Most of my articles are designed to promote the grey matter into a little activity – nothing too controversial, but perhaps just a little thought-provoking.

This one is different, I suspect it will prove more contentious than most, and I am ready to receive the disagreeing emails!

Non functional exercise

It’s hard to move far in the fitness world – in gyms, with trainers or in magazines – without coming across ‘functional’ exercises being promoted.

I’m going to take a contrary view and promote the exercises that are non-functional.

Not as a replacement to the functional ones, but as an addition to them.

What exactly is meant by a ‘functional’ exercise

I didn’t get very far with the dictionary on the word ‘functional’ – it means ‘to have a function’, which is hardly surprising. The opposite, therefore, is ‘to have no function’ – which can perhaps be abbreviated to ‘pointless.’

I find it hard to believe that any form of exercise – whether gym-based or not – is pointless. 

Every physical activity will use and/or improve some combination of various factors: strength, endurance, aerobic capacity, balance, flexibility, proprioceptive skills, energy (calorie) burn, mental focus and determination, for example.

Improving some or all of that lot hardly counts as pointless.

Further on this, most of such activity is going to lead over time to medical measurement improvements including blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, resting heart rate and susceptibility to disease such as osteoporosis and diabetes.

functional or non-functional exercises_2If you agree that anything that improves those areas is hardly a pointless activity – which I hope you do – then all exercise activity has a function.

Agree so far?

Functional exercises stimulating everyday movements

A different definition of ‘functional’ is sometimes used in ‘functional exercise’; this one states that such an exercise comprises an action that simulates or reproduces a movement used in daily life.

I checked this out with a couple of fellow Personal Trainers I know, and a cross section of the responses included that such exercises would be those such as woodchops, twists carrying a heavy plastic tube overhead (such as a VPR) or kettlebell swings.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember last time I did a woodchop or anything looking like those other movements in daily life -outside of doing the exercise itself.

Everyday vs. functional

Kettlebell swings – an everyday movement?  Really?

Maybe they meant that these are exercises often undertaken without incrementing resistance over time, or that they specifically target the core area – if this is what is meant, then there are far better words to describe this concept than ‘functional.’

Another gym’s PT pointed out their dedicated functional training area (painted green, so you know which gym chain I am talking about) where a heavy emphasis is placed on suspension straps.

Again, I have to say that I don’t hang around from suspended cables in everyday life – don’t get me wrong, it is all wonderful exercise and I’d love a set of straps such as this at home (Santa?) – but I can’t see it as being any more functional than doing something similar on a cable machine or with free weights.

That gym’s PT pointed out that free weights are not supposed to be used in the functional training area so they have to use alternatives – but the impression given is that this is just for the sake of being different than any real differential benefits.

Look out for Part Two of this article where Chris will discussing free weight exercises and how to perform them.

Connect with Expert Chris ZarembaFunctional or Non-functional Exercises?

Any comments or questions, email direct to Chris please on – assuming he survives all those non-functional resistance exercises!

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