Functional Training Institute

Programming for Functional Training

By Tarek Michael Chouja, Director of FTI

Once we have thought and pondered about functional training concepts it is time to select your choice of equipment and with unbridled excitement show case your new set of skills to your client(s).

‘Go forth ye and make good the tools before you’

There is a plethora of functional training tools out there at your disposal, the good, the bad and the ugly and it is surely up to you as a well informed and investigative trainer to select the tools you will use to ultimately design and deliver programs to your client or group.

With proper education and diligent practice, the technical tool like the kettlebell is one of the best friends you will find when it comes to functional training programming. But there is more than just the kettlebell and if you want to set yourself up for functional training sessions and classes here is a model that will equip and instil the fundamentals of functional training with what is termed the 5 pillars approach.

When programming for functional training there are the following considerations:

What is the objective of the program?

  • Is the program time based or for repetitions?
  • How many rounds, rest periods and for how long is the program?
  • Does it include regressions and progressions, therefore who is it targeted at?
  • What is your equipment selection?
  • Is the program for an individual, small or large group?

The above factors will determine your attitude towards programming that is targeted, specific and adaptable to the needs of the individual and or group

Different Program Types:

  • Flow drills

This style of programming integrates multiple exercises into a non-stop work-out where each transition flows to the next.

Key Focus: Skill acquisition, multiple movement patterns, aerobic and anaerobic systems

  • Sample flow drill videos

Powerbag flow sample workout

MMA Kettlebell Flow:

  • Ladders

Designed as a method to increase strength when performing grinds and muscular endurance when performing ballistics based exercises. You may vary programming to add a combination of grinds and ballistics

This is a great way to gauge a client’s progress as there are 2 factors to consider:

  1. What is selection of weight? Males start weight is 12kg and female is 8kg For advanced programming 2 kettlebells are used for added strength and complexity
  1. What is the goal of the program? It is advised to start off with a 1 up to 5 rep ratio. That means working both sides with 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5 rep cycle

 Sample ladder workout –

  • Kettlebell strict presses 10 down to 5 each arm
  • Kettlebell double squats 10 down to 5
  • Kettlebell standing row 10 down to 5 each arm
  • Kettlebell double lunges 10 down to 5 each leg

Circuit training

This method of programming is not usually associated with programming but nothing is black and white when it comes to programming and a selection of easy to hard circuits is advised.

Factors to consider:

Which tools will you program for? Combination of kettlebells, Powerbags, battling ropes and suspension training perhaps!

Is it time or rep based? How much rest will you provide and how many rounds will you perform? This is dependent on the time given for your session i.e. 30 mins, 45 mins or 60 mins

Sample circuit program:

HITT based programs i.e. Tabata, AMRAPS

These programs are anaerobic based and aimed at ‘smoking’ your client or group with effective programming. This is typically a step up from traditional circuit training and is popular due to the well-researched effects on increasing fat-loss, cardio-respiratory systems  and gains in strength compared to working at lower intensities and with less variety such as jogging for 30 minutes.

Example of a Tabata routine:

Select 4 exercises:

  • Kettlebell swing
  • Suspension Row
  • PB Push-up complex
  • Kettlebell squat

Nominate up to 4 people who each perform 20 seconds on the exercise 10 second rest period. Repeat this 8 times – nominate a rest period i.e. 60 seconds then get group to switch.

With a thorough mobility warm up sequence of 7 mins, this leaves 3 mins to cool down and get the group back to equilibrium after an intense workout

Note: This is an advanced way of programming and requires a good understanding on how to perform the exercises selected and must be performed with maximal effort to be regarded as a form of HITT otherwise it is just a circuit workout.

Example of a kettlebell AMRAP program:   

Program to progression not perfection!

There is often the perfectionist in us all and it is vital to lean toward progression rather than perfecting each and every program. You will no doubt encounter challenges in your programming, due to unforeseen circumstances right before a session where your client presents with a niggling shoulder or back issue but insists she wants to train. This is where simple screening processes can determine if you should continue training your client or give them the rest and request a report within 24-48 hours to determine whether a referral to a specialist of sorts is required.

Or perhaps you employ a series of simple yet profound mobility drills to stretch, release and activate muscles that are otherwise inhibiting movement and creating dysfunction in the guise of ‘niggly injuries’

Mobility drills to prepare your client for safe, effective movement

Mobility is a concept that is increasingly embraced and sought after by fitness professionals to help clients move more freely and become less liable to injuries and restriction of movement. By employing a series of joint rolling (and I don’t mean narcotics here), activation drills and release techniques, without the “over-kill” principle, your client or group will want to give you a juicy Italian kiss for making them feel more supple during a session. Here is an example of a mobility flow that we at AIK have designed.

By creating a mobility flow, your client(s) are acquiring a new skill set and this involves creating new and improved nerve pathways, greater connectivity of brain cells and therefore the wonderful word we love to throw around called ‘coordination’. It is truly fascinating to see the evolution of a rigid, injury prone person into a more supple, confident and exercise loving person all because YOU as the trainer did not just load and drill them into the ground. It doesn’t take much to do that but it takes care, skill and a willingness to learn and grow as a trainer to employ mobility drills, well thought out programs and an overall experience to your client or group.

It must be said that current forms of programming such as high intensity training require more than just mobility drills for an overall effective program as I will point out later.

Who are you programming for!?

Due consideration for who you are programming for is required when prescribing easy or hard programs. Most clients who come to you will be seeking 2 things most often. To tone and or lose weight which often are inextricably linked.

But within that bracket you will have individuals who want to push harder whilst others want to be in more of a cruise control with the occasional ‘push’ along the way. Therefore when you program, it is important to have a system of regression and progression that caters for an increase in difficulty of an exercise. Hence you can add weight and or complexity to the exercises you have selected for programming your client.

It is easy to slip into the mind-set that you are programming for ‘general population’ or for ‘Athletes’. Even still, there is specificity in programming for the general population just as there is for the realm of sports specific conditioning

An example of progressing a kettlebell squat may be as follows:

  1. Goblet squat (symmetrically loaded)
  2. Single rack squat (asymmetrically loaded)
  3. Double rack squat (symmetrically loaded but increase in weight)
  4. Single overhead squat
  5. Double overhead squat

You can choose a selection above in your system of regression and progression and safely and effectively program your client or group and cater for their level of skill and strength

Programming should be fun, challenging and dynamic

There is a myriad of functional tools to choose from when programming but when all is said and done the principle we call the DCF. This should be an essential integration into which ever programming method you choose.

DCF Principle

  • Dynamic: methods that have variety, variability and safe, efficient technique
  • Challenging: build up the skill and strength of your clients with progressive and varied methods
  • Fun: building on games and activities that invite laughter, team building and healthy competition
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