Is Functional Training Overrated?

Look, trends in fitness come and go. There is a hot topic for a few months and then it disappears into the horizon, only (to our amazement) another craze comes around the bend and steals our gaze.

Functional training is something that has being heavily pushed in the fitness industry in the past few years. With the likes of UFC and Crossfit taking the spotlight, it’s hard not to believe that functional training is the key to a sexy lean body. I mean they do it right?

Well, yes you’re right. But functional training is not the only piece of the puzzle. And functional training does really miss some crucial parts of training. In this article I’d like to highlight some false claims about functional training and fitness that you might want to know before becoming a pro crossfitter. And this functional training talk is coming from a guy that dedicated about 15 years of his 22 year old life to functional training for martial arts, soccer, and dragonboat rowing.

Functional Training Promises You Weight Loss

Let’s say this plain and simple, there is nothing out there that promises weight loss. If any sort of training in the world is met with a caloric intake larger than what you burn during the day, you’re gaining weight. Not losing it. The opposite is true for training. No training “promises” weight loss. It just burns calories. Functional training burns more calories during a workout if it’s done in a circuit style. But a resistance training routine burns more calories in the long run (aka the full day) because of the calories burned during your workout, and then the calories it takes your bodies to repair itself.

Functional Training is Safer

Wooh, this one is fun. Functional training is essentially exercise involving many different movements in various tempos. It involves more joints and more muscles. So how does it make sense that it is safer???

You simply have more to actually focus on during functional training if you want to stay injury free. In the case of crossfit, you are fitting complicated weightlifting movements made to be performed by themselves and placing them into a circuit one after another. The exercises were literally not performed to be done that way, and your body simply doesn’t have the time to recover its energy levels before the next giant lift you do. This can lead to bad form and hence...injury.

Please don’t think bodyweight training is any different. If you go intense as possible and you don’t know what you are doing, chances are you will pull something because you did a movement wrong.

Machines and Bodybuilding Movements are Totally not Functional

This one actually kind of grinds my gears a bit. People stay away from machines or certain exercises because they “are not functional”.

Let me explain to you the parameters that all gym equipment is made from. Scientists, doctors and professionals get together and access the natural paths that muscles move to create a movement. They, then do research studies and do countless calculations to perfect the perfect design of a machine to insure the movement is done in a way that is as close as humanly possible to its natural biomechanical function. So when you are doing whatever exercise; machine or free weight, if you are training the muscles it is meant to train then you are training those muscles in the function they are on your body for.

A bicep curl is not “functional” but it trains the bicep to shorten and extend with various loads of weight, tempos and perhaps wrist position variations. The biceps only function in the body is to shorten and bring the forearm closer to the shoulder. So how is this movement not functional?

Take Home Message:

Let me make myself clear. I am not against functional training, what-so-ever. I think functional training is a fantastic way to get moving, get in shape and it can help with many sports. My point is this: don’t buy into the cliche crazes out there of functional and nonfunctional equipment or movements. Mix them up. Do your kickboxing and bag work, do your cleans. But, any human being should and must supplement any functional training activity with some isolation "nonfunctional" movements to strengthen the smaller muscles that might not get as much love. For example, your posterior deltoid, traps, rhomboids - for posture. Or the outside of your quads - to balance out your legs so that you don't walk like a penguin and want to take a hammer to your knee caps at 60 years of age.

Keep an open mind. Fitness is a discipline that requires a holistic approach.

Nik V Vasilyev

Digital Fitness Coach

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