Vail fitness: Functional training focuses on the fundamentals

Written by Mark J. Pitcher FMS

The term functional training, once an obscure idea, has become a buzzword in the fitness industry. However, much like the term “core exercise,” its definition often depends on who you ask. Some people equate doing exercises, like bicep curls or squats, while standing on gym balls with functional fitness. Unless you are a circus bear, these types of exercises are not overly functional or well suited to develop purposeful strength.

Functional training is not about fancy gadgets or gimmicks but about a philosophy of training. It is based on strengthening fundamental movement patterns, which have carryover into everyday activity or athletic endeavors.
It is a common myth that machine exercises are safer than free weights. In reality, exercises performed with more freedom of movement better engage the core musculature. This means the intensity of the exercise is determined by the weakest link. When you strengthen the body, beginning with the weakest link, you reduce the risk of injury. To borrow a quote from physical therapist Gray Cook, “Having strong arms or legs without a stable foundation or core is like shooting a cannon from a canoe.” When the foundational movement improves, all other movements that follow are stronger.
Any workout program can be modified to become more functional. Simply replace seated or supported single plane exercise with more full body multi-planar exercises. Here are three simple effective substitutions to make your workout more functional.
• Trade your seated biceps curl for a chin up, pull up or TRX curl.
• Knee extension, hamstring curls and hip abductor/adductor machines are all isolation exercises. Replace with exercises such as squats, dead lifts, lunges and side lunges. These require more neuromuscular activation, are better for your joints, burn more calories and have excellent carryover to your activities of daily living.
• Again, gadgets are not necessary for functional training but some do offer significant benefit. For example, the TRX suspension trainer exemplifies functional training. Almost every exercise performed on it can be multi-planar, multi-joint with high neuromuscular demand.
Some of the best exercises for your body require proper technique to be performed safely. Movements like squats and dead lifts are exceptional foundational movements but often require some instruction to be performed properly and safely. If you wish to learn more about how to make your workout more functional or to reduce injury and improve performance, we would be happy to help.
Mark J. Pitcher is a chiropractor and exercise physiologist with the Vail Integrative Medical Group, located at The Vitality Center at Vail Mountain Lodge & Spa. He specializes in rehabilitative medicine. The Vitality Center at Vail Mountain Lodge offers individual diagnostics and guided, intensive regimens, tailored group retreat programs and workshop opportunities year-round. The center offers expert counsel in nutrition, preventative medicine, medical acupuncture, chiropractic, facial and body treatments, fitness and energy balancing. For more information visit or call 970-476-7721.


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  • author

    dina karan 9/13/2011 2:35:16 PM

    Very nice Articles

  • author

    Stevieoneil 7/10/2012 4:30:24 PM

    Great atricle and I fully endorse all your comments as I have a military fitness revolution taking place in Scotland with over 700 clients who have lost great weight and improved their lifestyle through functional fitness and very rarely get injured also even though we use HIIT.......