What is functional exercise & why do you need it?
Some people train for bigger and better muscles. Other people do drills for specific sports. But what if you just want to move better in everyday life?
You’ve just hit upon the definition of functional training, or functional exercise.
What is functional training?
Something that is functional is useful. That’s why functional movement takes in any kind of exercise that serves a purpose for your body outside of aesthetic goals or simply hitting the gym to get your sweat on.
This type of exercise is centered on increasing mobility, strength and overall fitness, and reducing risk of injury, for the things you do every day. It’s not a fad, but training for real life.
Think movements that you would expect to perform each day: walking, jumping, pushing or pulling. They’re often compound movements that work multiple muscle groups at once. Like a squat, which mimics and enhances the movement pattern you perform when sitting down.
Because many modalities or styles of training can be functional, chances are you’ve done this kind of exercise (or even entire functional training workouts) without realizing it. If you’ve done a barbell squat or a push-up, you’ve done a functional exercise.
Discover the movement your life is missing with the Functional Movement Challenge.
On Centr, functional movement encompasses a range of training styles and intensities – from strength to cardio and mobility – and combines compound exercises and movement patterns that improve conditioning and performance.
What are the benefits of functional training?
Performing functional exercises can help you move and feel better in everyday life, from taking care of kids to the demands of your job.
For instance, a strong core and back can help parents lift and carry a toddler without pain, while a landscaper must be able to squat down to tend to garden beds, and people who are moving house need strength and agility to maneuver heavy furniture.
Regular functional movement can also:
- Increase mobility by training in natural movement patterns.
- Prevent injury by building a strong, mobile body.
- Help you to get stronger by performing compound exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups to build strength efficiently.
- Improve your stability, balance and flexibility. Unilateral work (exercising one side at a time) will help you to identify and work on imbalances, while increasing the range of motion you’re able to comfortably move through will naturally improve flexibility.
- Get a workout in with minimal equipment required. Many forms of functional training, including the Functional Movement Challenge on Centr, require no or limited equipment.
Functional exercise can future-proof your body by teaching you how to master natural movement patterns.
What are functional exercises?
Functional exercises are based on foundational or primal movements that, in the days before desk jobs, were once essential for our survival. While our lifestyles may be a lot more sedentary than they used to be, these natural motions that serve us for everyday activities.
Exercises are considered functional if they:
increase muscle stability, joint mobility and full-body strength
prevent injuries during everyday tasks
improve speed, agility and coordination
boost cardiovascular health
Some examples of key functional exercises are:
Bringing the torso closer to the ground by bending at the knees and sitting the butt back and down.
Examples: Bodyweight squat, sumo squat, pistol squat
Everyday use: Sitting down and getting up, picking up heavy objects safely, two-legged jumps
Hinging at the hips to move the torso forward and backward.
Examples: Deadlift, snatches
Everyday use: Bending over to pick up items or children, reaching for items while seated on the floor
One leg is positioned forward with a bent knee, while the other leg is extended behind. Bending at both knees lowers the torso toward the ground.
Examples: Forward lunge, lateral lunge
Everyday use: Walking up and down stairs, stepping over obstacles
Using the chest, shoulders and arms to exert force on an object to push it away.
Examples: Push-ups, bench press, shoulder press
Everyday use: Pushing a trolley or stroller, passing a ball, opening a door, crawling
Reaching out then drawing in using the back, shoulders and arms to bring an object closer.
Examples: Bent-over rows, lat pull-down, pull-ups, chin-ups
Everyday use: Picking up children or items, dragging things, putting on a backpack or seatbelt
Engaging the abdominal muscles to stabilize the spinal column. Also takes in twisting and rotating.
Examples: Planks, sit-ups, Russian twists
Everyday use: Maintaining balance while standing in a moving train, moving objects while cooking, golfing, throwing a frisbee
Gait or locomotion
A combination of movements to propel the body in any direction.
Examples: Running, lateral sprints
Everyday use: Walking, running for the bus, dancing, many sports including soccer
Ability to remain upright and steady, generally during motion.
Examples: Single-leg Romanian deadlift, alternating lunges, bird dog
Everyday use: Walking on uneven or narrow surfaces, traveling on trains and planes, jumping and landing
The twisting motion generated by the torso.
Examples: Russian twist, boxing combinations
Everyday use: Turning your body while sitting on a chair, scratching an area on the rear of your body, reaching for things in awkward positions, serving and hitting in tennis
Functional strength training vs traditional strength training: what’s the difference?
While traditional strength training is primarily performed with the goal of increasing muscle mass, the focus of functional strength training is on strengthening movement patterns you perform every day.
We’ve taken a deep dive to help you explore the differences and decide which style is right for your goals.
Where can I try a functional training workout?
The new 6-week Functional Movement Challenge on Centr makes it easy to get started with this style of training. Experts Luke Zocchi, Ingrid Clay and Maricris Lapaix will lead you through fun and dynamic workouts to build strength, stability and stamina, and improve the way you move.
What about other styles of functional training?
You may have heard about Da Rulk’s legendarily challenging workouts on Centr. Raw Functional Training (RFT®) is a registered curriculum that Rulk originally designed to train first responders and military, then made available to everyone for the first time right here.
Rulk’s intense training utilizes bodyweight movements such as forward-to-reverse crawls, side gorillas, hostages and sit thrus – drawing on foundational movement patterns to build up mobility and overall functional strength and conditioning.
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