Functional Strength & ConditioningFrequently Asked Questions

What are the basics of functional strength training?

How can you work on your functional strength training? You’re going to want to mimic every day movements, with added resistance. This might involve practicing the movement with the same speed, coordination level and range of motion. Remember, the closer you are to mimicking the exercise, the more effective it’s going to be when you apply it to your everyday life.

You’ll also need to remember that functional training doesn’t isolate certain muscles or body parts. Let’s take the cycling as an example: if you were training for cycling, you wouldn’t focus all of your attention on a leg extension machine because this isolates that part of the body and doesn’t actually mimic your cycling.

Now that we’ve covered what this is about, let’s look at the different types of functional strength training you can get into.

High-intensity functional training

The US military has actually started using HIFT in their training programmes, so you know it is going to really test you. This type of programme works to improve your endurance, cardio and strength, and you’re benefiting from fewer injuries than the higher volume endurance training alternatives.

If you’re not quite physically fit, it’s probably best to start somewhere a little less demanding and then move onto this when you’re ready.

Low-intensity functional training

This is a great option for older people who want to build on their strength, balance, endurance, agility, flexibility and overall health and wellbeing. It’s also great for anyone who wants to get fitter and work their way up to the more intense functional training regimen.

No matter where you start, you just need to make sure that you’re ready for whatever the training throws at you. Remember, this isn’t about testing your limits – it’s about taking solid steps to improving your physical conditioning.

Before you start this type of training, there are a few things you’re going to need to think about that’s going to help you decide where to start:

  • What are your fitness goals? What is it you want to be able to do?
  • What are your health and fitness levels at the moment?
  • Does the programme you have in mind include balance, strength, flexibility, power, coordination and endurance?
  • How will you monitor your progress? (A good programme should help you do this).
  • What equipment will you need?

Now that you have an idea about what functional training is and what you need to be thinking about before you start training, let’s look at some exercises and workouts that will go great with whatever you’re trying to accomplish.

What are the best functional strength and conditioning exercises and workouts?

As I said before, the best functional training is just doing the movement that you’re trying to improve, but there are also many other ways that you can enhance you’re overall day-to-day strength and conditioning. I’m going to take you through some basic exercises that you can include in your daily routine, no matter what you are trying to accomplish.

The pushup to arm and hip raise

This movement takes some existing strength, so you’re not going to be doing this if your rehabbing from an injury or if you’re trying to work your strength to get up from a chair. For those who are wanting to improve their overall body strength, this is a great exercises to get stuck in to.

It starts with a pushup and when you’re at the top of the movement, you’ll lift your arms, turn out and raise it into the air. You’ll then raise your outside leg into the air and hold for about 10 seconds. Lower down and move onto the other side.

This exercise is really great for shoulder, hip, core and ab strength and you’ll be benefiting from enhanced flexibility in your hips, back and shoulders. For anything involved in lifting your own body – I’m talking getting out of bed to swimming – this one is the perfect training regimen.

The bodyweight squat

Is there anything like a good squat to strengthen your legs? Probably not, but it’s also great for just about every muscle below your waist and perfect for working on muscles that require lifting. Whether you’re a packer at a local store or you just want to be able to lift your groceries safely off the kitchen floor, this one is for you.

You don’t need to have a barbell full of weights to reap the benefits of this movement either – just your own weight will do wonders for building up your strength. The trick is to make sure you get the form just right – stand with your feet shoulder width apart and bend down at your hips. Don’t let those knees go past your toes and lower down until those thighs are parallel to the floor.

If you can’t quite squat just yet, start out slowly and work your way there.

The inverted row

The inverted row is great for training those biceps, back muscles, abs and the scapula stabilizers. This is perfect for any activity that entails lifting off the ground or even starting the law mower. You’ll need to be lying down on your back for this one with a stable barbell above you. Pull your body up as high as possible while keeping your back straight and then squeeze those shoulder blades together. Try to do as many reps as you possibly can.

The exercise ball hamstring curl

This exercise is going to make anything that involves bending or squatting a lot easier – whether it’s carrying groceries or playing with the kids. You’ll find that it works those abs, glutes, hamstrings and hips really well.

Start by lying on your back and bend your knees. Lift those legs and rest the bottom of your feet on an exercise ball. Next you’re going to roll those legs out until they are completely straight and hold for a moment before returning the movement. Keep those hamstrings activated throughout.

The band lateral raise

This is a great shoulder workout and focuses specifically on the deltoids. You’ll need to start by grabbing a band in one hand and then stepping down onto the other end with your opposite food. Raise your arm until it’s parallel to the floor. Once you’re done with one arm, you’ll want to switch over and work the other.

Jump rope

The jump rope is a really versatile piece of equipment and practicing on it can help with a variety of complex movements, including anything that requires jumping, reaching or any other type of coordination. This might seem like a child’s pastime, but believe me when I say that you’ll need a measure of strength and ability to jump rope for more than a few minutes – it’s best to start out slowly and then increase the time spent on it as you get stronger and more agile.

What's the best functional strength and conditioning equipment?

Okay, now let’s move onto the equipment that’s going to make all of this happen. It’s important to note that you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment, but just like any other exercise regimen, the right stuff can make your workout a lot easier and more efficient.

First let’s look at what makes functional strength training equipment different from most traditional training equipment. Basically, the former is different because it focuses on complex movement patterns – it’s about training the muscles together, rather than isolating them. It’s about holistic training and that’s a step above the more traditional training equipment you’ll find on the market.

