Functional Training: Fighting Back Against a Dangerous Fitness Trend

Let's get functional!
Let’s get functional!

Just the other day, I came across a Facebook post from a particular fitness trainer I follow.  She was rattling off a bunch of exercises; deadlifts, bench press, squats, etc. and telling us how much she can lift.  She went on to say, despite this, she just threw her back out bending over to pick something up in her kitchen.  This scenario is an all too familiar occurrence which comes as no surprise given the way fitness trends have been heading the past several years.  People have become so concerned with lifting as much weight as possible or completing as many reps for time as possible (form be damned) that they’ve forgotten lifting’s true purpose.  Rather than striving to become as fit and well-rounded as possible they simply want to be able to lift a heavier weight or perform a specific workout routine faster.

Today we’re going to take a quick look at this trend, discuss the benefits of functionally training your body, detail some functional training exercises and show you how you can with become the fittest and healthiest you’ve ever been without succumbing to this “bigger, stronger, faster” mentality that’s swept so many people up.

The Bigger, Stronger, Faster Mentality

First things first; lifting heavy weights, pushing yourself with timed workouts, and wanting to become stronger and faster are vital components to any fitness program.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, in fact, I encourage it.  The problem is, when your only focus or goal is on lifting heavier weights or moving through a given workout faster, you lose sight of what’s really important.

If your focus is simply on trying to deadlift a heavier weight, what are you really accomplishing?  Sure you’re adding muscle (which is important) but what’s the end goal?  To become really good at deadlifting?  Well…you do anything enough, you’re going to get good.  There are a few Crossfitters I know who constantly brag about how fast they can get through a specific workout of the day.  Maybe I’m hard to please, but I’m really not impressed… no matter how fast they move or how tough the workout is.

The human body is pretty amazing at efficiency – when you train to complete the same type of work again and again, you’re naturally going to improve.  On a side note, this is the reason we want to diversify our training and consistently keep things fresh by changing up workouts.  When I asked one of the above mentioned Crossfitters to do a sprint workout with me a few weeks ago, he had to stop and lay down on the grass to catch his breath, 10 minutes in.  His body was simply conditioned to handle one specific format of exercise – the goal should always be to condition your body to handle a wide array of work while forming a well-rounded base to your fitness levels.

The next time you’re in the gym thinking, “how can I lift heavier or faster?”, ask yourself… “why?”  Do you really want to become an absolutely amazing deadlifter?  Are you training to become the best _____ Workout of the Day competitor in the world?  Or do you simply want to get fitter, happier, and healthier?

Why Functional Training is the Answer

Functional training involves training the body for real-life movement.  In other words, you’re going to use multiple joint exercises to condition you better for real world scenarios…like bending over to pick something up in your kitchen.  Think about it for a second – how often do you perform a deadlift movement in a real world situation?  Probably close to never.  Again, I’m not saying these exercises have no place in a fitness program, I just think the trend has gotten too wrapped up in the “bigger, stronger, faster” mentality.

When you train your body functionally, you are able to create a more well-rounded physique, as well as better protect yourself from injury.  The idea behind functional training was part of the motivation behind our Body Diversity Training methodology.  Simply put, we believe training your body with a variety of stimuli is the best and fastest way to help you achieve the body and health you want.  In short, Body Diversity Training encourages exercisers to use a wide variety of fitness disciplines in their program – not just cardio and strength training, but inclusions of yoga, pilates, kickboxing, and other formats of exercise that have you moving outside of the normal strength/cardio workouts. By creating a well-rounded plan, we believe you are in the best position possible to avoid injury and achieve your fitness goals.

Don’t be intimidated by the phrase, functional training.  In fact, you’re probably already using functional training exercises in your current program without even realizing it.  Remember, functional training exercises mimic real life movement which put you in a better position to achieve high levels of health and wellness.  Some great functional training exercises you should consider, would include:

To round things out, I’d suggest throwing in at least a day of yoga each week, along with regular flexibility training, a day of more traditional heavy lifting (deadlifts, etc.) and some high-intensity cardio as required for your goals.

Keep things balanced, keep perspective, and do your best to avoid working out to become a better “worker out-er”….You’re working out to become a better, healthy and more fit human being; not a robot who can get through some arbitrary workout of the day in record time.  Happy lifting and please feel free to comment below if you have any questions or comments!


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