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  • Viraj Chang, Physcial Therapist

Functional Exercise

Updated: Feb 11

Functional training has a purpose and translates to an activity beyond your workout.

“The main word here is function. Function is purpose. So functional training is just training that has a purpose. More than that, functional training is focused on movement patterns that have a purpose.

That purpose can be related to getting better at everyday activities—like walking, squatting to pick up something heavy, pushing a revolving door, or getting in and out of a chair—or preparing to compete in a sport, like soccer, football, or tennis. A functional workout is simply one that strengthens you in a particular way that directly translates to an activity outside the weight room. For most people, the practical application of functional training is to make daily activities easier to perform.




Compound exercises require more than one muscle group to work together, like a squat, deadlift, lunge, or push-up. Because of that, they typically mimic everyday movement patterns—like pull, push, squat, hinge, rotation—better than isolation exercises, like a biceps curl. Think about it: How often do you simply stand in place and lift something from waist level with just your biceps? Probably, rarely, if ever. Now, how often do you squat to lift something off the floor? Or lunge to tie your shoe? Or push a door open?

A majority of functional training movements are multi-joint, and a functional training program should incorporate movements in multiple planes. That means moving forward and backward, side to side, and incorporating rotational movements.

For the same reason, functional exercises require free weights, not machines. Machines require you to move in a very specific and rigid way. Doing a functional movement like a squat instead is much more efficient from a strength-training perspective and also allows you to train the muscles to work together seamlessly—since they never really operate alone.


Functional training improves your body’s ability to work efficiently as one unit.

By training multiple muscle groups at the same time, you are helping your body function better as a whole. You’re training it to be a system and not just individual parts that work independently. “Training [different parts of your body] to work together is going to keep you safe


It also improves coordination, balance, and body awareness, which will help you avoid unnecessary injuries.


Moving your body in a way that recruits multiple muscle groups at once requires a certain level of coordination, focus, and core strength (which is why compound movements are so good for building core strength and stability). The more you train functionally, the better you’ll become at working your entire body as one system, , ultimately helping you improve your coordination.

Functional All of these skills are pretty important in everyday life and in the gym, allowing us to move purposefully and confidently and helping us stay sturdy, strong, and safe.


Ask your physical therapist or trainer how you can incorporate functional exercises

into your daily routine.

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