The Differences Between Functional and Traditional Training

The differences between functional and traditional training lie in how you do the exercises and the results that you can get from each one. Learn more below.
The Differences Between Functional and Traditional Training

Last update: 14 April, 2021

Before you decide what type of exercise to do, you should look at your options and learn more about them. It’s also important to clear up some common misunderstandings about certain types of training. One of the most frequent questions has to do with the differences between functional and traditional training.

In this article, we’ll share the details with you. Functional training differs greatly from traditional muscle building that you might have done at the gym. It’s a very interesting topic!

What is functional training?

As a first step, let’s define each training method. Functional fitness training involves routines where the movements are natural. That is, they’re similar to what you’d need to do in your daily life, away from the gym.

What concept of functional training has been developed over the last few years? A different training style from what you’d find at a typical gym, that involves weight lifting for instance.

The craze for ‘functional’ exercise is related to the appearance on the scene of huge commercial gym chains and the success of disciplines such as CrossFit. Today, doing a functional training routine can include different items, such as using a fit ball, a TRX rope, a kettlebell, or a battle rope.

A group doing functional fitness training exercises.

Exercises that use different areas of your body allow you to train various muscle groups at once. They also have the added benefit of burning more calories, since they’re more intense exercises. The main objective of a functional training session is building quality muscle, as well as evenly strengthening your muscles.

What is traditional training?

When we refer to traditional training, we’re talking about popular and well-known gym workouts. For instance, routines that use exercise machines or that use your body’s own weight. In these exercises, your muscles work on a fixed plane.

What does that mean? It means that you’re toning a specific muscle area, for example, your biceps, triceps, or abs. The exercises are focused and the muscle growth is rapid. The risk of injury in traditional training is less because the movements are specific and guided.

Strength training is characterized by structure. This means that the routine will include series, reps, and a special order of exercises. You may even train a different part of your body each day of the week. For example, on Mondays, you might work on your shoulders, Tuesdays on your chest, Wednesdays, legs, Thursdays, abs, and Fridays, on your back.

It’s said (mistakenly, in the majority of cases) that those who do traditional training don’t have as much cardiovascular endurance or don’t have as much mobility due to their increased muscle mass. However, this really depends on the attention that the person gives their general health and how they complement their training with other exercises.

What are the differences?

You could basically say that functional training is more dynamic than traditional training. Also, the latter focuses on a specific muscle group in each session. Of course, depending on your fitness goals, you can choose one type of training or another.

A girl doing leg exercises at the gym.

For instance, if your goal is to lose weight and get a bit of a six-pack, it would be better to opt for functional training. Of course, don’t forget additional things you’ll also need to do, such as a low-calorie diet. Meanwhile, what if you have the goal of increasing your muscle mass and getting that bulky look in your shoulders and back? Probably traditional training would be a better idea.

Additionally, don’t forget that each athlete’s personality is different. For many people, lifting weights is boring and they prefer something more dynamic, two or three times a week. However, for others, fast-paced classes are too exhausting. They prefer to go every day to the weight-lifting area of the gym and follow a similar routine each time.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that these different types of training can’t be compatible with each other. Many professional athletes combine functional fitness exercises with traditional training to improve their strength, agility, mobility, and flexibility, which are requisites to compete in any elite sport.

Here’s something to reflect on. Really, the main difference between functional and traditional training is the benefits that each method offers you. While traditional training makes you exercise mechanically or repetitively, functional training has a wider range of exercises that get your whole body involved. But of course, it’s a matter of personal preference and goals when it comes to choosing which you prefer!


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.