Benefits of functional fitness

What it’s all about:

The 7 biggest benefits of functional training:

  1. Less time, big results
  2. Good posture and a strong back
  3. Speed and power
  4. Prehabilitation
  5. Efficient fat loss
  6. Enjoy doing sport
  7. Stay in shape – learn how your body works

Whether it’s CrossFit, Freeletics, Calesthenics or one of the many other available disciplines and brands, functional training has been all the rage in the fitness market for years and that’s not changing any time soon. This overview explains exactly why this is so, what functional training is all about and what its benefits are.

Functional training in simple terms:

Functional training is a relatively broad concept; it’s one of the simplest ways to explain the popular approach of the many fitness facilities that have functionalised their exercises in one form or another. They are all united by the idea of offering exercise that also has a benefit or added value for you outside the workout itself.

Unlike concentrated strength training, targeted endurance training on a specific machine or stabilising exercises in rehab, functional fitness impacts a number of muscle groups and body areas simultaneously and often in interaction.

So, many functional exercises are closely related to classic ones and enhance them with various aspects that add more complexity. Functional training is particularly popular with athletes. A football player, who wants to achieve a harder shot, for example, doesn’t gain any direct benefit from lifting more weight on a leg press. Shooting involves a complex structure of various muscle groups, coordination and balance. A stronger thigh alone is not enough here; functional exercises therefore always combine movement sequences and so optimise athletic performance and everyday health.

The results you achieve with functional fitness are not only visible, but also tangible. You don’t just get a broader chest, you get more push power.

Your body’s core builds the foundation for this. The basic force for almost all natural movements comes from the torso. Whether it’s a hard goal kick, a jump in bouldering or a punch in boxing, it’s with the involvement of the body’s centre of gravity and strength from the core that these movements can be coordinated and optimised in a targeted way.

Functional training isn’t necessarily new as such; this form of training has been an integral part of the sports sector for years. Its modern origins lie primarily in rehabilitation therapy, where targeted functional training is used to protect the body from stress.

But classic PE-type exercises can also be functional. Push-ups are a good example of a simple, functional exercise. Not only are the triceps, chest and shoulder muscles used here, but the core also has to maintain its stability to ensure correct execution.

Functional exercises often feature more dynamics and movement, and a combination of movement sequences. A good example of this is the squat jump, which leads from a squat position to a jump using the calf muscles and the low landing works the quadriceps particularly hard. This makes the exercise not only more demanding, but also more dynamic and targets a combination of different muscles as used in handball, martial arts and parkour training.

1. Less time, big results

Even if you’re not a professional athlete, you can still achieve quick results through functional training; the “secret” lies in its efficiency. Instead of treading the stepper for hours on end, you go full out for just a few minutes.

As functional exercises usually target several muscle groups, you have less downtime and can combine exercises. Even with just ten minutes a day, you can put together an intensive programme that will help you see quick results. Of course this is physically demanding, of course you will push yourself to your physical limit in a matter of minutes, but you’ll achieve significantly more in a shorter time.

Flexibility and balance – Classic gym equipment training isolates muscles through the machine defining your body movements. This ensures that you only use the muscles you want to strengthen. However, this doesn’t match the experience our bodies have outside the gym. From jumping over a puddle to lifting a crate of bottles, several muscle groups are always involved in any interaction.

This requires flexibility and balance, and functional training focuses precisely on these essential aspects. There are no machines to support you. You might exercise using your body weight, free weights, kettlebells, battle ropes, medicine balls or exercise bands – but your body always has to do the work.

This additional body training not only makes you stronger for any sporting challenge and in everyday life, but also more resistant to injury.

2. Good posture and a strong back

Your core is made up of a complex web of muscles located in your waist area, abdomen and lower back. It’s extremely important to train these muscles because they are so often neglected as a result of modern everyday life. Sitting for long periods of time, unhealthy work practices and orthopaedic conditions all too often result in back pain and permanent discomfort.

A strong core muscular system can prevent such phenomena and, incidentally, ensures better posture. And improved posture means you get to show off strong muscles to their full effect.

3. Speed and power

Increased strength and speed is beneficial for any sport, and functional fitness is one of the best ways to gain both. Unlike the chest press, functional training exercises your body for athletic performance and also works your cardiovascular system.

As a result, you not only gain more strength in individual muscle groups, but are able to run faster, hit harder and jump higher.

This makes functional fitness the ideal complementary training, but even if you only stick to functional exercises, you’ll quickly notice that you’re moving and feeling better in everyday life.

4. Prehabilitation

In its origins, modern functional fitness is closely related to exercise rehabilitation, but you can benefit from the dynamic and challenging exercises involved even if you haven’t got an injury to overcome. Instead of repairing the damage, you can focus on prevention; this is known as prehabilitation or prehab.

Your muscles and joints will become more resilient and your improved body awareness will also help you cushion collisions and falls.

5. Efficient fat loss

Losing weight is (in theory) quite simple: You need to burn more calories than you take in. This condition is called calorie deficit. For a long time, the maxim was to do as much endurance sport as possible during long sessions to burn a significant amount of calories.

But functional training is a much better method because you build muscle efficiently in short workouts. This increases your basal metabolic rate and burns more calories even when you’re sleeping or on the sofa.

6. Enjoy doing sport

When body and mind have found the perfect synergy, you are able to get real pleasure out of functional training. Because every type of functional training contains playful elements that make every session a unique experience.

Keeping your body in motion, pushing your limits or just throwing a medicine ball as hard as you can onto the floor is just fun. Even if fitness training isn’t usually your thing because counting repetitions at the gym is too much, you should definitely try functional training.

The dynamic movement, fast pace and variation of exercises are ideal for reluctant exercisers.

7. Stay in shape – learn how your body works

With functional training you don’t work on isolated muscle groups so much as you look at your whole body as a unit. Movement sequences only work when muscles and joints work together, strength comes from your core, and balance and flexibility are just as important as sheer strength – these are the principles on which functional exercises are based.

And whether it’s at the gym or a CrossFit box, as part of training group at the park, or at home with a kettlebell, functional fitness brings movement into everyday life and shows that strength training and dynamics go hand in hand.

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