Functional Training – What is it actually? (Part 1)

Functional training is currently experiencing a downright boom and is turning the fitness world completely inside out. You have probably already heard of CrossFit, Freeletics and Calisthenics. Ultimately, these are about holistic and functional training, usually with your own body weight.


Put an end to monotone work on weight machines, which looks, for some gym patrons, to be about as exciting as were folding laundry. They make themselves comfortable on the leg press for three sets, and switch after 45. Repetition is boring, even for the machine. Is it any surprise then, that working out isn’t fun?


What exactly is functional Training?

The basic principle of functional training is: train movements, not muscles. The isolated targeting of single muscles is non-functional, meaning that there is no equivalent for it, neither in normal everyday life, nor in any kind of sport. Bicep curls or working on the leg extension machine at the gym are great examples of this. It is highly unlikely that we will ever have the opportunity to use those 2 muscles in isolation in real life. Our body doesn’t function through muscles. It functions through movement.


In functional training, therefore, the priority is on basic movements and the improvement of basic skills that are universal to all sports. It also includes abilities like stabilizing joints, speed and having good body awareness.


An essential component is the completion of these movements with good quality, for two reasons. First, completing movements incorrectly usually leads to compensating movements, which, over time, can lead to problems with posture, muscular imbalance and signs of wear and tear. Second, completing movements incorrectly usually means that we don’t complete the movement in its entire scope, and lose important training results. We could actually train much more efficiently.


Training muscle chains – movement instead of muscles

Functional training is based on the natural fact that, for almost all body movements, a wide variety of muscle groups have to work together. Therefore, functional training comprises especially movements that work as many joints and muscles as possible. In many gyms, it is customary to work isolated muscle groups. Functional training is different: it always demands complex interaction of muscles. This especially improves the coordination of muscles and is a much better approximation of natural movements of humans in everyday life and in many sports.



Whereas on traditional weight machines, various cushions give you support, in functional training, movements are completed without support. In normal life outside the gym, we will rarely find guide rails and cushions to stabilize the execution of our movements. This means that functional exercises are decidedly harder in the beginning. But ultimately, every small, stabilizing muscle and every deep muscle around the joint is trained in every work out. And also the core muscles, which are important for good posture and the correct execution of many exercises. I really want to highlight the importance of the core muscles at this point. Strong exercises for abs and back are part of almost every functional training work out.


Balance and coordination

Functional training distinguishes itself also in the improvement of balance and intermuscular coordination. On the one hand, complex movement patterns demand that a wide variety of muscles work together. In order to increase performance, muscles have to communicate better and work together, so that strength can be transferred efficiently. On the other hand, movements in open space and uneven surfaces strengthen the stabilizing muscles around the joints. The training of balance and coordination lowers the danger of injury to ligaments and tendons. In old age, this kind of training can clearly reduce the risk of falling.


Second Part

Stay tuned for part 2 which will be about exercises and training equipment.

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