Why Should I Do Functional Training with PT, Joe Corrie

Functional training is on the rise, but why have so many caught the bug? We caught up with PT @joe_Corrie is on hand to explain what functional training is and why it’s an effective and fun way to train.

Joe is a London-based personal trainer with a host of fitness-experience. Active from the word go, Joe played football at a professional standard (just) and ran 400m and 800m for his county. Injury brought this to a halt but his love for keeping fit pivoted him towards a career in personal training.

With over 10 years of experience, including Head of Fitness at Core Collective, Joe has worked through many myths and fads and has forged an outlook focussed on performance and just as important fun and enjoyment.

He’s on hand to explain why he views functional training as the way forward.

What is functional training? 

By definition, functional training is a type of exercise that uses the movements you make in your daily life. (Squat, Hinge, Push, Pull, Carry, Drag). 

This has then been developed into a way of training that allows you to improve your fitness levels whilst keeping huge variety and fun. 

The wide range of equipment used – Barbells, Dumbbells, Kettlebells, DBalls, Plyo Boxes, Running and a range of cardio machines (Row, Ski, Bike) allow us to challenge the stated movement patterns in different ways as well as challenge the full range of energy systems. 

One of the main reasons I place functional fitness so highly is that it’s based on performance rather than just aesthetics. Focusing on performance keeps an element of fun and personal competition to our training as we aim for mini personal targets and consistently tick off mini wins each week/month. Within the workouts themselves, you have a goal to work towards adding a layer of motivation and determination and often meaning you can power through a tough workout where as previously you may have stopped when you got tired.

We can keep hitting and celebrating short-term targets rather than feeling overwhelmed/unmotivated by solely focusing on the end result/image and all of a sudden that momentum is unbreakable. 

The real beauty of it is that in most cases before we know it we end up looking the way we wanted in the first place, if not better, without really even focussing on it. 

I also find training for performance extremely empowering. Dialling in on a training program and feeling your body getting fitter or stronger as the weeks go by, no one else has been able to do those reps or the work for you, YOU have taken control, YOU have had the discipline, YOU have taken action…How powerful is that? Feeling your strength grow within and the sense of control that comes with it oozes out into all other areas of our lives too. 

Can you build muscle with functional training? 

Enter the power of compounds! 

Exercises can be broken down into two different categories: Compound movements and isolated movements. 

Both are beneficial and utilised within most exercise programs. 

A compound exercise is any movement that involves two joints or more in the body, resulting in the engagement of multiple muscle groups. Think of a squat, which moves both your hip and knee joints and engages your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calf muscles and more. This not only recruits as many muscle fibres as possible at the same time but naturally creates a larger response through the body by maximising your total energy output, allowing us to also improve our cardiovascular system and VO2 max simultaneously. 

Compound movements should make up the foundation of any good strength program as they enable us to move much heavier loads, which in turn build much more overall strength. 

Sufficient evidence suggests that due to the use of such a large number of muscle fibres some of these compound exercises promote a hormonal response within the body (human growth hormone and testosterone) which helps you develop lean muscle mass and aids in fat loss. Basically getting us way more bang for our buck (winner winner). 

Hitting multiple muscle groups within the same exercise also allows us to be significantly more time efficient with our training. 

A simple circuit of 10 x Squats,10 x Push Ups, 10 x Deadlifts, 10 x Pull Ups x 4 Rounds will hit almost all the muscle groups in the body. Now imagine having to hit all these muscle groups with one isolation exercise each; you’d easily increase the length of your session by 2-3 times. 

There is certainly a place for isolation movements in any training program as they can help address any specific imbalances in the body, target certain areas whilst letting others recover and well, just get a damn good pump on (channel your best Arnie voice) (who doesn’t love a Friday arms day from time to time?). However, they do not expend as much energy as compound movements and very rarely do they challenge the cardiovascular system. 

So by comparing the two different types of categories, we can see how compound exercises have a big list of benefits. Whether you want to lose weight, build strength, or improve overall performance in training or in life, due to the dynamic nature of these exercises, the power of compounds is unquestionable and makes functional training a great way to build lean muscle and strength. 

Will doing cardio hinder muscle growth? 

Cardio doesn’t hinder muscle growth. If anything it will actually aid our strength sessions. The stronger your cardiovascular system (your heart and lungs), the quicker we will be able to recover in between sets, sessions as a whole and generally work at higher intensities. It’s all a win. 

