Is Your Training Really Functional?

You work out don’t you? You train hard and do all the right things. You tell your friends that you train “functionally” with your chest puffed out and full of pride. Really though, what does functional actually mean?

The words “functional fitness” bring up images of compound movements such as squats, lunges, pushups, etc. Functional means training your whole body in multiple directions using a TRX, free weights, or your own bodyweight. Right?

Well, kind of.


That’s really impressive, but is it functional?

Yes, compound movements in multiple directions using free weights and your own body are absolutely functional in terms of how you evolved to move. If you step back and take a look at the big picture, though, this is a very simplistic and limiting view of training and the principle of specificity.

A more accurate, and IMO better, way of describing whether something is functional in training is by considering any movement or tool that works towards accomplishing your goals as functional.

This means that what is functional for one person isn’t necessarily functional for another. There is a lot of benefit to training functionally in the traditional sense but that’s a pretty big bucket to toss every athlete into together.

The main point to remember is this: In training, sport specificity reigns king. Click To Tweet

For example, a seated machine chest press probably isn’t very functional for a CrossFit athlete, but it may be for a bodybuilder looking to increase his pec size.

Machines move in controlled directions, limiting the use of accessory muscles and allowing the lifter to focus on maximizing activation of the prime mover and maintaining control. This control with greater loading allows for the use of heavy weights and more time under tension; classic criteria for enhancing muscular size.

For all of the reasons the CrossFit athlete might hate the machine chest press, the bodybuilder loves it.

Who is right? Both of them! Yes, everyone can benefit from more free weight training and time on their feet, but you don’t have to train that way ALL of the time. It doesn’t matter if you’re a runner, bodybuilder, weightlifter, crossfitter, or triathlete; if you’re an athlete, select exercises and programming methods that maximize progress towards your personal goals.

The principle itself is simple but the application often isn’t. If this is confusing to you, hire yourself a skilled and well-educated coach to teach you the ropes.

What do you think about being “functional” now? Let me know in the comments.