If you are like me, sometimes you need a structured exercise program to keep yourself motivated. Functional Training and CrossFit are great exercise programs that have grown in the popularity over the last few years. I have always wondered what makes them so popular but also how are they different? 

The difference between Functional Fitness Training (FFT) and CrossFit starts with their philosophical differences. FFT believes that exercise should strengthen the core while having muscles work together. CrossFit's philosophy is rooted in a traditional fitness model.

These philosophical differences result in entirely different training experiences. Read on to learn more about each program so you can decide which one would be best for you.

What Does Functional Fitness Training Mean?

Traditional exercise programs tend to focus on training muscle groups. Hand weights are used to strengthen the biceps.

The goal of Functional Fitness Training (FFT) is training muscle groups to work together. Instead of isolating specific muscles to strengthen them, FFT aims to stabilise a group of muscles to work effectively. The primary objective is not building individual muscles but increasing overall balance and strength.

Athletes and non-athletes can use FFT. Athletes benefit from having the muscles strengthened in isolation working together effectively. Non-athletes find that they can perform everyday activities, such as picking up or carrying objects, better and more safely.

Those involved in FFT often talk about training the core so that it provides stability to your spine. A stable core means that force can be transferred efficiently through your arms and legs. Also, strengthening the core helps to protect the lower back.

How Is CrossFit Different?

CrossFit training has its roots in gymnastics and weightlifting. So the equipment used in both sports is incorporated in CrossFit. Its goal is more closely aligned with a traditional exercise. To increase strength and endurance while also improving coordination and flexibility.

Another vital component of CrossFit is competitiveness with others. The exercises are fast-paced and random. Athletes at the annual CrossFit Games compete in workouts based on CrossFit exercises.

CrossFit claims it uses "functional movements" like those used in everyday life, but many of the exercises show no relationship to daily movements. Instead, CrossFit's functional movements relate to using muscles efficiently so that work can be done more quickly. Functional movements should allow the user to burn more calories.

What Are the Benefits of Functional Fitness Training?

Unless you have a mini gym at home, CrossFit must be done in a gym. Although it's best to do FFT in a gym (especially at first), the real gym is your body. Participants in a CrossFit program are checking their progress against others. In FFT, the focus is on the body, also known as proprioceptio. Are you balanced, comfortable, and in control?

FFT's origins are in the rehabilitation field, so some like to think of it as prehabilitationThis is an exercise program that tries to prevent injury. Along with the focus on body control, there are additional benefits to FFT:

Increased posture and balance

Central to FFT is a focus on using your extremities to support your core. Doing so improves your posture. Training muscles to work together is another critical concept in FFT. Exercises that have you focus on small stabilising muscle groups help with strength and balance.

Begin at your level

FFT is ideal for beginners and older adults. Beginners learn to focus on their body and strengthen their core. As their strength and flexibility improve, they can increase the intensity of their workouts.

CrossFit

The likelihood of injury is small

Unlike a CrossFit program that incorporates weights and gymnastics, FFT focuses on strengthening muscles by using them as you do in real life. This reduces the risk of injury while exercising. It also helps you avoid injury as you complete daily tasks, such as lifting heavy items.

The Three Planes of Motion and Five Motion Patterns

Our cores have three planes of motion:

  • Sagittal -- leaning forward or backward.
  • Transverse—twisting or rotation.
  • Frontal—moving side to side.

FFT exercises try to use a variety of planes in a routine. Many traditional training methods focus on a single core motion. Take dumbbells. In traditional training, the plane of movement is sagittal. But an FFT Dumbbell Row uses both sagittal and transverse motions, as seen in this video:

Also, FFT designs routines based on five movement patterns. These are:

  • Upper Body Pushing – Push-Ups.
  • Upper Body Pulling – Pull-Ups.
  • Lower Body Squats – Barbell Squats.
  • A Lower Body Hinge – Hip Thrusts.
  • Lower Body Lunge/Split Stance – Reverse Lunges.

What Are the Disadvantages of Functional Training?

The main disadvantage of Functional Fitness Training is it lacks a cardiovascular component. FFT focuses on resistance training, not on increasing your heart rate. That is an easy fix—add a cardio workout to your exercise program. Start your exercise routine with a cardio warm-up or devote one or two days to cardio exercises.

Some people suggest that without well-trained fitness coaches, they can hurt themselves by doing an exercise incorrectly. Although they are correct, isn't the same true for almost all exercise programs? Even Yoga is not without risks.

What Are the Benefits of CrossFit?

CrossFit can be thought of as a three-in-one exercise program that gives you:

  • Aerobic exercise
  • Flexibility work
  • Strength training

CrossFit design workout routines that try to use all three to have participants reach their peak in strength and fitness.

Community is a significant CrossFit advantage. With over 15,000 affiliate programs worldwide, it's easy to locate fitness centres that offer classes. This CrossFit map quickly lets you find nearby programs.

Many people find the community and competitive nature of the program helpful. Instead of working out in isolation, CrossFit members support each other while also measuring their success with their newfound friends and partners.

Instructors design classes to have constant variation. This is part of CrossFit's theory that muscles need constant variety to "shock" the muscles.

How CrossFit Describes Fitness

CrossFit breaks fitness down into three standards. The first one focuses on ten general physical skills:

  1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance
  2. Stamina
  3. Strength
  4. Flexibility
  5. Power
  6. Speed
  7. Coordination
  8. Agility
  9. Balance
  10. Accuracy

An exercise regimen needs to focus on each to improve the total fitness of a participant.

The second standard is the ability to perform well at any task. Your performance measured against others is a way to measure performance.

The third standard focuses on the three types of metabolism:

  • Phosphagen pathway is used in high-powered activities.
  • The glycolytic pathway focuses on medium-powered activities that last several minutes.
  • The oxidative pathway dominates Low-powered activities.

While Functional Fitness focuses on the core and strengthening muscle groups, CrossFit's philosophy is based on a traditional fitness model.

What Are the Disadvantages of CrossFit?

The reliance on gym equipment and weights means that CrossFit must be done in a fitness centre. People on a budget or who don't want to invest in a gym membership will not be able to participate in the program. YouTube videos are no substitute for being in a group with a common purpose.

CrossFit requires qualified trainers who have specialised in CrossFit training. It can be easy to be forgotten in a large class and not receive individualised training. The emphasis on the variety of movement to increase muscle functionality comes at the cost of less repetition. This is required to improve and master techniques.

Which One Is Best for You?

You Should Do CrossFit 

You Should Do Functional Training 

Looking for an exercise program that has aerobic, flexibility, and strength training.

Want to work on improving your fitness by focusing on how your body works.

You would like to be part of a supportive community.

You are starting out or are worried about injuring yourself.

Enjoy competition

Can easily keep yourself motivated without going to a gym.

You Should Do CrossFit if You

  • You want an exercise program that has both aerobic, flexibility, and strength training.
  • You would like to be part of a supportive community.
  • You don't mind competition.

You Should Do Functional Training if You

  • You want to work on improving your fitness by focusing on how your body works.
  • You are starting out or are worried about injuring yourself.
  • You can keep yourself motivated without going to a gym.

Bottom Line

The two exercise programs have fundamental philosophical differences, and these lead to different exercise experiences. Functional Fitness Training believes that exercise starts with the core, and movements should replicate natural functions. CrossFit's philosophy is modelled on a traditional fitness approach.

Which one is best for you? The best exercise program is the one that keeps you coming back for more.

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