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Do your functional training workouts work with the body, or against it? - Blog.

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Do your functional training workouts work with the body, or against it?

One of today’s biggest buzz words in fitness is functional. Creative, innovative exercises are king and keeping it fresh is an expectation. But there’s something else that’s essential if functional training is to be of true value to members.

Michael Hughes, coach and founder of Gymnazo, a club in San Luis Obispo, California, is back as a guest blogger for Escape. This time, he revisits the definition of functional training, and stresses the importance of understanding how the body moves…


If you’ve ever studied or observed the human body, no doubt you’ve realized that it was designed to act as a whole. Sure, in a human anatomy class we isolate and learn about each separate bone, joint, ligament and muscle. But outside the classroom, in the gym and in everyday life all those components work and flow together in fluid motion.

When you swing a golf club, you don’t simply use your hands to grasp the club and your arms to swing. You use your shoulder, your back, your hips, your legs and… your whole body.

This basic concept is an important aspect of functional training. But there is still some confusion and ambiguity about what functional training really is. From a training and conditioning standpoint, functional training has been defined as anything in open space, progressive, creative, ‘outside of the box’, or using equipment other than machines or traditional equipment. Unfortunately, this definition is far from correct.

Most training programs only answer or give the ‘what?’ defined as the techniques behind the program. Even fewer demonstrate the ‘how?’ or strategies behind the techniques. Only a small number of trainers have mastered the principles or truths behind the strategies enough to answer ‘why?’. When a program demonstrates these three qualities (what, how and why) in unison then it has the ability to become truly functional.


An appreciation, in-depth knowledge and understanding of the principles of neuromusculoskeletal chain reaction biomechanics needs to be the foundation of any movement based performance and conditioning program.

A functional trainer demonstrates proficiency by developing and revealing a strategic plan of action employing all forms of movement, dimension, and influence tweaks. Demonstrating expertise and confidence in implementing and managing all functional techniques of assessment, rehabilitation, training and conditioning, performance, and prevention is the face and final stage of functional training.

Functional training means that every movement, exercise and program makes the trainee perform optimally, efficiently and effectively. Every part of the body associated to an exercise movement is being used correctly and to its full potential. Basically, it’s making sure no movement is wasted. The trainee should be able to do an exercise at the right time, in the right way to receive the right result.


If an individual’s training program is missing any of these qualities, then I would say it is not functional, and their body will not be conditioned as it was designed to be.

Often in the US, we see trainers bypass functional training because their client is injured and they are more concerned about treating the symptom than training the body correctly and letting it self-adjust. If you hurt your knee running and go to a trainer to help you, will they focus more on strengthening the knee or allowing you to gimp on it, which will only make your body overcompensate and strain the other muscles in your body?

That’s a classic example of function gone out the window. Wouldn’t it be better to practice conditioning the hurt knee with the healthy knee, and not stressing either one out until the body repairs itself?

Too often, traditional interventions have focused on processes that respond to symptoms rather than on solutions that resolve the cause of the pain.


So with this reexamination of functional training, how can you incorporate functional training into your programming? Here are some tips.

Tip #1: Train the body as a whole, not individual parts.

Too many clubs’ workout programs isolate muscles and then overstress these muscles by performing exercises no one would ever perform in their day to day life, and then adding weight to it and repeating ad nauseam.

Athletes may feel like they are kicking ass, but from all my personal studying and in the gym training experience, they are not conditioning their body by participating in these programs. They’re merely stressing it out and they run the risk of eventually injuring themselves. So the first tip is to make sure that the fitness programs you offer clients are treating the body as a whole.

Tip #2: Discover the ‘why?’ behind each and every exercise.

Make sure for every exercise you program you are able to answer the question ‘why are we doing this?’. Your athletes deserve to be trained by those who can genuinely provide insightful answers. They only get one body in their life. They should only trust its maintenance and preservation into the hands of someone who knows in depth how the body works together, and how to prevent injury and rehab the injured parts.

Would you go into surgery with a doctor who watched YouTube videos and read online about the procedure? Of course not! Neither will discerning customers. Training should be based in science, and science is founded in questions, observations and conclusions.

Tip #3: Be willing to think outside the box.

One of the quickest ways customers are evaluating gyms and clubs is to judge the book by the cover. Does your club have an innovative look to it? Customers expect fitness clubs to innovate and keep it fresh. So is your equipment fresh, new, and innovative?

This is a hint that the business owners and managers not only believe in thinking outside the box but they are willing to invest in it. Now of course, simply having cool new equipment is not an indicator that the methodology will be as fresh, but it’s a clue.


Gym members are increasingly better educated about fitness than ever before. Many read a lot on the subject, watch videos on YouTube and elsewhere, and talk to friends about their experiences. As clubs and trainers, it is up to us to be entirely confident in our knowledge on how the body moves and how to training accordingly. This is an essential aspect of our role and our ability to help clients achieve their best ever fitness, mobility and conditioning.


Escape offers functional training tools that cater to a wide range of individual abilities and needs. If you want to talk to the Escape team about the right equipment for your club, get in touch: [email protected]

UK: +44 (0)1733 313 535
USA: +1 (614)-706-4462
Germany: +49 (0)2921 590 10 70