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Functional vs. Traditional Training


How should you mix functional and traditional training? Obviously, some clients will never want or need anything beyond a progressive functional program, but what about clients who are bodybuilders or who are fondly attached to their traditional routines? Of course, a base in functional training should be established with a client who has never been exposed to it, but at what point should you integrate them back into a strength-gaining type of program (not to imply that functional training does not increase strength!)? Of course, one must wean clients of such "bad" exercises as upright rows, Good Mornings and the much-loved adductor/abductor machines, but is it okay to return to a bodybuilder type of program (drop sets, pyramids, etc.)? Is it possible to periodize a training plan of functional training for a microcycle (or mesocycle) followed by a traditional training microcycle/mesocycle then another function micro/mesocycle, etc.?


One must be very careful to throw around terminology subject to fads and trends. Let's first address what is meant by a "functional" exercise. There is the notion that to make an exercise "functional," it must be performed while using some sort of funky stability device. This is not always the case. Regarding the average health club member, IT IS RARELY THE CASE. What makes an exercise "functional" is the scientific rationale, concluded upon by the professional, following specific assessment(s), deeming it necessary to serve as specific purpose! Therefore, when progressed to properly, virtually any exercise can be "functional.” (NOTE: For a fantastic exploration of the topic of function in exercise, please listen to the PTN Audio Clinic “What is Function?” with one of the true fathers of “functional” in exercise and rehab, Gary Gray.)

Instead of getting caught up in terminology (functional or traditional), let's simply refer to all of it as periodization (or progression). Of course, the client's goals must be a priority, but a strong foundation of flexibility and stability must precede esthetic, strength and power goals. Hence, the generalized plan of periodization taught, agreed upon and followed by many elite professionals is stability -> strength -> power. Once again, from this point of view, virtually all training can be "functional" because it is performed in such a progressive manner as to reduce the likelihood of injury as well as improving performance and physique goals. Below is an example of the parameters of one such plan of periodization.

I hope this helps!