Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, work or in sports, while using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time. Functional fitness emphasizes core stability while using various types of resistance or body weight positions.
CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing, and more. These are the core movements of life. By employing a constantly varied approach to training, the intensity of these functional movements lead to dramatic gains in fitness.
What does functional training really mean? Some methods have good marketing behind them, making you think that their training is helpful for daily function. When breaking down the actual workouts, though, it’s easy to pick apart how these exercise movements don’t resemble anything like daily function or activity. What part of Olympic lifting resembles daily function? The clean-and-press? Thrusters, slamming a ball, etc…? These are great fitness exercises, but to call them functional fitness is farfetched at best. When does a long-bar deadlift relate to almost anyone’s daily life?
I am not saying these exercises or workouts are bad, but we really need to update the definition of the term “functional training.”
When I was working on my master’s degree in physical therapy at The University of Colorado Medical Center in the early 90’s, the phrase we used, and I still use to this day in specific medical charts, is that of “closed chain,” or doing things when your feet are on the ground. This creates “functional” patterns that are used more frequently for daily functioning. Just because we are doing a “power clean”, doesn’t make it functional, but it is “closed chain” as my feet are on the ground and my movement patterns more resemble daily sport or activities. Open chain or non-functional movements are when your feet are not planted on the ground and generally you don’t get the most efficient and effective use of your muscles in these positions. The best example of this is the seated leg extension machine, which builds your quadriceps up (in bulk), but doesn’t really improve the function of the muscle or associated joints.
Closed Chain activities with my feet on the ground, where my quads must coordinate movement with my gluteals, hamstrings, abdominals and calf muscle to generate force and movement, can generally be considered better for us. These movements are much more “functional.”
The semantics behind the term “functional fitness” seems to have been misunderstood. If this gets people out to do more exercise, great, but let’s not relate all fitness methods to function. Yes, almost any exercise is good exercise when done correctly and with good form, but it is important to understand that not all training is functional training.