How to tell if your training is functional

Functional training is all the rage (do the kids still use that expression?). It is also often misunderstood. Are squats on a Bosu functional? What about deadlifts? Bicep curls?

I have previously written my take on what functional training is, including a definition and examples of exercises that are functional for different activities like serving beer or tennis balls.

I have also stood on my isoap box on various fitness and skiing forums, sharing my theory about other training approaches that I believe are not functional (dysfunctional even).

Today I am going to conditionally take back what I have previously stated about how functional various exercises and workout programs are.

No, that’s not a typo.

You see, I had an epiphany about my own training that has lead me to change how I assess the functionality of a training program. It wasn’t my actual training that led to this epiphany. It was the result of my training.

I spent last week in California visiting my brother and his family. He took me on three bike rides while I was there, each one between 90 and 120 minutes long, and each one featuring a lot of hills. The last time I had been on a bike ride longer than about 30 minutes was in August – The last time my brother took me riding. In other words, I don’t ride much. But despite not being much of a cyclist, I wasn’t the slightest bit sore after any of these rides.

Honestly, I was surprised. I assumed I would be sore the day after the first ride (and worse the day after that). Nope. I thought about muscle soreness again today after skiing yesterday for the first time this season. Once again, no soreness. I started to think back to the last time I was really sore from taking part in an activity that I love, and I drew a blank. Over the course of a year, I ski, play tennis and ultimate, periodically go running or cycling (infrequently would be more accurate), and play hockey a few times. Regardless of whether I played two days ago or two months ago, I don’t get sore.

And it hit me: the best thing about the time I spend in the gym is that it lets me play. And that is my new assessment for how functional a training program is.

Does your training prepare you for the life you lead (or want to lead)? If yes, call it functional and keep at it. If the answer is no, then your program is neither functional, nor serving you well.

Interested in how I train to allow myself the pleasure of a sporty life without soreness? Check out that article I mentioned above about functional training.

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada.

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