I do not think that word means what you think it means…

Just yesterday I was prompted to write this article because on some downtime I was surfing the internet reading various things posted on my Twitter.  Sometimes when articles come up that are posted on blogs I take a look, and this time what I saw made me just shake my head and wonder how people call themselves “fitness experts” when they have something posted on their web site that is so blatantly idiotic.  This particular article was all about “functional” training which this particular trainer revealed she did with her clients through her boot camps, as a marketing thing of course.  However, she then proceeded to list some exercises that she considered “essential to the functional training of any person”.  Number one on this list was a bench tricep dip.

Just in case you as a ready don’t know, a bench tricep dip requires that you place your hands on a bench behind you, extend your shoulder usually beyond what it should be at and then flex and extend your elbows in order to work the back of the arms while keeping your legs extended and usually stationary.  What I wondered for immediately is what the heck is that possibly “functional” for?  If I had to throw something behind me (and down towards the ground) really hard?  Sure.  If I was going to climb a mountain backwards (ie facing AWAY from the cliff face).  Maybe.

Part of the problem is the whole hype behind the word “functional”.  The first question I always ask is “functional for what?”  Believe it or not, the primary definition of functional is a math term – meaning relating to a function (of, involving or relating to a function).  The second definition is “designed for or adapted to a particular use”.  To me, this means that if you’re going to classify something as functional it needs to be applied towards a specific purpose – therefore in mechanics, your movement should be applied towards enhancing your ability to do a certain joint movement (or series of movements) or strength within those movements.

This person even had a “push up” listed as another of their highly recommended functional movements.  So what is a push up functional for?  What will it make you better at doing?  Pushing your body up with both hands off of the floor?  Sure.  This might apply to seniors who want to be able to pick themselves up if they fall down.  If you are in the military you are required to be able to do push ups.  However, if my goal is to be able to jump higher, how does a push up help me?  Would another type of resisted pushing movement probably help me more?  Push-ups generally are functional for one thing – helping you be able to do more push ups.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  I like push ups and use them often with my clients to develop strength in their shoulders, elbows and wrists.  But I don’t claim that it is “functional” for anything in their day-to-day life beyond being able to do more push ups.

There are certain words that a person really should be required to have a license to use.  In my industry the claims that I hear and read on a regular basis more often than not make me cringe, but honestly what makes me cringe more is comments written from people who are completely misinformed saying how right they are.  Some of the bigger ones in my industry that trainers use on almost a daily basis:

Functional                                             Imbalance

Core                                                          Tone

Stabilization                                          Isolation

The funny thing is if you actually ask the person in question what these words mean or why they are applying it to anyone they will probably look at you with a blank stare and give an explanation that isn’t even close.  I actually had someone ask me about a course they could take not too long ago where the instructor of the course claimed that he could actually turn muscles on and off.  Of course he had no scientific basis for it and couldn’t even explain how muscles work properly but he decided to charge lots of people over a thousand dollars for a weekend of instruction in it.

So for those of you reading this who are trainers, think about what things mean and make sure you know exactly what you are talking about before you spout off about something you are actually being really inaccurate about.  It takes nine months to become a cigar roller in Cuba and two years to become a massage therapist but we as trainers are allowed to call ourselves experts about exercise after twenty hours over a weekend, a multiple choice test and a 45 minute practical exam.  Find out the real meaning behind your words.  We want the sound bite that makes us sound smart, but we don’t care to learn the actual meaning behind it.  That just makes you lazy.

For you who are clients, please challenge your trainers.  I love it when my clients ask questions because it means they are engaged and they are interested in learning more about what’s going on.  If I don’t know the answer, then I’ll admit it and make sure that doesn’t happen again.  Don’t blindly believe a line of crap, especially when it is about something as important as your body and how it moves.  And don’t do a bloody tricep dip because it is “functional”.  Unless of course you’re going to climb a mountain backwards soon.


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