‘Functional Training’ is a term commonly used in the health and fitness industry to describe a style of exercise that encompasses whole-body dynamic movement in an attempt to enhance purposeful muscular ability, increase fitness for wellbeing and ultimately improve lifestyle.
The perils of everyday life (regardless of your activity level) contribute to muscular imbalances over time. For example, consistent sedentary computer work inevitably develops tightness in hips and shoulders, leading to poor posture, soreness, greater potential for injury and even back problems in the long term. This can transfer to making simple everyday tasks such as playing with the kids, carrying shopping bags or exercise more difficult.
The limitation with most conventional machine-based gym equipment is that it is designed to train your body to assist movement in only one plane - forward and back or up and down. This does not translate to improving activities of general living, as the body requires dynamic movement in all different planes.
What Sort of Exercises Classify as 'Functional Training'?
Any exercise that imitates a common or strenuous movement used in everyday life is considered functional training. For instance, squats and deadlifts are both functional exercises, because they emulate the motion of standing from sitting (squats) and picking something up from the ground (deadlifts).
Functional training doesn't necessarily need to imitate an everyday physical motion. Exercises that utilise the upper and lower body together are also considered functional, especially if they emphasise core stability aswell. Kettlebell swinging exercises will often meet this criterion of hitting lower/upper body and core all at once.
There are also many functional exercises that don't require additional weight and can be done outside of the gym. For example, lunges or vertical box jumps both work lower body, core, and cardio fitness while being common physical motions your body might do during a normal day.
The great thing about functional exercise is that you can take inspiration from your own life to create a personalised functional workout that will then aid you during everyday life. For instance, if your occupation requires pushing and pulling heavy objects, then you could structure a workout around weighted sled pushing/pulling.
Remember that functional training rewards creativity; because the more applicable your workout is to your everyday life, the more you will get out of it.