"I read it...in a book."
The actual definition of functional means designed for or adapted to a particular function or use. So the degree of function is entirely dependent on the goal. For example, if you are a bodybuilder or someone primarily concerned with physique/aesthetics then a typical routine of machines and isolation exercises could be considered functional. Those exercises focus on targeted muscle groups to bring about a specific change in appearance. If you want to be as strong as humanly possible in the power lifts then a program of heavy bench presses, squats, and deadlifts is going to be functional. If you are a young mother that just wants to have the strength and energy to keep up with your kids and have fun with them, then a program like this would be most functional.
This is a functional mom.
Also, doing crazy exercises on a stability ball is only functional if you are training to be in the circus.
Do not be this guy (or his trainer).
So what is my own personal spin on functional fitness? I believe that the way I train is completely functional for my goals. I do not participate is specific sports events nor do I don a speedo and strut across a stage. My primary goals are the following:
1. Maximize health
2. Maintain optimal strength and endurance to be "prepared" for life
3. Maintain ideal body composition
My first goal takes priority over the others. I truly care about my health and will not sacrifice it to improve in other areas. The third goal is specific to me as to what I feel "ideal" means. To me it means maintaining a body composition that allows me to feel confident in my appearance. It could mean something completely different to someone else. The second goal is really where the term functional fitness comes into play. I want to be prepared for any physical task so I try and train in a way that encompasses many movements, positions, and loads. Some days I lift heavy weights in a manner that you see in everyday life. For example, I might lift a heavy rock to my shoulder as you would a sack of potatoes, a bag of sand, or an 80lb dog.
He loves working out with me.
Other days I just do bodyweight exercises so that I always have complete control of my body in any situation.
I never know when I might need or want to climb a tree.
Some days I just go running, not only because I enjoy it, but because you never know when you might have to rescue your kidnapped love from savages. (Que Daniel Day Lewis)
I may or may not hum this song when I am running.
Finally, some days I just go to the gym to pump some iron, get my sweat on, and just enjoy doing some hard work. It is a good feeling knowing that you are using your body for what it was meant to do - move itself and move other objects. It is also a good feeling being confident and comfortable in the way that you look.
An impromptu photo while doing yard work.
So think about what your goals are and come up with your own definition of what "functional" means to you. Until next time.