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How To Build Function

“The term functional exercises gets thrown around too much in today’s fitness world. At its simplest Functional Training refers to your training style for a specific purpose.”

If you want to gain hypertrophy in the chest, a barbell bench press is a functional movement; if you wish to drop body fat then any multi joint compound movements incorporating squats and deadlifts are functional as you are going to be burning the most calories and if injury prevention is your goal there are quite a few things to take into consideration when incorporating “Functional Training”.

One of the biggest things to focus on when training for injury prevention is not to sacrifice form for the sake of a heavier weight or a more complex movement. The first thing you need to remember is to get technique right on the basic movement patterns first before adding weight or making them more complex. For example a common advanced exercise I see is a squat and shoulder press combined into 1 movement. Some areas of the fitness community have called this exercise a thruster.

With this movement I see trainers and clients all the time trying to use far too much weight before ensuring full range of movement and depth in the squat position. The best thing to do would be to ensure a proper full depth front squat can be performed, a standing barbell shoulder press can be performed then work on the technique in combining the two. If your body can’t handle the load you are using safely in all positions you will be more susceptible to injury.

Full range of movement is critical to joint health not only so you can perform the exercises safely but also so your body can maintain optimal health long term. We have all heard the term “You better use it or lose it” and this relates to joint health, mobility and flexibility. As we get older we lose flexibility in our joints, lose our range of movement and generally do less. This can be minimised and even avoided by making sure that we continue to focus on full movements.

Things to focus on from a training perspective are to ensure you go to full depth on the squat without breaking neutral spine, ensure that any elbow flexion and extension exercises such as bicep curls or triceps push downs are complete with arms going straight and push exercise likes the barbell bench press go low enough that the bar touches your chest. The reasons for this being that keeping your joints mobile in their full movement patterns helps keep the joints lubricated and working in an optimum range wile also increasing the flexibility of the muscles attached to these joints.

Have you ever tried to stretch a hamstring too far? Not a pleasant feeling is it! If it is done suddenly like it can on the sporting field you risk tearing the muscle and spending 8 – 10 weeks on the sidelines. Training with full range of movement will assist in preventing such issues because the muscle is strong in its full movement pattern and will hold up better to a sudden high impact strain on the muscle.

If you look at a lot of high-level athletes from different sporting disciplines you will see that statistics show that knee issues are the main injury faced by players. Some of these injuries are unavoidable and are just an occupational hazard but a lot of these injuries come from the athlete’s inability to change direction or absorb stress through the joint efficiently. The risk of injury to the knee joint can be minimized again by full depth squats and unilateral work such as split squats, step ups, single leg presses and so on. If you train your body to its full potential in terms of range of movement the joint will be better prepared to deal with sudden impacts or stresses to the joint and thus will help in injury prevention.

To sum up, the most important thing you need to remember is that any movement or exercise you do can be considered functional if it serves a specific purpose to improving something you are working towards. It is then important that you ensure that you use full range of movement and work at keeping your flexibility to make sure your body is strong enough to deal with what it is that you are doing to keep physically active. Finally don’t get caught up with doing exercises that are complex and look good because someone has called them functional. Stick to the basics first; master them and then progress to more complex and interesting exercises to further challenge yourselves in the gym.

Dale Cronin


PT Workshop Company

Foam roller on the thoracic spine is an excellent starting point to improving spinal mobility and whole body function

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