Functional strength training aims to improve functional capacity. It is the ability to perform simple and/or complex motor activities with ease, efficiency, strength, and control which can be seen through movements.
As humans, we perform a wide range of movement activities, such as walking, running, jumping, lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, twisting, standing and climbing. Functional training allows one to perform these activities in a smooth flow motion and it involves more than simply increasing the performance of a muscle or group of muscles. Rather, it requires a well-balanced training to improve the relationship between the nervous and muscular systems which in-turn condition or rehabilitate all performance components necessary for an activity.
Such training keeps our joints strong and healthy, our body movement in rhythm, all by exposing them to strengthening exercises in multi-directions. Training often mimics daily movement patterns or sporting activities. It uses bodyweight and/or external load as resistance to improve strength, and may require an activity to be performed in unstable environments to enhance core stability and develop body awareness.
The primary goal of functional training is to apply the improvements in strength achieved in various movements to increase performance and efficiency in our daily life or the sports that we do by affecting the entire neuromuscular system.
In functional training, it is as critical to train movements as it is to train the muscles involved in the movement. The brain controls muscular movements, in other words, we are built to think in terms of whole motions, not isolated muscles.
Exercises that target specific muscle groups are called training muscles, not movements, which results in less functional improvement. For example, squats will have a greater improvement on an individual’s ability to rise from a seated position or a jumping motion while doing sporting activities as compared to a leg press machine. For strength exercises to effectively transfer to other movements; Coordination, types of muscular contractions (concentric, eccentric, isometric), movement and range of motion have to all be in check.
Exercises performed on most traditional machines tend to be less effective in the functional-training continuum because they isolate muscles in a stabilized environment. While it may be true that machine-based exercises are not the best way to increase performance in the real world, it does not mean that such exercises should NOT be a part of a training program.
Accordingly, individuals shouldn’t rely on any single group of exercises. Individuals should use all the weapons in their training arsenal. Functional strength training should serve as a supplement to traditional strength training, not as a replacement.
Properly applied, functional strength training may provide exercise variety and additional training benefits that effectively transfer improvements to real-life activities.