In the world of movement, the word “functional” has come a long way. It has morphed from a misunderstood term into an applied—and encouraged—way of training. Go ahead and google functional training, and you’ll find definitions that include words and phrases like purposeful, preparation for active daily living, whole body, multi-joint movements, and even fun and variable!

At Gray Institute, we agree that functional training should include all of those factors but should also include two key descriptors: context-dependent and individualized.

These descriptors are the foundation of Applied Functional Science® (AFS), which is the convergence of physical, biological, and behavioral sciences that allow practitioners to apply context and individualization in the training world and the prevention and rehabilitation worlds as well.

How to Tell if an Activity Is Functional

For something to be functional, we need to define the context. This means answering the question: “functional for what?”

Instead of using theory or what may be popular, AFS uses the following litmus test to define functional, as well as begin to provide strategies in developing techniques that are, indeed, functional:

  • Environment: Is it natural (functional) or unnatural (non-functional)?
  • Gravity/Ground Reaction Force: Is it being used (functional) or confused (non-functional)?
  • Mass/Momentum: Is it being leveraged (functional) or neglected (non-functional)?
  • Motion: Is it three-dimensional (functional) or one-dimensional (non-functional)?
  • Reaction: Is it a chain (functional) or a link (non-functional)?
  • Proprioceptors: Are they being facilitated (functional) or inhibited (non-functional)?
  • Muscles: Are they reactors (functional) or actors (non-functional)?
  • Joints: Are they integrated (functional) or isolated (non-functional)?
  • Task: Does it facilitate a subconscious reaction (functional) or conscious reaction (non-functional)?
  • Specificity: Does it facilitate transformation (functional) or stagnation (non-functional)?
  • Mobility/Stability: Are these attributes combined (functional) or segregated (non-functional)?

These parameters are scientific principles and should guide the techniques and exercises we use with our clients.

The more you learn about these principles, the more you can use them to improve your clients’ lives. These truths are the underpinning to all Gray Institute delivers.  In fact, these truths were the beginning point to 3DMAPS® (3D Movement Analysis & Performance System).  For something to be the best analysis for movement, it must be functional and actually use movement.