What is Functional Training?

OnSide Academy
June 15, 2020

What is functional training?

by Nathan Jeffrey

Let’s Explain “Functional”

Functional Training had all of the criteria it needed to become another fitness trend, boom for a few years, then fizzle out. The effectiveness keeps it around.

Even now, if you search Functional Training or Functional Fitness, you’re going to find that every single article tells you something different. If you’ve never trained this way it seems foreign and a cult-ish way to exercise. If you’ve ever been an athlete or played sports, it seems like common sense.

The definition is simple.

Functional Training is a style of training that mimics things bio-mechanically in real life. Every day you lift things up, you carry things, you stand and sit, you put things over your head and you jump or run around. If you’re involved with sport, all of this is amplified. Functional Training takes all of these different types of movements and creates workouts out of them.

Am I Being Functional?

Alright here is where is confusion comes from. 

Sure! Technically anything can be functional. If you have spent any time around me you’ve probably heard the joke about bicep curls being functional by helping me drink a beer. Having to actually write it out is probably enough to make me stop saying it.

You can spin anything to fit into the Functional Training category, and if we want to pick on bicep curls, technically, if you’re into bowling this is a must in your training program. The reality is that the bicep curl is not really a movement we run into everyday… it’s more like an accessory movement or an exercise that is going to help certain pieces of functional movement. 

The popular functional movements are things like squats, deadlifts, presses, burpees, box jumps and so many more. Each variation of these movements also fits into the category of functional training (burpee jump overs, front squats, etc.). What you’ll notice about each of these exercises is that there isn’t one part of our body that we’re using, we rely on many.

Now, to make matters a bit more confusing, Functional Training is not simply governed by what exercises you’re doing – HOW you are doing them matters. This is what I fell in love with when starting to train this way. Always lifting the same weight isn’t functional. Always running the same speed isn’t functional. Always doing the same exercises isn’t functional.

Here’s Functional training in action


Think about it this way. You’re out walking your crazy dog, Daisy. Every night before bed you walk the same route around the block. One night, daisy gets away from you and starts sprinting after a pack of wild teenagers!

“Daisy come back here! Daisy!” you shout. 


How Functional Fitness Prepares You


At this point, you need to sprint to catch Daisy. This is the unknown, it’s the part that functional training prepares you for.

Without functional training in your life, Daisy get’s away from you. You’ve always gone on slow walks, you’ve never sprinted, and you just hurt yourself trying to. Daisy joins that pack of wild teenagers, moves in with her older friend Larry, starts selling jean jackets and eventually joins the Doc Antle Reservation for Reformed Cockapoos.

With functional training in your life, you sprint to daisy in record time to save your baby. You flex on those teenagers who are probably seriously impressed with your speed. One tries to tackle you but you Box Jump over them. You Power Clean Daisy up and Farmers Carry her all the way back home.

Wow, I am impressed.

With functional training, you would have practiced not only your typically slow walking routine (the other name I have for my runs) but you also would have included sprinting in your training. You would have practiced being able to perform a technical movement like a clean under fatigue and an explosive one like a Box Jump

The REsults


The part that everyone cares about – what are the results like?

Functional Fitness is home to some of the most sustainable and effective results to ever come out of a fitness method.

Think about this. You’re in the gym doing your 3 sets of 12 shoulder raises. That’s great, your shoulders are healthy, you’re killing those shoulder raises with that that 15 lb dumbbell. This is an important exercise, but if your thinking about energy expenditure or calories burned, compare your shoulder raise to a Deadlift. There isn’t a muscle in your body that isn’t working hard (if you’re doing them right) when your doing a Deadlift.

Functional movements are so much more effective in regards to energy expenditure due to all of the muscles needed. If your goal is to simply lose weight or burn more calories, you’re going to drive yourself mad trying to get there with accessory movements. 


At the end of the day, Functional Training is how we should be exercising. If you’re worried about getting older, it’s going to help you keep your independence by practicing movements you need to do everyday. If you’re looking to lose weight, you get more bang for your buck with Functional Training. If you’re an athlete looking to take your game to the next level, you won’t get there by doing movements or training programs that have been designed to make you look good.




Functional Training could be the answer you’ve been looking For. Let’s get started.

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