There is a lot of emphasis on functional training in today's world from athletes to the elderly. I have recently had multiple conversations about functional training and when to use it and how to use it and it made me start to think. With so much talk about functional training, what really constitutes functional? Does functional training only include a movement that mimics a real life situation? Are exercises such as squats, bench press, and deadlift functional exercises? Let's take a look at the definition of functional...
Func tion al - [fuhngk-shuh-nl] - capable of serving the purpose for which it was designed: of or pertaining to a function or functions.
Looking at the definition there is a lot of movements and exercises that could be considered functional. In my mind, every exercise is functional. When creating a workout you include exercises that will serve a purpose towards your end goal. Therefore they are serving the purpose of the end goal, thus functional. For example, let's look at the squat for a baseball player. Some people would not consider it functional, however, I do. The squat increases quad strength as well as hip strength, glut strength, and core stability. As a baseball player, quad and hip strength can help make one faster, jump higher, and possibly stronger in the box. Wouldn't that mean that the gains from a squat transfer over to the skill of baseball? It seems that way to me. To address the other side, I agree that an exercise such as a rotational med ball throw is going to be more functional because it identically mimics a swing yet, in my mind, that doesn't make a squat not functional. The same goes for pre-hab exercises. Something such as scapular push-ups and scapular rows don't mimic anything in sports but they do create scapular strength and stability which is necessary for better performance and health in just about every sport.
So to say an exercise in a program is not functional, to me, is to say that it is useless. Every exercise in a program serves a purpose and a function in bettering that client, whether it be an athlete or not. When designing programs, keep in mind the purpose for each exercise. Why is that exercise included and why is it included in the manner that it is.