What exactly is Functional Training AND is it worth the hype?

December 22 2017

You may hear the term Functional Training bandied around a lot; in gyms, online, by PTs, in YouTube vids and on Instagram, but do you know what it is? And what the benefits are?

The term Functional Training was actually first used in the late 1990’s and had its roots in the rehabilitation world.  Physical Therapists would prescribe Functional Training exercises to patients to bring the muscle or an area of the body back up to a level of fitness which allows it to function as it should normally. 

At the same time the world of Athletic Strength and Conditioning was also crossing over into mainstream fitness environments.  This brought with it the emphasis on making the body perform better on the field-of-play and trained athletes with exercises other than just their own discipline. i.e. footballers would hit the gym and perform both Functional Training and Strength and Conditioning to improve their game on the field, rather than just doing hours of football practice.

Definition:- Functional Training

An exact definition of Functional Training is hard to establish but broadly speaking it is training that mimics daily movements and allows individuals to better perform the activities of everyday life (or sport).  Kettlebells, free weights, body weight exercises and small equipment such as power bags and medicine balls are all examples of the type of equipment used in functional equipment.

When you look at the word functional it's more explanatory really...


  1. working in the usual way
  2. capable of operating or functioning 
  3. capable of serving the purpose for which it was intended 

So if you think specifically about exercise movements and what makes them functional – it will be doing a move such as a diagonal reach with a medicine ball.

Which is like when you reach for your hat on the top shelf of your wardrobe; one arm reaches up while the opposite leg slightly lifts to the side. This exercise works the arms, shoulders and legs — and the muscles involved in lifting something diagonally overhead as well as lowering it.

What are the benefits?

Benefits to everyday people incorporating Functional Training into their fitness regime:

1) Improvements that can really be felt in everyday life and fairly quickly

By working the body in movement patterns that are specifically designed for you, you should start to feel and perform better on a daily basis.  Functional training uses dynamic movement patterns rather than reps of individual exercises working isolated muscles.

Especially if you spend most of your working day sat down in the office, going to the gym and sitting on a certain machine and performing reps of just one exercise is probably counterproductive – whereas Functional Training will get you moving, and building muscles that you would use normally during the day.

2) Improved Posture

Another result of a static, desk-based job can be bad posture. Functional Training can help to correct bad posture and muscular imbalances.

3) Greater body conditioning 

The nature of Functional Training exercise is that many of them require more muscle fibres to be recruited in order to perform the exercises, which in turn helps to increase metabolism and can lead to reduced fat levels.

Humans are creatures of habit and have a tendency to fall back on exercises we are comfortable with; yet, if we shake up our training at regular intervals it allows the body to grow fitter before falling into the comfort zone with subsequent slowdown of improvements. 

 4) A stronger leaner body

Just take a look Olympians such as swimmers and gymnast – they train their body with Functional Training, they are certainly not doing repetitive movements such as bicep curls or pounding away on the treadmill for hours. Functional Training shapes the body all over and doesn’t just build out of proportion strong leg muscles or strong bicep muscles.

 5) A mind workout too

Mental stimulation from trying something new is a benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked!  The fitness industry probably has greater knowledge of human movement and a greater choice than ever of exercise equipment than ever before.  This provides a great opportunity for gym members to explore new and exciting ways of training, and there is plenty of research which cites the huge benefits for the brain by performing new and more dynamic physical tasks.

Not to mention the fact that by keeping a routine new and exciting you are less likely to get bored and more likely to stay on track!

How to do Functional Training when you are in the gym yourself?

It is important to choose the correct exercises for you and not just replicate exercises you may have observed in the gym done by others or worse, videos on-line. 


Our coaches will consider; your previous exercise experience, fitness levels, previous injuries, skill levels, likes/dislikes and combine them with your goals and expectations.  They can then work with you to get the exercises just right for you.  Alternatively, many of our sites run functional training classes in the gym or studio, which is a more affordable and fun way to experience Functional Training. Of course once you have a programme you can also replicate the exercises for some solo session in the gym too.

 Final word…

As more and more people start embarking on Functional Training, some fitness professionals may say it is the only and best way to train.

But in answer to the first question, is Functional Training worth the hype?

Well, yes, we think it is a very valuable addition to any fitness routine, but like any of these new fitness buzz words/crazes etc.

1) We don’t think it should be an entire solution

2) It only works if you stick with it and do it right

 There is no denying it has MANY benefits but we feel it should be part of a well-designed, varied fitness programme, which also includes structured strength training, the use of resistance machines  and some cardio/HIIT.

 We believe a combination will deliver the desired results.

Want to try functional training?

We can help match you with an instructor in your area and get you started.

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