What will put a halt to any strength and muscle gains, or any fitness adaptations at all for that matter, is us not allowing our body to recover adequately. As mentioned before we do not actually gain muscle/fitness during our training sessions but during the time between sessions. We need good nutrition to provide enough protein for the muscles to repair and grow, and enough carbohydrates and fats to refuel and enhance our recovery. On top of this, we must also get enough rest, relaxation and the king of all SLEEP. 

Think about your body as a battery:

  • We hit a big morning weights session which drains the battery a fair amount (minus 20%). We have a solid breakfast whilst getting stuck into some tasks for work with a glorious smelling coffee by our side. Here we are refuelling our energy stores and in a physically rested state allowing the good stuff to happen (add 10% back to our battery). 
  • It’s a lovely day so we get outside for a lunchtime walk; not strenuous but it will still eat into our daily energy stores (minus 5% from our battery).
  • Back for lunch (chicken poke bowl with brown rice as a base). (Add 5% back to the battery). 
  • We blast through work physically resting again (add 5%). 
  • After work it is still glorious outside and we fancy going for a run to clear our head a little before settling down for the evening (minus 20%). 
  • We now find ourselves at dinner time with 20% of our battery to recharge. 
  • Knowing we’ve had a solid training day we cook up a generous portion of pasta bolognese (what a win, add 10%). 
  • We then spend some quality time with loved ones before heading to bed in time to ensure we get a good 8 hours of sleep (add 10%). 
  • We wake up in the morning fully charged with non-shrivelled muscles ready to rock another day!

This is obviously an extremely basic analogy. It doesn’t mention the energy your body will burn just to perform its fundamental tasks and cope with external stresses (I’ll save that for another lesson). 

There is also a point beyond where you can keep expending energy and be able to refuel enough in order for your body to recover fully (although training volume needs to be extremely high for this to come into play). 

But back to the point, what I’m trying to get at here is that if we are enjoying cardio elements within our training program and the benefits that come with it, then all that is needed is for us to balance out this added energy expenditure by consuming slightly more calories.

Are there more effective ways of building muscle? 

Maybe? But if you can build whilst having fun, you will be more consistent and stick with it for the long term. 

Traditional bodybuilder bro splits can be an extremely effective way of building muscle mass. But what says we can’t utilise the hypertrophy rep range, throw in some isolation movements and also keep the fun and enjoyment by including dynamic and engaging workouts within the same session/program? 

If having a fun (still well thought out) finisher at the end of some of our sessions has us leaving the gym feeling elated and like we’ve accomplished something then this will be a plan we are more likely to stick to for the long run. 

Finding a balance between “the most effective way” and “fun and variety” is the key to creating a program that moves us towards our goals whilst keeping the engagement and buy-in level high. 

Yes, we must fall in love with the repetition of the main lifts and doing these consistently at certain rep ranges over the different phases of our program, giving the body time to reap the rewards of progressive overload. Watching these incremental improvements really does become addictive.

However, I find many coaches forget that not everyone wants to fall into that robotic mindset: of course they want to see progress, but also want their training to feel fun and need an element of variety to keep them wanting to come back for more. 

As mentioned already, the best program is one that continually overloads the body but also the one that we can stay consistent with week in, week out, for life! 

If muscle growth/strength improvement is the aim, just remember to balance out that added energy expenditure: more calories, enough recovery time, job done! 

How do I get started?

Ready to jump into the world of Functional Fitness? I offer different plans to suit every lifestyle. I’ll be on hand to guide you through and release your potential in a fun and effective way. You can explore plans and get started here with a 7-day free trial so you can get a taste of what’s to come.

The Workout

I’ll leave you with an example workout to experience what functional fitness actually is and see just how I put the fun in functional.

Warm Up
5 x Walk Out + 6 Shoulder Taps
5 x Worlds Greatest Stretch e/s
5 x Cat Cow

2 Rounds:
20 Band Pull Aparts
20 Band Upright Rows
10 x Scapular Pull Ups
10 x Alt Standing Arnie Press (light)

Romanian Deficit Deadlift
4 x 10 (Stood on 2 x 20kg plates)
90-120sec rest after each set
@% – @% *Actual target numbers will appear on the app

Strict Press
4 x 6
120-180secs rest after each set
*If you achieved last weeks weights move up to the below, if not repeat last weeks weights.
@% – @% *Actual target numbers will appear on the app

3 mins ON : 2 mina OFF
Round 1 + 3
3min AMRAP
10 x Double Dumbbell Snatch
10 x Hand Release Push Ups

Round 2+4
10 x Double Dumbbell Hang Clean + Press
10 x Burpees

*Go HARD on these, you should be desperate for those rest periods.

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