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Many people in the fitness industry struggle with the ‘F’ word. They know how to say it – but they dont know how to use it in their workouts.  We’re talking about Functional Training (no, not that other ‘F’ word, you sicko).  But why should YOU care about functional training?  Here;s an explanation:

If your motivation for exercising extends beyond your desire to improve your swimsuit figure, then chances are you have been trying to get more of the ‘f’ word into your workouts.

I am speaking specifically to how functional your workouts may (or may not) be.

Many of us want to integrate ‘real world’ movements into our workouts, yet most of the exercises we do in todays gym are anything but functional.

Your average person sits for 14 hours a day – and stands for less than 2 hours!

Here is a great example: How many hours a day do you sit? Really think about it? Chances are, you only get a few chances to stand throughout the day. And yet, when we go to the gym, what do we see? A range of exercise machines that will work you out while you sit!

Over 90% of the gym machines in your facility will have you sit to do an exercise.

If you wanted to be strong from a standing position, would it make sense to train standing? Would you use more muscles? Would you use more core if you were standing while you did an exercise? Would that mean you burned more calories and therefore more fat?

If you wanted to be strong from a sitting position, then by all means train from a sitting position. Just remember that your muscles will react completely differently when you try to use them from a standing position – you know which it is that you need most to play your sport, mr/miss weekend warrior.

Unless you are a wheelchair basketball fanatic, I am going to guess that standing/running/moving in multiple directions will play a major role in whatever you do out there in the real world.

So we have established that your body needs to be standing to be truly operating in a functional sense.

Chances are, even your warmup is failing to warm you up.

Watch the video I made below that explains an 8 minute full body functional warmup. It can also be used as part of a workout if you add dumbbells to these movements.


It is if you are remotely interested in any of the following activities, you might want to start thinking about what you can do.

Activities that are mostly rotational in nature that your average gym cannot train you for:

  • The Tennis swing
  • The Golf swing
  • Tossing a Frisbee
  • Swinging a Baseball bat

But also…

  • Any throwing sport
  • Any running sport
  • Anything that requires you to rotate your body (care to see behind you? try looking without rotating or a rear view mirror)

And let’s not forget – sports or activities that require you to CONTROL rotation:

  • Horse-riding (ever tried to stay still while a horse gallops underneath you?  It ain’t no merry-go-round ride, that’s for sure)
  • Wrestling
  • A basketball jump-shot

Any of the above apply to you?

Most machines have no concern for rotation. But is our ability to rotate important? Hopefully the list above convinces you that it is.

In simple terms, we move in front to back, side to side and rotation movement pattern in almost any functional movement pattern. Your workouts need to embrace true function if they are to deliver true results.

Your body moves in more than a front to back pattern. If you look around the gym you will see quite quickly that the majority of exercise equipment either pushes or pulls you back or forward, up or down. But rarely does it ask you to rotate your core. Or to move side to side.

Still dont believe me? Lets take a look at the old faithful bench press. A staple of any good workout, right?

When was the last time you laid down on a flat surface and pushed a metal rod off your chest?

I don’t really watch a lot of football, so I don’t know the rules. But I am pretty sure they play football standing – not lying down on a bench. I am also pretty sure they don’t get to carry metal bars onto the field (Not that it would matter with the amount of equipment NFL players wear – sometimes it seems they wear more padding than the Korean Riot Police!)

"Hey, you need me to spot this set for you? Oh it's totally cool lady, I'm glad to help out."

Although the above may be an excellent exercise for building a big strong chest, does the bench press qualify as ‘functional’? It would surely be functional if you used the same ‘function’ of the bench press in real life…

I’m not convinced that the bench press actually qualifies as ‘functional’.

Football is a sport that hails praise to the sacred bench press. In dusty gyms everywhere you can hear the sound of manhood being challenged: “Hey dude – how much do you bench?”

If my goal is either fat loss or functional muscles, does it make sense to work the chest standing, since it would work more muscles (and be more functional)?

"Hey man, you have something on your helmet - let me rub that off that for you"

If an exercise is to provide “real world” results – be it strength, flexibility or sporting prowess, it should match (or at least come close to) our real world needs.

If we take a look at the picture of a typical football tackle, you will notice four major differences that stand out immediately compared to the bench pressing picture:

The football player trying to make the tackle is:

  1. Standing
  2. Not holding a bar
  3. Using more than just his chest muscles
  4. Wearing more clothes than the woman doing the bench press (maybe it’s just really warm in that particular gym.. I mean like, really warm)

How about your workout? Is it functional? Or do you think functional workouts are just for fancypants pilates instructors? Does it make sense that working more muscle at the same time would burn more fat?

All great questions to ponder.  You may love your workout, but when it comes down to it, shouldn’t your workout serve not only your aesthetic goals, but also your life goals?  This article attempts to look at just a few ways you might consider ‘tweaking’ things to suit you better.

Yours in health,

Jamie Atlas

  • wassim Jun 27, 2008 Reply

    wow it is very interesting

  • erin Jun 28, 2008 Reply

    As a nurse who is often pushing, pulling, heaving, squatting, standing, balancing, speed walking, and who is always sweating, I often find the gym machines mundane and less of a challenge than my job. I do, however, sometimes like the mindless repetition after a day of stress, which is why lately I’m doing yoga and also getting fatter by the minute. Most people may sit all day, but the real challenge is for people who are active all day and have little energy left for purposeful exercise at the end of their day.

  • […] What makes something a ‘functional’ workout? […]

  • Cassandra May 28, 2010 Reply

    i dont call this a functional warm up…I don’t step forward and touch my knees or sideways and touch my knees for that matter. I ride my bike for 20 mins…outside…to warm up. That, by definition is a ‘functional’ warm up. Not what you’re doing.
    Thanks for sharing your lunge secret…now I can do that and i had to pay nothing…but I must comment on two things…you aren’t really in that great of shape…and the sound on these videos IS AWFUL.
    I will stick to and I suggest anyone else watching ths do the same…but steal the Perfect lunge secret…that’s all Mr. Atlas has to offer.

    • jamieatlas May 28, 2010 Reply

      Agreed Cassandra! Please do steal this lunge. In the meantime I will do my best to get in shape so I can be judged on more than my appearance – hell, all this time I was studying and learning when I could have been just have been just hangin’ out in the gym! 😉 I agree the sound is awful – no disagreement there. I have a new vid camera with much better audio now and promise to post better vids with tighter shirts in the future.

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