What Is Functional Fitness

Let’s break it down. Fitness is defined as the bodies’ ability to adapt to stress. The functional element to fitness can be described as the specific stress an individual wants to adapt to. For example – a football player (some positions more than others) require explosive strength, endurance, power, speed, agility and coordination.

Therefore the athletes training program should be geared towards improving the above components of fitness in order to “function” better in the sport of football. In short, the training must fulfill its specific function. This isn’t complicated and most people understand this concept. So why is it that every other article related to health and fitness is about or at least mentions “functional fitness”? In this world of endless information available (some from questionable sources) it’s easy for an individual to get confused.

What seems to be popular these days are unconventional training methods (tractor tire flips, rope climbing, sledge hammer work, plyometric exercises, kettlebell dynamic lifts, sandbags, medicine ball throws ect). Unconventional training and ”functional fitness” have been grouped together under the same umbrella – when in actuality the term “functional fitness” should be linked to the specificity training principle. Regardless, the general public seems to be attracted to the idea of training like an athlete. I say excellent! We are all athletes in one sense. The human body was meant to work as one unit. Actions like running, jumping, climbing, pushing, pulling, lifting, and dragging require the entire muscular system working in unison. Athletic ability and “functional fitness” training go hand in hand because the movement is practiced as opposed to the isolated muscle.

I’ll be the first to admit “functional fitness training” will definitely help the individual attain a lean and muscular physique along with other health benefits. Is it any more effective than a traditional style of training? (Here’s where it gets interesting.) I will not say one style is better than the other. For example – a bodybuilder or (someone wanting to achieve a bodybuilders’ physique), would benefit far more from a traditional style weight training program than unconventional methods. The bodybuilders’ objective is to gain large symmetrical muscles covered with as little fat as possible. In this case – speed, agility, reaction time (other skill related components) doesn’t necessarily matter. A bodybuilding split routine would serve as the “functional training” method. One common problem is, people want to try everything at once, making it difficult to progress in anything.

Unconventional training or what’s been labelled by the masses as “functional training” will improve athletic ability, core strength and the kinetic chain. It’s also very fun and can add variety to a program. On the flip side, there are many benefits to traditional style training. So what’s the message here? Ask yourself two questions. 1. Why am I training? 2. Is my current program fulfilling its purpose? If you’re having trouble answering these questions, you may need to revisit your current plan of action. Remember the effectiveness of any program is consistency, and staying focused on the goal. Figure out what style works best for you and be cautious when taking advice from anybody who immediately dismisses the value of different training methods.

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Shawn Charlebois

Shawn Charlebois is a Certified Specialist in Strength & Conditioning. He has trained professional and college level athletes, middle aged house wives and everybody in between. Shawn runs the Integrity Strength & Conditioning program. He also offers one on one, individual programs and Nutrition Advice.