Functional Training vs. Functional Training

There is a little confusion when it comes to the term “functional training” or “functional exercise”.  You may have heard your personal trainer mention it a time or two during your training sessions.  In the fitness industry, they are referring to a movement or a way of teaching clients exercises that are supposed to mimic every day activities.  These exercises are oriented on using big, multi-joint exercises that use lots of muscles including the important “core” abdominal and deep back muscles.  Many times, they include the use of exercise balls and bands, free weights and plyometric exercises.

Functional training has its origins in rehabilitation.  Physical and occupational therapists use functional training for patients who have movement disorders or any injury that is keeping them from performing their activities of daily living.  Interventions are designed to incorporate task and context specific practice in areas meaningful to each patient, with an overall goal of functional independence. The therapists select specific exercises that closely mimic the movements those patients need to perform at home and/or at work and teach them more efficient ways to complete those activities.  These exercises don’t necessarily include the use of weight-bearing activities like they do in the fitness industry.  Thus, if the patient were a marathon runner, training would be targeted toward re-building endurance; and if the patient were a homemaker and cleaning the floors were their goal, rehabilitation would be targeted toward getting down on the floor and up again safely and in the most efficient way possible.  But, if a patient’s job required repeatedly heavy lifting, rehabilitation would be targeted toward heavy lifting. Treatments are designed after careful consideration of the patient’s condition, what he or she would like to achieve and ensuring goals of treatment are realistic and achievable.

Now to confuse things more, let’s throw in Functional Movement Screen (FMS).  A FMS is a screening, administered by a specialist, that measures seven fundamental functional movement patterns on a person to identify movement limitations and left/right muscle asymmetries. It identifies potential issues in order to prevent injuries before they happen.

Here are the seven fundamental movement patterns that the FMS tests:

  • Deep Squat (Lower Body): Assesses functional mobility and symmetry of the hips, knees and ankles.
  • Hurdle Step (Lower Body): Gauges stability and functional mobility of the hips, knees and ankles.
  • In-Line Lunge (Lower Body): Assesses torso, shoulder, hip, and ankle stability and mobility, as well as quadriceps flexibility and knee stability.
  • Shoulder Mobility (Upper Body): Assess shoulder range of motion as well as shoulder blade mobility
  • Straight Leg Raiser (Lower Body): Gauges functional hamstring and calf flexibility while maintaining a stable pelvis
  • Trunk Stability Push-Up (Upper/Lower Body): Used to assess symmetrical core stability
  • Rotary Stability (Upper/Lower Body): Assesses core stability in combination with upper and lower body


The results from these movements are scored on a scale 0 to 3.

0 — Movement was painful, requiring a referral to a healthcare professional.
1 — Inability to perform or complete a functional movement pattern.
2 — Ability to perform a functional pattern, but with some degree of compensation.
3 — Unquestioned ability to perform the functional movement pattern.

The screen must be performed by a trained specialist.  During the screen, the specialist is looking for specific movements or patterns that can indicate a limitation or asymmetry. If they find a limitation or asymmetry, this type of movement is less efficient and can put you at risk for injury.  The results from this screen are used in the fitness industry to create what they call “functional training” programs, concentrating on strengthening the weak areas .  Therapists also use this screen in their therapy programs to retrain the patient’s movement patterns.  Overall, the test is a helpful tool for both the fitness and physical therapy industry.

Kelly McCarthyKelly Lubera, PT, DPT is our Goodrich clinic director and is trained in functional training.

Goodrich Clinic
7477 S. State Rd., Ste. B
(810) 636-8700


kennedy_amy aptc 6-26-2017 bhphotographicAmy Kennedy, PT, DPT is located at our Clio clinic and is a specialist in Functional Movement Screen (FMS).

Clio Clinic
303 S. Mill St.
(810) 732-8400


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