Faster, stronger, more enduring, more agile, and in top form: why functional workouts are the solution to all fitness problems
The basketball game on Monday, the barbell session on Wednesday, or the tennis match on Friday – everything is nice, but haven’t you made any real progress in a long time? Are you neither getting stronger nor more flexible, nor can you get to the fifth floor without panting? It’s high time to tweak your training plan! That’s exactly what you don’t have, time for more training? You don’t have to: One functional training unit per week is enough to get you better at every sport.
What exactly is functional training?
A sensible thing: ” Functional exercises should – as the name suggests – improve human function. Our main function is movement, so the training aims to optimize our movement patterns,” explains Chris Gamperl, athletic and rehabilitation trainer at Munique Performancein Munich. These patterns look like this: With the upper body, we can perform pulling and pushing movements, and in the lower body either the knees or the hips determine our movements. So it’s not about training individual muscles, but about improving their interaction. And since there is not just one movement that muscles can perform, there is not just one functional training process. “Most people think functional training is a fixed concept – depending on the individual goal and the current state of the trainee, however, one unit differs significantly from the next,” says Gamperl.
Another misconception is that CrossFit is functional training. Some of their followers use functional exercises but pack them into a competition format. “The quality of execution can suffer as a result, and movement patterns tend to deteriorate rather than improve,” the expert points out.
What does a functional workout do?
A lot: “The great advantage of functional training is that it improves all condition factors equally: strength, flexibility, endurance, speed, and coordination,” explains the speed coach. So you don’t have to do strength training, jog, sprint, play soccer AND go to yoga to be fit all over. A functional workout is practically the all-in-one solution for every project and is therefore ideal for men with little time.
And for those who don’t want to get hurt. Because painful tension or other types of complaints also fall by the wayside. After all, no muscle, tendon, or other structure is neglected or overloaded. In addition, a study by junior professors at Kennesaw State University Georgia in the field of sports science shows that the better the performance of a functional training athlete, the lower their body fat percentage. Regular, functional workouts also help with weight loss.
Can I even build muscle with functional fitness?
Definitive! “A lot of people think that functional training consists of stability ball exercises with light dumbbells,” says the personal trainer. That’s not true, after all, there are also exercises in functional workouts whose strength focus is very high. The best examples are bench press, squat, or deadlift. Accordingly, powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters also train functionally – it depends on the goal.
According to Gamperl, you can even build more strength and mass with functional units than with pure equipment training. The reason: “Anyone who only trains at the stations does not improve their trunk stability – and thus gives away a lot of effects”. With functional training, on the other hand, all weak points are compensated so that the body is not restricted by anything and can call up its full performance. Sounds interesting? Check out our ultimate muscle-building guide for more information.
Is functional training suitable for strength athletes?
Definitive! “Functional exercises are holistic and focus on the trunk – and that’s exactly what I need to be able to do strength exercises,” says the expert. Finally, the torso connects the extremities to the ground. “For example, if you train your core, you can do push-ups better and lift more weight on the bench press.” The chest muscle plus is not long in coming. You don’t want that either – wait? Then get started with the best exercises for a strong core.
Do functional units improve my endurance?
And how! “Running, swimming and cycling are also functional movements – so it’s not enough to just train your endurance,” says Gamperl. For example, when running, the glutes and core muscles have to work properly. If they are too weak, a clean running movement will at some point turn into awkward wobbling back and forth and that costs unnecessary energy. “Intelligent trunk training automatically improves your condition without having to do another endurance unit,” explains the expert. You can find a clever strength workout that optimizes your endurance here.
Can I get better at ball sports with a functional workout?
In any case, the probability increases significantly. Because: “Human movements such as steps, sprints and jumps are involved in every ball sport – all of these are part of every functional training,” says the coach. In this way, you train the basic skills of your sport, which prepares you for everything else. Incidentally, this also applies to racket sports such as tennis or squash. The functional workout also includes rotation exercises that internalize the movement pattern of a clean forehand and backhand and thus make it easier to do.
How does functional training make winter athletes better?
With a complete program. “No other sport combines so many fitness factors as downhill skiing,” emphasizes Gamperl. Strength, endurance, responsiveness, mobility, and speed, all these things make a really good skier – and a functional unit. You should also keep in mind that skiing exerts immense force on your knees. The ankles, whose actual task is to cushion shocks, are practically paralyzed by the ski boots. It is therefore worth preparing the knee joints for their use on the slopes with functional training in order to avoid injuries.
What does a functional workout look like?
It’s never the same, but there are constants: “A good functional workout consists of mobility, stability, and strength exercises that are weighted differently depending on the objective,” says the coach. However, mobility moves are always used to warm up.
How often can I do functional training?
Daily. At least if you travel a lot and only have time for the short workouts shown above. In order to get better at your sport, it can be enough to put one unit a week under one functional star. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t function more often. “Depending on the time and training condition, it is quite conceivable to do functional training in a split,” says the expert. For example, it makes sense to split your muscle-building program into an upper and lower body parts to add even more volume and intensity.
What equipment do I need for functional training?
Few to none. “It’s entirely possible to only train with your own body weight,” says Gamperl. And so you can not only train at home but anywhere. And with these bodyweight exercises.
However, the expert recommends that all men who are serious about their progress acquire the following tools:
- a fascia roll
- a fascia ball (from €9.90)
- Mini bands and resistance bands in different strengths
- a sling trainer
- a barbell (from €59.95) and dumbbells
- a battle rope
Tip: A gym membership makes sense if you don’t have too much living space and money. “When choosing a studio, it is not the type of studio that is decisive – even low-budget gyms now offer functional training – but the quality of the trainer,” emphasizes the coach. In addition, it never hurts to get creative yourself and vary your workout every now and then. For inspiration, check out our workout book: The Perfect Functional Training from Men’s Health.
Conclusion: functional training makes you fit for sports and everyday life
Functional training improves all condition factors and makes you better in every sport. After all, it is not individual muscles that are trained, but their interaction. In this way, you optimize your movements and this also applies to everyday life. In addition, a functional unit is suitable for all men who have little time for sport and want to get a lot of effect from a workout.
Relationships Between Body Composition and Performance in the High-Intensity Functional Training Workout “Fran” are Modulated by Competition Class and Percentile Rank – PubMed (nih.gov)