I was working with one of my clients on his deadlift recently. And after he completed a nice set of five reps, I commented that the weight was 235 lbs. Another gym member, who overheard our conversation, then asked my client if he was “powerlifting.”
No doubt, the deadlift is a powerlifting exercise that’s used to measure strength at competitive meets. But it’s also one of the most functional lifts available, as few exercises are more useful; we all deadlift every time we pick up a child from the floor, a box to put on a shelf, or the keys we drop.
So what determines if an exercise is functional?
1) As mentioned in a previous post, function is about purpose. So functional training exercises are purposeful; there’s a reason for them. Generally, the exercise prepares you for a specific movement in your daily life or sports.
2) In most functional exercises, the foot or hand that’s working is in contact with the ground, or a stable surface (such as the deadlift). So the chain is closed; an open chain is when the foot or hand that’s working is not in contact with the ground (such as the pull down).
3) Functional exercises train movements, not individual muscles, without the use of machines.
4) Functional movements involve multiple joints in multiple planes (the three planes include front to back, side to side and rotational). Single joint exercises isolate specific muscles, therefore, they’re not very functional.
Functional training also incorporates balance and proprioception into the training program to teach you how to regain stability on unstable surfaces, such as lumpy grass or slippery ice. And most programs include single leg exercises, as they’re a great way to improve balance, especially when combined with unstable surfaces.
Ultimately, the goal of functional training is to prepare you for whatever comes your way in all the activities of your daily life and sports.