or someone you know to discontinue squatting or dead lifting?  People come into their clinic injured from these movements so logically these must be bad for people.  Right?

A question for the doctors that prescribes no squatting or dead lifting is how do you get on and off a chair?  If you drop something on the ground, how do you pick it up? By squatting or dead lifting.

If individuals have been injured from squatting or dead lifting, it’s because they haven’t been taught how to do the movements correctly, lifted more than they should, or did not maintain mid-line stability, which generally transfers into hurting the back.

Core is everything!  All functional movements begin from the core (mid-line stability).  The core acts like the bridge connecting different body parts to each other.  If you don’t have a tight core, you will probably hurt your back.  I don’t mean doing a hundred crunches to make your core tight.  I mean learning to consciously activate your core during multi-joint movements (ex. Squat to overhead press, dead lifting, carrying large loads)

What things should you watch for that AREN’T functional fitness?

  • A class that again doesn’t teach squats, dead lifting, shoulder pressing, cleans, multi-joint exercises, and fails to demonstrate how to perform these movements without the knowledge of mid-line stability.
  • Be careful which equipment trainers use.  Just because a class uses bosu balls doesn’t mean its functional training?  Do you balance on wobbly surfaces in real life?  If you do, probably not during the majority of your day.
  •  Be cautious how trainers combine exercises.  Combining dynamic movements isn’t functional exercise?  Leg step ups plus a bicep curl isn’t functional.  Just because a trainer combines different body weight movements does not mean the exercise is a functional exercise.  Remember the definition is the ability to move large loads over a long distance quickly.  A four inch step up plus a five pound bicep curl isn’t moving a large load very quickly.    Dead lifting 135lbs 20x is moving a large load quickly.

In conclusion, beware that functional fitness is a common buzz word used in the fitness community.  Trainers and gyms use the word loosely trying to sell fitness.   Make sure a class includes squatting, dead lifting, shoulder pressing, squat to overhead presses, and teaches mid-line stability during functional movements.


  1. Nancy Clark says:

    Well said. Thanks for the education.

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