What The Eff Does Functional Training Mean?

What The Eff Does Functional Training Mean?

In the eyes of the general population, they envision the above photo when it comes to functional training.

And when it comes to trainers and strength coaches, they would argue that the term “functional training” needs to die.

Sure, there are a myriad of terms in this world that need to die such as “bae” or “swole” or my personal favorite, “gainz.” Okay, we get it. You’re getting more swole than the Incredible Hulk. #gainz

I just put swole in a sentence. GOD DAMNIT!!!

In the strength and conditioning industry, the word functional is tossed around more freely than Jenna Jameson in Zombie Strippers.

The truth is: functional could mean anything. A functional exercise. A functional sex position. A functional toaster oven. A functional dildo. Or a functional Senate.


Alas, I digress. The circulating idea behind functional is that we are able to move athletically. We’re all on the same page there.

Perhaps you tell your client the reverse lunge they are doing is functional, in addition to the single leg dead lift with contralateral load. Excellent. But meanwhile, there’s a woman next to you holding dumbbells overhead while bouncing her booty on a stability ball. This may be farfetched, but she looks like an exhibit from the Vegas porn convention.

Isn’t her exercise functional too? I mean she seems to be working ALL muscle groups and looking semi athletic sexy. Right?

Alas, there may be no Webster’s dictionary definition for functional training, nor has anyone in the industry come up with a magical explanation that will make you jizz your pants. Although, Bret Contreras wrote a lengthy post that was as close as anyone could get to defining its ambiguity. And yes, it made me jizz my pants.

Female boners aside, I’m willing to bet functional will be here to stay. As coaches, we can continue to use it as long as we educate our clients, and back up the term with an anatomy and human movement explanation. And use my awesome definition.

But really. Use my awesome definition:

“A form of training or exercise that integrates more than one muscle group – working the subsystems throughout the human kinetic chain. “

Let’s dumb this down further and pick apart the four human movement subsystems:

1.) Deep Longitudinal
Muscle Groups: erector spinae, sacrotuberous ligament, biceps femoris, thoracolumbar fascia
*Best Exercises: this is the most overactive system so exercise selection will be more focused on the POS system (below). Any tight areas such as biceps femoris, peroneals and piriformis should be alleviated with foam rolling and stretching. 
Daily Application: 
walking and absorbing ground reaction forces in sports

2.) Posterior Oblique
Muscle Groups: contralateral gluteus maximus, latissimus dorsi, thoracolumbar fascia
Best Exercises: split stance row, half kneeling contralateral press, reverse lunge to row, glute bridge progressions 
Daily Application: 
transfer of force when we walk and run, golf swing, soccer kick

3.) Anterior Oblique
Muscle Groups: internal oblique, external oblique, adductor group, hip external rotators
Best Exercises: chops, pallof presses, side plank progressions
Daily Application:
stabilization in transverse plane as we walk, rotational movements

4.) Lateral
Muscle Groups: gluteus medius, tensor fascia latae, adductor group, contralateral side quadratus lumborum.
Best Exercises: split squat, Bulgarian split squat, lateral lunge, walking lunge, step up, lateral step up, single leg dead lift, pistol squat
Daily Application: walking, running, climbing stairs

So there you go. I feel so functional now, bro. 😉

Now I’m no Dr. Stuart McGill or a Coach Dos, or a Mark Verstegen, but this definition gives me a comprehensive explanation of the four subsystems and why I’m programming certain exercises for clients.

Sure, we can sprinkle in other factors to expound on “functional” further, such as exercise execution, motor units recruited, or progressive overload. But this would be the scope for another post. I’m too out of breath after writing so much, so excuse me while I go get an oxygen mask.

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