“Functional Training" has been a hot buzz phrase in the fitness industry for more than the past decade. While there are many fitness enthusiasts and professionals effectively executing this type of training, there are still a handful of mistakes being made by beginners and uninformed professionals.

The first order of business is to clarify the definition of “functional training". Generally functional training focuses on developing better movement skills vs. training primary to improve cosmetic appearance. The best way to further define functional training is to answer the question “functional for what?". Training for swimming, running or horseback riding all require different training exercises to serve these different functions. There are, however, certain commonalities such as developing better core strength and stability that will improve performance across all functional activities.

Here are 5 functional training mistakes and how to correct them:

1. Unclear Goal

Before designing your training program you should establish and define a clear set of goals you hope to achieve. The more specific your goals, the better you will be able to design your training to achieve them. If your goals are simply to lose some weight and feel good, examine your lifestyle and the activities you like most to further clarify your goals. For example, if you spend many hours sitting at your desk working on your computer, exercises to strengthen you postural muscles and open your shoulders will help you feel better.

2. Adding too much variety and complexity without mastering the basics

Sometimes the basics can seem boring and people want to spice things up. This can lead to a breakdown in sound body mechanics and technique that can lead to injury and sub optimized performance. Taking the time to train your core with simple exercises such as a prone plank will build a solid base that will allow you to perform more advanced exercises and progressions with better results in the long run.

3. Not enough focus on the actual functional activity itself

If you have a sport specific goal, make sure you are getting enough time practicing that specific activity. Every sport has specific demands unique to that sport that require practice. Your training in the gym should be geared to compliment your sport, not take priority over the actual sport itself.

4. Mimicking others

You often see people in the gym doing advanced or complex exercises that may not be suitable for you. Stick to your goals and only do what is appropriate for you given your current fitness level. Getting ahead of yourself trying to do what someone else can do will not get you as far and can lead to injury.

5. Avoiding "meat and potato" exercises

Some people ignore functional exercises such as squats and dead lifts believing that these exercises do not fit their definition of functional training. While some people may have limitations that prevent them from heavily loading these exercises or force them to modify range of motion, squats and dead lifts build a strong functional base for better ground based movements. The amount of emphasis on these exercises can vary depending on the functional objectives - swimmers would generally focus less on squats and dead lifts than runners for example. However, working to improve your body weight squat is one of the best functional exercises for anyone (even swimmers have to perform ground based movements such as walking to the pool and lifting things up and carrying them). Make it a point to improve your squat and everything else will get better.

Keep these 5 Mistakes in mind when you embark on your functional training quest.