What is ‘functional fitness,’ anyway?

written by Philip Stefanov  |  NOVEMBER 16, 2021

As you’ve probably noticed, there is a fair amount of talk about ‘functional’ training these days. The videos often feature some form of an unstable surface and the use of equipment like medicine balls. We also have exercise routines, typically circuits, which people also market as functional training.

And then, we dive deep and find videos of people back squatting on a Bosu ball, and can’t help but wonder:

“What is functional fitness, anyway?”

What Does ‘Functional’ Fitness Mean?

Any form of training that improves your physical capacity is considered functional. Meaning, so long as an activity makes you better able to do various tasks in your everyday life, it is functional.

The term can mean different things for various people because we are all unique and don’t face the same challenges in our lives. For example, a heavy farmer’s walk is one example of a functional movement because it makes us better able to carry heavy weights and walk around with them. If your job requires you to carry heavy objects around or you need to carry bags full of groceries, the movement would be functional for you.

The deadlift is another excellent example of a functional exercise. Deadlifts strengthen a range of muscles you use daily and teach you how to pick a heavy object off the floor. Sure, you won’t need to lift a barbell in your everyday life, but the kinetic awareness you develop from the movement can save you from an injury.

Similarly, many of the activities we do make us more functional in one way or another. Strengthening our muscles, improving our endurance, teaching multiple muscles to work together, and maintaining our balance are all ways to become more functional.

The Problem With Functional Fitness

The main issue with functional fitness is that many people use the term to describe their training approach and sell services or products. The fitness industry is vast, so people look for ways to differentiate themselves. The problem is, reinventing the wheel doesn’t help anyone but only serves to create confusion.

Another significant issue with functional fitness is that people develop this binary view of, “This is functional, and the other thing isn’t.” While some exercises are more useful than others, this doesn’t mean you can’t extract value from different activities and training styles. The issue likely stems from misleading marketing used by people to promote themselves and their methods. Folks who don’t know better fall for the trap and constantly look for functional training programs.

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

First, it means that you shouldn’t worry too much about doing functional training. Chances are, if you’re active, you’re improving your functional capacity.

Second, building some physical strength will make you more functional. Pick exercises you enjoy and can do safely. Squats, bench, and deadlifts are the popular options, but there are tons of activities that will get you strong.

Third, just because one exercise carries a higher functional transfer doesn’t mean that other movements are ‘non-functional.’

Until next week,


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