Kettlebells

Kettlebells are unique because of their non-uniform shape and this takes a lot more coordination to get them to move the way you want them to. These are great to add to exercises like goblet squats, farmer’s walks and kettlebell snatches.

Weighted balls

Weighted balls (like medicine balls, wall balls and slam balls) can be used in squats and lunges, and help to work the arm and shoulder muscles.

Plyometric Boxes

Plyometrics (or jump training), is a type of movement which focuses on jump variations. It’s incredibly beneficial as using only your bodyweight you’re able to get a full lower body workout, and build explosive strength. Of course you’re going to need something to jump on, many people use just their benches, but we wouldn’t advise this as benches are designed to handle static loads, and jumping on it will wear the bench and the upholstery quickly. We’d recommend investing in a plyometric box instead.

Battle ropes

Battle ropes are not only a lot of fun – they look cool and they’re really good at promoting coordination and strength.

Skipping ropes

Skipping brings together so many elements, including hip, leg, arm and shoulder coordination, that it’s a favourite with functional strength training. If you’re looking for a great cardio workout, this one’s also for you. Basically, it can do everything except make you breakfast in the morning. Of course you could get a skipping rope from Kmart for a couple of dollars, but if you’re going to be using it for any length of time you’re going to want one with bearings that will hold up.

Sleds

Sleds are an amazing way to combine strength with conditioning. It’s an easy way to work those leg and upper back muscles, and it doesn’t have to come with a large price tag! Sure, if you’re preparing for a strongman competition then you can splash out on the ATX Prowler Sled, but one of the spud sleds will work just fine if your only goal is to get a good workout.

So there you have it – now all that’s left is for you to get stuck in to your training.

Can Functional training build Muscle?

Yes, functional training can absolutely build muscle! Remember, it is not the specific exercises we do that build muscle. It is the intensity and volume of those exercises (sets, reps, total weight etc). This means it doesn’t matter whether we are doing functional exercises – such as sled pulls, sled pushes, squats, pullups and farmers walks, or less functional exercises such as lat pulldowns or leg presses.

What matters is that we train consistently, aiming to increase intensity over time. Ultimately we will build muscle – in combination with a good diet and recovery schedule.

Is Calisthenics functional Strength Training?

Yes, Calisthenics AKA bodyweight exercises are an example of functional strength training. For strength training to be classified as ‘functional’, the exercise should mimic a movement that we perform in our day-to-day life. For example, we might squat down to pick up a box, or reach over head to get something from the top shelf.

In this way, training bodyweight squats and handstands will improve our functional ability to squat and reach/extend our arms overhead. While we might not perform them very often, other calisthenics exercises like pullups, pushups, dips, rows and lunges are also great functional movements.

By progressing on these basic, natural movement patterns, we can improve full body coordination and athleticism. While simultaneously reducing our body’s risk of injury by strengthening our muscles and joints in the way they were designed to move.

Is CrossFit Functional Training?

It depends on who you ask! In our opinion, yes, most Crossfit-style workouts would be classified as functional training. For example, both bodyweight and weighted crossfit exercises like box jumps, pullups and deadlifts are basic compound movements that improve our ability to use our body as one cohesive unit – I.e. functional exercises.

Any form of HITT/Circuit/Cardio type training done in a CrossFit workout routine would also be considered as functional training. Cardio strengthens our body’s cardiovascular and muscle endurance systems. This leads to an improvement in our overall health markers and therefore our ability to function well mentally and physically.

However, some of the more difficult or strange looking crossfit exercises, like kipping pullups, muscle-ups, kettlebell cleans and pistols, aren’t necessary to develop a functional body. While they do train/combine some basic movement patterns, they are quite difficult/complicated to master for the average/beginner gym goer.

Does Functional Training burn fat?

Absolutely. Functional Training (or any type of training for that matter) done intensely enough can burn fat. Functional movements have a unique advantage in fat burning in that they are primarily compound, multi-joint movements, using multiple muscles at once. For example, the squat engages your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. The pull-up targets your entire back musculature and biceps.

Another great example of functional training would be Running or Sprinting. Both these exercises engage all your upper and lower body muscles, from your calves to your shoulders. Using multiple muscles at once requires the body to use more energy to perform. Compared to the fuel required to perform an isolation movement (e.g., bicep curls), where only one muscle is really working hard.

When we are in a calorie deficit, the body will utilise our body fat for energy. So, the better our diet, and the more full-body functional training we do, the greater potential for fat loss.

What is the difference between Functional Training and Strength Training?

None! There is no real difference between functional training and strength training. Functional training is actually a type of strength training! The aim of functional exercises is to make our body stronger through more natural movement patterns, i.e. pushing, pulling and squatting.

Traditional strength training movements, such as barbell squats, deadlifts and overhead press will also help improve your total body control and awareness. The only difference would really be the way in which you train your basic movement patterns. In real life, you probably won’t have to lie down on a bench and bench press heavy weights. However you might fall over and need to push yourself back up on your feet.

Hence, someone doing functional training would opt for the push-up, rather than the bench press. Another example would be using machines vs free weights, or even your own bodyweight on the squat. Someone looking to just gain mass may opt for the leg press or leg extension. While someone who wants to train functionally would do box jumps, lunges, sprints etc.

In summary, if you want to train ‘functionally’, using machines or movements you don’t use in daily life aren’t your best option. Train in a way that would make your daily life easier – even things like farmers carries can help with bringing in the groceries!