Functional Movement – the Base for Functional Fitness

Functional fitness guru and one of South Africa’s top CrossFit coaches and box owners, Imtiaz Desai, explains how functional movements form the base of functional fitness in this great feature.

Some functional movements are those that mimic the muscle recruitment patterns that are found in everyday life. For example, movements we frequently perform are sitting and standing from a chair, and lifting objects off the ground. The functional exercise movements that mimic these muscle activity patterns are respectively squats and deadlifts. Other functional movements are more unique to the gym. All functional movements are compound, multi-joint movements. Movement as nature intended, typically involves the movement of multiple joints and muscle groups.

Functional Movement

Functional movements are important because they are mechanically sound and therefore safe, and because they elicit a high neuroendocrine response. Functional movements are generally characterised by those movements that permit us to move large loads quickly over long distances.

Calisthenics are exercise movements that are performed without weights and have the aim of developing body control. The foundations of calisthenics include movements such as pull-ups, push-ups, dips, lunges, jumping and climbing. Calisthenics increase the strength to weight ratio like no other mode of strength training and also enhances coordination, balance, agility, accuracy and flexibility. These results are evident in any competitive gymnast, and the side benefit is a lean body.

Weightlifting as opposed to “weight training” refers to movements that require us to move an external load. This includes the barbell sports of Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, as well as the use of kettlebells, dumbbells and medicine balls. Powerlifting movements are the deadlift, squat and bench press. Olympic weightlifting movements are the snatch and clean and jerk, which are based on the squat, deadlift and overhead press.

These movements are essential to everyday life and athletic performance and should form the core of any resistance training program. Weightlifting develops strength, speed and power and requires substantial flexibility. The requirement of moving heavy loads in a technical manner also improves balance, coordination, accuracy and agility. Furthermore, weightlifting has been shown to have a significant impact on cardiovascular fitness and is proven to stimulate positive neuroendocrine adaptations.

Mono-structural Activities
Mono-structural activities are your “cardio” activities that include running, swimming, skipping, rowing and cycling. While it is important to perform these activities in a slower continuous fashion such as a 5km run, they are best applied in an interval format. Interval training has been proven to be superior to continuous training in improving the capacity of all three energy systems. Moreover, interval training more closely mimics the stop/start nature of sports.

Remember, there is no ideal routine. There needs to be a constant variation in the load, mode and duration parameters of your exercise program. Combine the above components and their movements in an endless array of combinations for best results.


What types of functional training do you do? How often do you include calisthenics, weightlifting and mono-structural activates in your training routine?

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