When you walk into the typical modern gym, you will see machines. Lots of machines. Each machine is carefully designed to be used in a specific way to target a specific group of muscles. For the most part, these machines deliver what they promise if used properly and consistently. If you spend many hours pushing heavy loads on the leg press machine, your hamstring muscles will grow. Likewise when you use machines that target chest, arm and core muscles.
Over the past couple of decades, bodybuilders have used these machines to achieve amazing looking bodies. If your goal is to develop big muscles, that might be sufficient. But think of the ways you use your muscles in everyday life outside the gym. Lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying stuff. You rarely use one muscle group at a time the way you would on a machine.
Suppose, for example, you have to help a friend move houses and you are lifting one end of the couch to take it to the truck waiting outside. You have to use your arms and wrists to lift up your end and keep it at a certain elevation. You also have to use your back and core muscles to stay upright. Your leg muscles will get you moving. In addition, there are a number of smaller muscle groups you have to engage to stabilize as you move about and the weight shifts in your hands.
This is what we mean when we talk of functional fitness.
So what will your experience of a functional fitness gym be like? While there will be variations, the major elements are the same. You will have open floor space that is mean’t to accommodate movement based training. The floor will typically be overlaid with thick, dense rubber to withstand heavy weights. (You know those signs you will see in your typical gym about not dropping heavy weights, forget about those. Heavy weights are made to be dropped, and from as high as you can get them). If you have ever tried to slowly bring down a barbell with plates weighing more than your body-weight from an overhead position because you are in a gym with a substandard floor and plates, you will know how big a deal this is.
Another major element that will be hard to miss is the rig. That is a metal structure against a wall with horizontal bars for exercises that you do while you hang by your arms like an ape in the jungle. This would be pull-ups, leg raises, toes-to-bars and, for the really dedicated ones in the gym, muscle-ups. All I’m saying is you will soon find yourself wondering why they bother making gyms with no rigs.
Not least, what sort of gym would it be without the weights? Any self respecting functional fitness gym prides itself on its fine collection of Olympic barbells and bumper plates. You might think all gyms have more or less similar barbells and plates, but that is not the case. Not by a long shot. Even a lot of the fancier gyms have delicate plates that cannot withstand a drop. It might just be me, but one of life’s simple pleasures is dropping a heavy weight from an overhead position. There are other weights of course. Dumbbells and kettlebells and wall-balls.
There will be other equipment of course. benches, squat-racks, skipping ropes and the like. And the odd machine, like rowers and stationary bikes for when all you want to do is burn a specific number of calories.
With this simple, high quality setup, functional fitness gyms can achieve results that your regular gym can only marvel at. The variety of movements and exercises you can do in such a set-up is only limited by the knowledge, and experience of your trainer. Certainly not boring like machines that can only work one specific muscle in one specific range of motion.