This is a real ‘Pandora’s Box’ & I’ve deliberated over whether to open it. So please note, this is purely an opinion piece & not based on researched evidence or any randomised control trials.
Wikipedia offers as a definition; “Functional Training = training the body for the activities performed in daily life.”
That seems fair enough, but begs the question as to why the overweight office worker is in the gym with their personal trainer performing one arm cable rows whilst balancing on an exercise ball?!
You can probably sense where I’m personally going with this blog piece…
Fundamentally, the ‘functional’ part of any exercise programme has to be functional to that individual, their fitness level, their skill level, injury status, goals & even their willingness to be ‘on show’ in the middle of the gym floor to all the other members whilst learning to balance on a ball!
My day to day work is in helping those who are already injured. So if I have a client with patellar femoral tendinopathy, it’s absolutely functional for them, at that time, to be sitting on a ‘Knee Extension Machine’ to progressively load their patella tendon. Likewise, the same applies to using the ‘Leg Press Machine’ to perform slow, heavy ankle plantar flexion to load a runner’s injured Achilles Tendon.
I could list a huge number of examples, but this does not mean that at some stage I wouldn’t use multi-joint, bodyweight, unstable surface exercises as well.
This is not an argument about one is better than the other. It is about applying the correct type of load, to the correct system [of the body], at the correct time to produce the desired adaptation.
As a closing statement, I urge any of the ‘purely functional only Trainers or Coaches’ to research the fundamentals of physiology & also to chat to any runner or cyclist who does heavy, low rep Squats & found that their hill climbing improved.
And finally…have a (2:30 minutes) watch of the fastest man on Earth, Usain Bolt & one of his training sessions – a mix of functional, mobility & very old school strength exercises. Who are we to argue with the outcomes of this training..?!
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