I’ve really started to hate the term “functional fitness.” It’s become one of the most overused words in the fitness community. So much so that it’s become more abused than Rob Ford’s crack pipe! Time to quit your job Rob. Seriously, you’re an embarrassment to Canadians and society as a whole.

But back to the topic of “functional fitness”, what it is, and what it isn’t. It’s not uncommon to hear the following conversation between 2 people about the subject.

Wendy the Weakling: "OMG Gina, I have a new trainer and he’s all about “functional” training. Like today he had me standing on one leg on a BOSU ball doing a single arm bicep curl. It was like totally so hard to balance, apparently my stabilizer muscles are weak. I could totally see him being the next trainer on The Biggest Loser. You should come check it out with me!"

Gullible Gina: "OMG Wendy, I’m tots into that! Fucntional fitness is the new craze right now. I can totally tell my stabilizer muscles are weak as well. This is something we need to do! What are his rates? Only $90/session! Wow that’s totally doable! Functional fitness rules!!!"

Excuse me for a second while I bang my head on a cement wall. Now I don’t blame Gina or Wendy for thinking this way. And I’m not saying women are more prone to this problem than men, this is just a made up conversation in my head between 2 made up females. Is it weird that I do this sometimes? On second thought, please don’t answer that question.

I blame people like Tommy the Trainer who don’t quite understand what a fitness regiment should look like and who take advantage of a misguided trend within society. A proper training program (in my opinion) is one that makes your client stronger, healthier, able to move better, and most important improves quality of life. Can someone please explain to me how standing on a BOSU ball doing a bicep curl with 5lbs is “functional” to everyday life? The only thing this accomplishes is making Tommy a lot of money for doing absolutely nothing. Next person to hit Tommy the T in his olecranon (funny bone) with a 2 x 4 gets $20 from me. Trust me it’ll hurt. Seriously, I have a wad of 20’s in my office upstairs. We’ll make it rain.

Most people are inherently weak to begin with. Why a trainer would take away stability and have them perform exercises on a BOSU ball is beyond me. For me the BOSU is great for working on ankle/knee proprioception after an injury but that’s about it. Do we walk around on unstable surfaces on a daily basis? Didn’t think so…why is training on one functional?!?

People really like to stick to their sagittal plane movements (back and forth) and call them the most functional exercises you can do. And yes I’ll absolutely agree that things like squats and deadlifts are “functional” to everyday life as they make you stronger (both are staples in almost all of our programs), but trainers need to start thinking outside of the sagittal plane. Believe it or not we don’t live in a two-dimensional world. Humans are constantly having to move laterally (frontal plane), rotate (transverse plane), and sometimes even move laterally while rotating (something called a bi-planar movement). We can get real crazy and move across all three planes of the body at the same time. This crazy phenomenon is known as a tri-planar movement and is most often seen in athletics. Let’s use a baseball swing as an example. Hips go back (sagittal), drive laterally off the back leg (frontal), and finally rotating the hips and trunk (transverse). Why is it one of the hardest skills to learn? You’re trying to create a fluid athletic movement through all 3 planes of the body simultaneoulsy to maximize power output. If I’m training a baseball player looking to improve his hitting power how is doing only direct sagittal plane work going to help with that? Do you think I should incorporate some tri-planar medicine ball work in there as well? If you answered yes to this question I just gave you a virtual high five (Borat voice). Believe it or not lifting weights/throwing medicine balls outside of the sagittal plane won’t kill you either. Trust me, I did some yesterday and I’m still alive.

Great rant Brad (not really), but what do you consider functional fitness?!? For me, an exercise is only functional if it helps you ascertain your goal- whatever that goal may be. Bicep curls and bench press probably aren’t the best exercises for a 14 year old hockey player to be doing if he wants to play in the NHL. For him doing a slideboard lateral lunge with an external load would be more sufficient and pass as “functional” to me. This is a great exercise to work on single leg stability, pelvic stability, and to stretch and strengthen the adductors.  Something hockey players are in dire need of. (Insert video if possible)

On the other hand if you’re a bodybuilder getting ready for the stage you’re probably not too concerned with your pelvic stability. Bicep curls and bench press would be a better fit for you! I’ll say it again…an exercise is only functional if it helps you ascertain your goal- whatever that goal may be!! It’s as simple as that. If trainers would simplify things and worry about getting their clients the results they want, the fitness community would be a much better place. Lift some heavy weights, move across different planes of the body, push a heavy sled, sprint up a hill, and for god’s sake please don’t work with a trainer that gives you the EXACT same program as everyone else. Find one that actually does a proper assessment with you (I’ll discuss this topic in a later blog), and works towards your goals!

Keep that in mind next time you’re looking for a trainer or just wanting to improve your own fitness regiment. Figure out what your goals are and do the things that will get you there the quickest. Don’t waste your time on things you don’t need, it happens way too often.

Leave your comments/questions/thoughts below!