8 February 2019



Exercise is medicine when applied correctly; otherwise it’s flat out dangerous. Placing external load onto the human body through exercise and performing any movements at high intensities is serious business. And although your personal trainer may think they are knowledgeable in health and fitness, chances are they’re training methodologies aren’t functional. The ‘Functional’ training movement is…

Exercise is medicine when applied correctly; otherwise it’s flat out dangerous. Placing external load onto the human body through exercise and performing any movements at high intensities is serious business. And although your personal trainer may think they are knowledgeable in health and fitness, chances are they’re training methodologies aren’t functional.

The ‘Functional’ training movement is all the rage… However, like zumba, functional training, is nothing more than a buzzword – It makes a lot of noise and sounds interesting.

But what does it actually mean?

Quite simply, functional training as coined by the functional guru’s, is exercise that uses multiple muscles and joints at the same time to improve strength and endurance as well as train the body for the activities performed in daily life.

It has been great that the functional movement has brought personal trainers attention to rehabilitation, mobility and corrective exercise, however like most things in the fitness industry, it has become bastardized and taken to the extreme.

Whilst I have nothing against multi joint exercises and I think these movements are fantastic bang for your buck movements, there are a number of problems with the whole ‘functional’ movement.


Personal trainers and fitness facilities slap the term ‘functional’ onto their service and/or exercises and think that it makes their exercise program or system superior to other ‘non-functional training.

First, some definitions.

Functional by definition means to have a special activity, purpose, or task

Now in regards to training and exercise, function refers to our musculature and skeletal system as it moves through an action

For example, the function of the bicep is to supinate the wrist and flex/extend the humorous

So the question becomes, why isn’t the bicep curl ‘functional’?

According to the ‘functional’ guru’s, a bicep curl is non-functional as it is a single joint exercise and has no direct carryover to athletic development or every day life, or so they say…

What about a bodybuilder?

Whose sole purpose of training is to develop as much muscle mass and gainz as humanly possible?


Function means purpose, and your purpose in the gym is a mirror image of your goal.

For a powerlifter, it is functional to squat, bench and deadlift.

For a bodybuilder, it is functional to perform bicep curls.

For an athlete it is functional to perform plyometrics and power/speed complexes.

For a an individual with shoulder injuries, it is functional to mobilization drills, stretch and strengthen their shoulder capsule.

To say the least, the term functional is completely misused by the incoherent guru trainers who bashfully throw it around to get your attention, and I’ll show you why…


When talking about exercise, function refers specifically to our bodies musculoskeletal system to move through a series of movement patterns. Conversely, dysfunction refers to the inability of the body to move through an action without impingement, abnormality, pain or discomfort

For example, in every movement, at a very basic level we have three things (Using the squat as an example).

1. Joints (Ankle, knee, hip)
2. Actions. (Ankle – Dorsi Flexion, Knee – Flexion / Extension, Hip – Flexion / Extension)
3. Muscles (Calves, Hamstrings, Gluteals, Quads)

In short, each joint and each muscle must work synergistically to perform their ‘function’ and ultimately move the body in a desired plane.

What makes an exercise dysfunctional is the inability of the joints and muscles to move through a given range of motion, and this can be caused by a myriad of factors.

For example tight calves will impact your squat depth as your knees won’t be able to track forward of your toes. This tightness is dysfunction and thus, we have a dysfunctional joint.

Conversely, when an individual can move through a plane of motion with full range of motion without impingement, pain, compensation or injury, that is functionality.

So, as you can see, every exercise, whether it is a bicep curl, deadlift or cable pec fly is functional if performed correctly.

Yet when I see the vast majority of personal trainers teach people how to perform basic movement patterns such as squat, bench press, deadlift, pull up, overhead press or row, it is clear, even despite their ‘functional’ label, they have zero idea about functionality.

Yet what we have is a bunch of uneducated personal trainers, jumping on the ‘functional’ bandwagon and throwing around a term to generate hype and elitism.

I sure as hell know that there is only one thing that I swing between my legs, and it’s not a kettlbell… Does that make me functional?

Excuse the satire.


Before I begin outlining how a trainer can fulfill their purpose, making them ‘functional’ by definition, let me tell you that personal trainers aren’t god…

Over my 8 years in the industry, I have consistently evolved and improved my practice, which is something I know for certain not all trainers are doing. I’ve continued to work closely with health practitioners, read and researched anatomy, physiology, human movement all in a bid to improve my ability to coach.

So here are the things that your trainer should be doing to make them functional, and more importantly, before they take your money:

  • Exercise PAR Q.
    • A series of questions regarding your injuries and health.
  • Screening Process.
    • A functional Movement Screen or assessment to identify abnormalities and injury.
  • Exercise Prescription Based
    • Goals
    • Abilities
    • Injury
    • Exercise History
  • Referral System With Clinical Health Practitioner.

By following those processes, a trainer can do a damn fine job in nutting out and identifying any key muscular imbalances, postural abnormalities and other key issues.

For example, having an understanding of the anatomy of the hip will allow a coach to be aware of individual variances in the shape of femoral head (thigh bone) and the depth of the acetabulum (Pelvis) and how this will change hip abduction/adduction.

Whilst this is extremely common, and a major reason why a lot of individuals cannot squat correctly, not a lot of trainers have this level of understanding of the hip and how it can make any form of exercise dysfunctional when foot position and squat depth isn’t monitored on an individual basis.

However, although a trainer may be able to identify some dysfunction in a movement or something funky happening with 50 year old Mrs. jones left knee when she squats, your trainer cannot see beneath the superficial layers of clothing, skin or identify structural abnormalities.

The external view does not always represent the internal view, and the superficial ‘issues’ that can be identified are often far more innocuous that what is going on beneath the skin at a structural level.

Our role as a coach is NOT to play god.

We must prescribe, teach and conduct sessions based on the best available evidence to:

A) Improve strength, fitness and muscular development; and

B) Prevent injury

C) Provide a safe and fun environment for exercise.

For whatever reason there has been a false sense of empowerment given to trainers, in large this is due to the pseudo education in the fitness industry…

When devising an exercise plan to fix posture, a trainer MUST understand that there are some postural abnormalities and asymmetries that cannot be fixed. There are structural issues that we, as coaches, cannot see.

This must be treated with due respect, and trainers must refer their clients to health care professionals and practitioners who have spent years studying whether or not a bone, joint, tendon, ligament or muscle is functional.

A trainer should care more for how their clients are moving, and ensuring that they are moving with out pain, that is a functional trainer.

Working with clients as they are instead of trying to force them into systems and movements that they are structurally NOT meant to perform is NOT FUNCTIONAL!

So when you hear the term, functional training, ensure that they are indeed a ‘functional’ trainer.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend