Over the past few years the term ‘functional fitness’ has become the new buzz word around the industry. But what actually IS ‘functional fitness’?
As a member of a gym or as a personal training client, we’re told that functional training:
‘attempts to adapt or develop exercises which allow individuals to perform the activities of daily life more easily and without injuries’.
The idea then being that your program includes exercises that mimic real-life scenarios, like picking up heavy things up (squatting and deadlifting), putting things away on high shelves (pressing), walking to the car with your shopping bags (farmer’s carries) and so forth.
How do I know this?
- Because it’s what I’ve been told
- It’s what I usually tell my own clients and, most importantly,
- I’ve experienced the impact this kind of training has had on my own life!
Having moved state once and moved house twice over the past 12 months I found myself reflecting on my ability to just pick up and carry things down to the garage, to balance on wobbly chairs to trim the garden hedge (maybe don’t try this at home folks!), or to lift odd pieces of furniture and manoeuvre them by myself. One day, one of my lovely clients helped me move my H.A.F mattress and my ridiculously wide armchairs onto a massive truck.
Some could say we were lucky. I prefer to think that the time we spend putting into the gym, working with odd objects, increasing our strength and learning how to engage our cores and protect our backs was probably more responsible.
And this, in itself, is self-explanatory and simple enough.
There’s been a marked shift away from isolation exercises like bicep curls and calf raises in favour of larger compound movements such as deadlifts, squats and pressing, not only because they better reflect what we do in daily life but they also recruit more muscle groups. This subsequently increases our muscle mass over time, reduces our body fat and leads to a higher metabolic rate and the ability to burn more calories at rest. AND, even better for personal trainers, coaches and members alike, choosing to focus on improving three or four compound lifts is just so much simpler than trying to fit in 20 exercises into a session. Amirite!?
So given all of these benefits, it hasn’t been hard to ‘sell’ functional training to the average gym go-er.
But here’s where it’s important to delve a little deeper. You see, I believe that the word ‘functional’ is still a somewhat subjective term. What’s really functional for you may be less so for another person. While CrossFit argues that we scale by degree and not by kind, and I don’t dispute that almost everyone would probably benefit from practicing and training the major lifts…I’d also like to think that most people would understand why we prioritise Farmer Carries over improving the Snatch or Clean and Jerk of a 70-year-old.
At my Level 1 CrossFit Certification course, one of the presenters actually brought up this topic. They stated that they themselves had been asked whether there was any true functionality of teaching Olympic Lifting to a 70 or 80-year-old. Their response was that while they may never use a loaded bar, teaching the footwork required of an Olympic Lift could help improve the balance and proprioception of an older adult to the point that if they were to accidentally slip, they would be less likely to fall and injure themselves.
While I get where this presenter was coming from, I must confess I’m still somewhat a skeptic. Why steal valuable time away from skills such as Farmer Carries, Deadlifts, sitting and standing without one’s hands and replace them with trying to teach a complicated Olympic Lift? Granted, if you’re 70 or 80 and you genuinely WANT to learn Olympic Lifting, then by all means give us a buzz and we will help you get there in our Get Moving Class!
But this is the point!
What is ‘functional’ to you, is determined in part by what is important to you.
So, it’s not just age that can affect something’s functionality. If you’re a bodybuilder, then isolated exercises ARE going to help you win that trophy more so than just working on your compound lifts. The same goes for a powerlifter, who I’m sure wouldn’t consider Olympic Lifting very functional either.
If you’re an office worker who sits at a desk most of the day I would argue that a lot more ‘pulling’ and back exercises would be more functional to you (in the sense that they’ll improve your posture and subsequently your quality of life down the track) than improving your bench press.
Again though, it is important to consider your OWN goals and what constitutes your OWN ideas of quality of life.
So, as with everything in life, take the overused and hyperbolic and dissect them through your own lens.
Is lifting 200kg once, really going to help your life down the track? Or would you be better off focusing on your gymnastics or ‘odd object’ carries? Alternatively, is just using an 8kg bar every workout going to help you when you have to move your insanely heavy mattress with just one other friend?
The style of ‘functional training’ taught at Crossfit WODen is designed to cover a broad spectrum of people***. This is why the workouts at CrossFit WODen prioritise gymnastic and conditioning skills over incorporating heavier lifts into workouts…because which of us isn’t guilty of avoiding the more boring and basic bodyweight exercises (those lovely running WODs!) in favour of something we perceive to be more technically sexier like a Snatch (see what I did there wink wink) or a Clean and Jerk?
We'd LOVE to hear YOUR input on this subject as we think it's a pretty interesting one, once you get into it a little deeper!
*** If increasing your strength in particular lifts, improving your technique in Oly Lifting or working on your more technical gymnastic moves is something that you do want to prioritise, why not investigate a personal training session with one of the coaches at the gym who can help develop skills that will be additionally functional to your goals!***