Functional Training– What is it actually? (Part 2)


In the first part of this post, we closely examined the philosophy behind functional training. Today we will look at the practical aspects. We’ll look at different exercises and training equipment. Have fun!


Strength exercises

The great thing about functional training is that you can do it almost anywhere and that you don’t need to be outfitted for it. For example, just with your own body weight, you can complete these fundamental strength exercises for the whole body:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Push-ups
  • Planks and side planks
  • Various sit-up variations
  • Chin-ups

For every exercise, there is actually a regression and a progression. That means that there are variations for each exercise, some that are good for beginners and some that are good for those who are advanced. Let’s look at some examples:


Beginner variation: support hands on a raised surface

Advanced variation: place feet on a raised surface


Beginner variation: fewer repetitions, don’t go so deep

Advanced variation: squats on one leg


Beginner variation: put knees down

Advanced variation: hold longer, on one leg


Training equipment and aids

For more variety, you can find some great training gear and aids. In contrast to the traditional gym, this gear can be used in many different ways and provides for good fun.


Some of the typical equipment includes:

  • Suspension Trainer (TRX)
  • Medicine balls
  • Kettlebells
  • Mini bands
  • Gym balls
  • Ropes
  • Bosu

Even though I can only briefly explore all of the possible training equipment and aids here, I hope that it is clear that functional training is very versatile. Functional training offers a great variety of exercises and equipment, many of which can often be implemented at home. Your work outs can be varied and boredom is rare. In future posts, I will go into more detail on some of the gear. I welcome your comments. 🙂


Workouts: short and sweet

Regarding the length of your workouts, functional training also beats the competition. Above all, it is about efficiency, meaning going full throttle in a relatively short time frame: 30-60 minutes. So you see, a functional training work out really fits into any schedule. After a short warm-up, during which you stimulate your circulation, the actual work out starts. Depending on your training goals, one set lasts about 30-120 seconds, or 10-40 repetitions, and rests times are kept very short.


Functional training is also part interval training. This means that working very hard alternates with relatively short recovery, so your pulse stays up the whole time, and you really burn calories, even after your work out. A well-known example is the Tabata-Principle, that I have already talked about in another blog post. In a Tabata, 20 seconds hard work alternate with 10 seconds recovery, and the whole cycle repeats 8 times. But other combinations are possible, like 45 seconds hard work and 15 seconds rest.


Alternatively, you can also work out based on repetitions instead of time. For instance, you could do antagonist training or circuit training.



In this type of training, one set of exercises in one movement direction, for instance, a pulling exercise like a chin-up, is followed by a set of exercises in the opposite movement direction, for instance a pushing exercise like a push-up. The advantage is that you can use the rest times effectively, while the worked muscles recover. But the circulation continues to run a full blast.


Circuit Training

Circuit Training usually consists of 10-15 exercises that work out the entire body. After one set of an exercise, you switch immediately to the next exercise. After completing a set of each exercise, you rest for two to three minutes. Then you start the next circuit round with the same exercises. The goal is to complete three to five rounds.


My Experiences

Earlier in my life I also went to the gym regularly, diligently lifted my weights, and was bored from counting my repetitions. Functional training won me over based on the variety and range of exercises alone. Using a timer, I don’t even have to look at the clock any more. Instead, I just go full bore for each set until I hear the beep. It’s impossible to turn your brain off more. So try it for yourself, or tell me about your experiences.

Do Strong Muscles Need Heavy Weights?

Those who want to build big muscles and have the strength of a bear cannot avoid the really heavy weights. After all, only women who want to tone their bodies train with lighter weights. This conviction is anchored deeply in the brains of many fitness experts. A current study is calling this supposedly unshakable wisdom into question.


This is what the study looked like

In a current study that was recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Canadian researchers toppled the laws that have been written in stone by pumpers, the laws that say that you can only effectively build muscles with heavy weights.



Men with previous fitness experience participated in the study. For 12 weeks, they had to work out using a training plan for the whole body that was given to them by the scientists. Before they started on the plan, they were randomly divided into two groups:


Group 1: The men in this group worked out with lighter weights. The weights represented only about 50% of their max strength. The repetition count for each set was between 20 and 25 repetitions.

Group 2: Here heavy weights were used, about 90% of max strength. Every set had about 8-12 repetitions, in the typical range of strength training for muscle building.


For the training, it was very important that the participants had to complete repetitions until muscle exhaustion, meaning until the exercise couldn’t be executed completely and cleanly.


The surprising results

In order to find out how effective both of these training methods were for muscle growth, the scientists took blood and tissue samples from the muscles. In addition, the max strength on different exercises was tested before and after the program. Surprisingly, they could barely see any noticeable difference between the two groups in muscle mass and strength gain. In both groups, the muscle fibers indeed grew the same amount.


The most important factor for muscle growth was that the participants worked until muscle exhaustion. That means that neither the repetition count, nor the weight were deciding factors. If you really train until failure, it doesn’t matter at all, if the weights are heavy or light.


It’s a question of personal preference

This is great news for all who regard heavy weights with some suspicion. For beginning weightlifters or older people, training with light weights can help them overcome their inhibitions.


On the other hand, some may be familiar with the situation where the muscle that one wants to train is much stronger than the weight that one can hold. Take, for instance, dead lifts. Even though your leg and core muscles could lift a relatively high weight, the hand strength is not capable of actually holding the weight. Before we then try to frantically hold our grip on the bar, and possibly injure ourselves, we can, instead, reach for lighter weights. If we adjust the repetition count accordingly, we can achieve the same results.


This study points out that we should regularly scrutinize firmly established strength training myths, because the scientists’ results show that we can build muscles, increase strength and improve our health using light weights.




Morton, R.W., Oikawa, S.Y., Wavell, C.G., Mazara, N., McGlory, C., Quadrilatero, J., Baechler, B.L., Baker, S.K., & Phillips, S.M. (2016). Neither load nor systemic hormones determine resistance training-mediated hypertrophy or strength gains in resistance-trained young men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 121 (1), 129. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00154.2016