What is Functional Exercise?


Here at Kirby’s Personal Training and Fitness Port Talbot, we often use the phrase functional movement or exercise, when describing movements within a programme for clients. Functional exercise/movement/training are big buzzwords in the fitness industry at the moment and I’m often asked what Functional Exercise is.  Most trainers, when asked, can’t actually give a specific definition. So what is the big problem, in quantifying what functional exercise is?

The clue is in the name, but for some reason we have a great need to over complicate terminology in the fitness industry. The definition of ‘functional’ is simply ‘relating to or performing a function’. But that doesn’t really clear the confusion up, Krissie, I hear you say!

So let me simplify it further.

Football – stick with me on this it will all make sense I swear – if a client comes to me and is a footballer, the first thing I need to take into consideration is whether the programme she’s requiring from me is general fitness or sports specific. Because she’s a footballer there will be elements of sports specific training I will need to include, to ensure she’s getting maintaining her skill set for the field on match day. So I will include agility training, sprints and ball skills into her programme. These are all specific to her sport. However, if she falls over on the pitch, I will need to ensure she’s strong enough to get back up on her feet.  So I will add in strength and conditioning and something specific that takes her from the floor to standing (my clients are all screaming Turkish Get Up as they read this). I would indeed add in the Turkish Get up – this is a functional exercise, not sport specific. WHY? Kettlebell Turkish Get Up

Simply put, the Turkish Get Up is a series of movements the takes you from the floor to standing and back, usually with a weight overhead. The idea being that you are able to support your bodyweight in getting up off the floor without using your hands in the final stages of the movement, that you engage your entire body for the whole movement, stabilise throughout the body and can move floor-to-standing-to-floor with relative ease. Everyone, no mater what your age or ability should be able to perform a Turkish Get Up (without weight). This movement gives confidence to my older generation clients, so that if they do stumble they can pick themselves up and continue on, as well as confidence to my younger clients, knowing that they will be stronger in their later years.

I’d also have my footballer performing deadlifts and strict presses, amongst other things. Again these are not sport specific, they are functional. They will make her strong in her game, particularly in her legs and for throw ins. She will be able to perform the function of picking a heavy box up from the floor and put it in the high cupboard with no strain to her back or any other muscles. If you can relate the movement you do in the gym to something you can perform in everyday life….that is functional exercise. It really is that simple. Any other definition, is over complicating the matter.

A properly performed push up is functional. If you need to push your car, you’ll thank me I taught you how to do push ups.

A Russian Twist or Wood Chop on the cable machine? Functional. How many times a day do you twist through your torso? It’s a lot.

Kettlebell swing, executed properly with a hip hinge? Functional. How often do you hinge your hips back to sit down? Possibly the most frequently initiated movement, next to walking, that you will do on a daily basis.

Therefore the definition is this: Functional movement is simply any movement you do on a day to day basis and functional exercise is performing a similar movement but in the gym usually with free weights/bands etc.

If you’d like to learn more about what we offer here at Kirby’s Personal Training and Fitness, please contact us and we’ll be happy to chat to you.


About Krissie Kirby

Level 3 Personal Trainer, StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor, Precision Nutrition Level 1 Qualified nutritionist and Pole Instructor. I used to weigh 18st 3lbs, now I help people change their lives and get them moving better.

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