Functional Training vs Traditional Exercises

Many trends come and go in the fitness industry, one of them being functional training. The term “functional” has taken the strength-training world to a whole new level. The American College of Sports Medicine ranked functional training as the number 8 spot for worldwide fitness trends to hit in 2014. Over the past 10 years, there has been a shift toward making training more functional. Though functional training has become popular in recent times, the concept of functional exercise and functional movement is older than man himself.

What is functional training?

For many people, exercise is a way to maintain or improve their quality of life and that’s the focus of functional training. Functional exercises serve the purpose for which it is intended, meaning it is designed to improve your performance of daily physical tasks or sports specific activities with ease, efficiency, strength, control and without risk of pain of injury. Functional exercises are full-body integrated movements with upper body actions being performed in conjunction with the lower body. Seats and benches are not used in functional training therefore, we must use the smaller stabilizing muscles that do not get attention in traditional strength training. One of the most important things that functional training helps to do is increase core stabilisation. With increased core stabilization we are better able to control our bodies through different planes and movements. Core stabilisation can help the more elderly population perform activities of daily living with more ease and athletes control their bodies through awkward positions more effectively.

Difference between functional training exercises vs traditional strength exercises

Functional exercises:

  • Focus on movements
  • Rarely isolation exercises
  • Whole-body movements
  • Always requires dynamic stability
  • Supports activities of daily living
  • Movements in multiple planes
  • Improves balance and proprioception
  • Requires coordination and concentration

Traditional exercises:

  • Focuses on single muscle groups and isolation exercises
  • Rarely whole-body movements
  • Rarely requires dynamic stability
  • Rarely supports everyday activities
  • Rarely involves trunk rotation
  • Movements typically in a single plane of motion
  • Rarely effects balance or proprioception

Which is better?

Some people think that traditional exercises are outdated however, it can be helpful for those who need to improve certain muscle groups. Unfortunately, it can also lead to muscular imbalances if the overall plan does not include strength training of all muscle groups. Functional training can support athletes and non-athletes improve their fitness levels. Functional training helps to train the core, which can improve posture and minimise back pain. For a functional exercise programme contact Absolute Balance at for more information on how an AEP can help you improve your performance in sports, work and/or daily activities.

Victoria Bago (B.Sc-ExSportsSc, GraddipSc – ExRehab, GraddipEd-Sec)


Roy BA. (2014). Functional exercises training. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal.  Vol 18 (3).

Siff MC. (2002). Functional Training Revisited. National Strength & Conditioning Association. Vol 24 (42-46).

Whitehurst MA, Johnson BL, Parker CM. (2005). The benefits of Functional Exercise Circuit for Older Adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Vol 19 (647-651).