Functional Faux Pas

I was touring a fitness facility recently and had an experience that was quite thought provoking. The facility representative walked me around pointing out the designated areas and described them as most would. My tour guide gestured towards the treadmills and ellipticals and called that the “cardio area”, pointed at the dumbbell rack and benches and referred to that as the “free weight section”, and then walked me to an open space in the corner and called it the “functional training” area. That is when I stopped him –

ME: So what about the free weight area over there? Is that not considered “functional”?

TOUR GUIDE: (Puzzled) Well… no… not really.

ME: And what about the treadmills over there – those aren’t “functional” either?

TOUR GUIDE: (Even more puzzled and somewhat annoyed) … no

I continued on to make the point that functional training isn’t simply defined by the equipment being used or by the location in which it is being used. What makes an exercise “functional” is HOW the equipment is being used.

It is true that some products are considered “functional training equipment” because of their versatility. It is also true that due to the nature of movement training, i.e. training multiple muscle groups at once in all three planes of motion; sometimes a bit more square footage is required. Nevertheless, functional movement training is possible with traditional equipment as well. For example, one of my favorite “functional” exercises is a squat/bicep curl/shoulder press with a pair of dumbbells.

That being said, to my tour guide’s point, it is definitely a benefit for a fitness facility to have an open space designated for “functional training” to show that the center is on pace with the industry. And don’t get me wrong, I love wide open space to use battle ropes, slam balls, and kettlebells.

But keep in mind the key to making a workout more “functional” has less to do with what equipment you are using and more to do with how you are using it.

Design an effective functional workout with the space and equipment available to you. Choose 3-5 exercises that involve multiple muscle groups and planes of motion. Fitness enthusiasts from all walks of life will experience the benefits of compound movement training such as:

  • Higher caloric output per repetition as more muscle groups are involved
  • Greater mobility and range of motion due to multi-planar training
  • Increased flexibility and coordination

Don’t let the lack of space or limited availability of equipment become a barrier to helping your clients increase their quality of life on the way to achieving their fitness goals.

Need ideas on how to make traditional exercises more “functional”? You don’t need a ton of square footage or the new, trendy functional fitness products. Check out the previous category spotlight on functional training for some ideas.

Elisabeth Fouts

About Elisabeth Fouts

Elisabeth Fouts is Power Systems’ Education and Trade Show Coordinator and a 10 year veteran in the fitness industry. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science, is certified in and actively teaches 4 Les Mills Group Fitness Programs, and serves as a PowerWave Senior Coach. When Elisabeth isn’t teaching group x classes, you can find her training for or participating in an Obstacle Course race or watching Tennessee Volunteers or Dallas Cowboys football… GO VOLS!