Essentially, functional training is any form of training that enables you to perform a particular function. This could be related to a sport, your job or just movements that we call carry out during the day.
Take the 100m sprint for a sporting example.
This involves fast and powerful movements, so training should work on speed and power in running motion. Walking lunges would be a good exercise for this.
Or how about a work example of a painter/decorator?
In this case the person carries out a lot of repetitive and overhead work so they need good shoulder strength and endurance. Training here would be the shoulder press, with a firm focus on technique and endurance (higher reps). This will help avoid things like sub-acromial impingement and rotator cuff tears.
Or how about a baggage handler or labourer? In this case the posterior pull is a good exercise to try.
Looking around gyms over the last few years there seems to be a trend for repeating the same exercise on an unstable surface – and this is a fundamental misunderstanding of functional training.
That’s not to say this doesn’t have its place in a training regime – for example as part of ACL reconstruction rehab – but research suggests that functional training is much more effective when it is specific to the task. So if you’re improving shoulder strength for decorating work, then odds are you’ll spend your time on a stable surface. This also means you are more likely to get the technique right and be able to lift a heavier weight – getting more benefit from your training.
Functional training should be a mix of exercises that support daily functional movement alongside those related to any particular sport. So for example pushes and pulls alongside weight-shifting squats for sports that involve changes in direction.
Our best advice would be to speak to your physio or work with a trainer to devise a plan that is best suited to your activity, ultimate goals and also your current level of fitness.