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.

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.

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

Can you really get a workout in 10 minutes?

One of the most common excuses we make about why we can’t work out is our full calendar. We just don’t have time to go to the gym and to go through our routine or to get there during open hours.


There’s just nothing you can do about that – that’s what some are thinking right now, with relief. To all who are secretly satisfied with this situation, this post will surely mean nothing. The truth is that a short and effective workout can fit into every schedule. And I really mean EVERY schedule.


A wise man once said – I’m sorry, I don’t remember who anymore – that we never have too little time for something. Every day has 24 hours. The only question is how you set your priorities. But that is a topic for another day.


So how does such a quick workout function, and how effective is it?


Short and Sweet?

Although many trainers believe that short workouts can only be effective as a supplement to regular, longer sessions lasting about an hour, others are convinced that short, intensive sessions can have the same effect. One of these people is Dr. Tabata. In 1996 he published a now fairly well-known study in the prestigious journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, in which he compared the effects of moderate endurance training with short, high-intensity interval training over a period of 6 weeks.


For the study, he divided the participants into 2 groups:


  • Group 1: one hour of moderate-intensity endurance training on a stationary bike, 5 days a week
  • Group 2: a high-intensity Tabata (4 minutes), 5 days a week


In group 1, the maximum oxygen uptake did increase (by about 5 ml/kg/min). This represents the amount of oxygen that is available for aerobic energy production (endurance at moderate intensity). The anaerobic capacity (endurance at high intensity), however, did not increase. In group 2, the increase in oxygen uptake was greater than in group 1 (about 7 ml/kg/min), and the anaerobic capacity increased by 28%, as well.


The Tabata Principle

One Tabata is extremely simple. It lasts 4 minutes and consists of eight 20/10 blocks. A block consists of 20 seconds hard work and 10 seconds recovery. Usually, a Tabata is completed using two or four exercises that alternate in the work phases.


It is important to choose exercises that really are hard. Arm circles alternating with short walks are likely very relaxing, but will not lead to the results that Dr. Tabata found. Instead, you should do strength training or intensive cardio. For instance, you can complete a Tabata with short sprints while jogging outside or cycling. Bodyweight strength exercises also work well, like push-ups, squats, lunges, sit-ups, Burpees and many more.


In the end, you don’t need to limit yourself to the times that are suggested for a Tabata. The basic principle consists of high-intensity intervals with short rest periods, so the heart rate stays nice and high. This means that you could extend the work phases to 30 seconds or even 1 minute and, for example, could then also slightly increase the rest time. The basic principle is flexible.



  • Short term: activation of the cardiovascular system and metabolism
  • Intermediate term: increased fat burn up to 24 hours after exercising
  • Long term: increase of aerobic and anaerobic performance


Listen to your Body

The choice between short, high-intensity workouts and longer, moderate-intensity sessions is not only a question of time, but also personal preference. While some can really unwind on kilometer-long runs, others find it extremely boring. Although we should all sometimes step out of our comfort zones in order to achieve success and to make progress, when thinking long-term, it is important to find something that is at least a little fun. Otherwise you run the risk of throwing your own plan overboard and of constantly being unhappy with yourself.


One word of caution, this with a wagging finger: If you haven’t been working out, or are older, you absolutely should consult a doctor before starting high-intensity training like that of Dr. Tabata. You will push your body to its limits, which, under certain circumstances, could be bad for your health.


The bottom Line

It is definitely possible to have an effective workout in 10 minutes and therefore, it is possible to fit it into every day. The excuse of not having enough time could ease your conscience, but you shouldn’t let it. You can fit two to four Tabatas into any time gap. This will help you nurture and get the best out of your body, either as an addition on a stressful day, or as a regular component of your fitness program.




Tabata, I., Nishimura, K., Kouzaki, M., Hirai, Y., Ogita, F., Miyachi, M., & Yamamoto, K. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28(10), 1327-1330.