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Functional Training - What Is It And Why You Should Be Doing It

by Matthew Palfrey

Like ‘Core Stability’, the term ‘Functional Training’ has become something of a buzz word recently. Unfortunately it’s normally used to describe exercises and programming that fit into a persons pre-conceived notions, rather than correctly describing a goal-based programme. Because functional training is always relative to the individual - if it isn’t based around your goals and the ultimate outcomes for how you want to be then it’s difficult to class it has functional. 

If you want to avoid being the equivalent of that jerk that sits on a stability ball and says “hey, I’m working on my core stability!” then read on...

Defining Functional

Just what the heck is functional training anyway? First and foremost it should be recognised as training that improves your ability to function effectively as a human being. Is it helping you to work, move or play? And on a deeper level, is it supportive of your holistic health long term? It’s worth considering that while your training program might be improving your performance over the short term, it may be contributing to injuries or other complications further down the line. Functional is a life-long pursuit not a short term training variable. 

CrossFit has been instrumental in bringing performance-based fitness training into the mainstream. This has introduced many to the concept that what you do in the gym can have a direct transfer to how you can perform in life - previously this was something only really common in professional sports and the military. That said, CrossFit, like all training methods can also be improperly classified as being universally functional. If you’re really interested in functional training then you’re going to need to delve deeper. 

Improving the Functionality of Your Training

Look at what you do in your daily life and write a list of all of the physical skills that you need. These might be things like walking, running, general lifting and, in the case of certain jobs, more demanding skills like climbing, moving heavy loads and sprinting. 

It’s also important to think more broadly about the things that, while you’re not regularly required to do them, are pretty useful to be able to do. Sooner or later you may find yourself unable to run for the bus, climb a tree to fetch a ball or rescue your family from a burning building. 

You should aim for these broad targets:

1. Choose compound, multi-joint exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses and pulls as these will have a greater transference into real-life movements. 

2. Include exercises that are non-traditional (in the commercial fitness sense) but have parallels in everyday activities. Things like carries, drags and throws are incredibly challenging but often overlooked because they are full-body exercises rather than focusing on a specific muscle group.

3. Many real-life movement are multi-planar - you move in multiple directions or experience stress in multiple planes of motion. You should include exercises where you move through the Sagittal plane (forwards and backwards), Frontal plane (side to side) and Transverse plane (rotational).

Where Does Sandbag Training Fit In?

The Brute Force Sandbag is a fantastic functional training tool for a number of reasons:

  • The sandbag is a real world object. Millions of people lift and shift objects like sandbags  every day as part of their work or life. Most of the equipment you’ll find in a commercial gym facility only exists in a commercial gym facility - people don’t need to use the elliptical as part of their daily life. It just doesn’t make sense.
  • Sandbag training is free weight training. Anything where you have to stabilise an object produces strength and conditioning that effectively transfers into many activities. 
  • The sandbag is perfectly suited to exercises and drills that aren’t practical with many other training tools. Besides performing standard exercises you can incorporate a variety of options that you won’t find in many gym programs. Try hill sprints with the sandbag, carrying it over a certain distance using a variety of grips or Sandbag Shoulder Get-Ups. 

As always, we’d love to hear your feedback below on how you make your training functional. Keep training hard!

This article was originally published on  Brute Force Sandbags

Matthew Palfrey
Matthew Palfrey


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