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Functional Training vs Cross Training for Peak Fitness

Functional training emphasizes real-life fitness with compound movements, but cross-training diversifies your existing regimen by integrating varied exercises. Neither is universally superior as the best choice depends on individual fitness goals.

4 min readAugust 3rd, 2023

Both functional and cross-training are excellent tools that can improve your fitness, prevent injuries, and help you stay active throughout your lifetime. But they differ in their exercises, equipment, and driving philosophy. So let’s dive in to understand the differences and who each training style is best for.

Functional Training vs. Cross Training vs. Strength Training

With the growing number of training styles and exercise programs available, it can be hard to know which is the right choice for you.

Of course, you know you need cardiovascular exercise and strength training to be healthy, but how you strike that balance leaves room for your preferences.

Let's examine these three different exercise styles and discuss their benefits and uses.

Functional Training

Functional training focuses on exercises that use multiple muscles—called compound movements—to prepare you for the challenges of everyday life.

Functional training focuses on training under ‘real-life’ conditions, so you’ll avoid machines, opt for free weights, and use challenging equipment like sandbags, stability balls, boxes, and medicine balls.

Cross Training

Cross-training is the incorporation of exercises that you don't typically focus on. For example, a marathon runner would cross-train in strength training, and a powerlifter may cross-train with yoga or hiking.

Regardless of your primary fitness goal,  ensure a well-rounded program that addresses all aspects of health, including strength, stamina, power, flexibility, and stability.

Strength Training

Strength or resistance training focuses on increasing muscular strength, size, or endurance. This vast category includes free weights, machines, bands, body weight exercises, bodybuilding, powerlifting, and Olympic weight lifting.

Workout TypeKey FeaturesBest For
Functional TrainingMimics real-life movementsFocuses on injury preventionAvoids machinesThose looking for injury prevention, short workouts, want increases in strength and stability
Cross TrainingCreates well-rounded fitnessSupplements your main workout focusAthletes, anyone who trains exclusively one way, or wants to spice up their training
StrengthTrainingIncreases muscular strength, size, or enduranceEveryone

What is Functional Fitness?

Though you may not realize it, you perform variations of squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses daily.

Therefore, these movement patterns are natural and should be centered in our training to prevent injury and strengthen our muscles through different ranges of motion. This is where functional training excels.

Instead of using machines that provide stabilization, functional training uses free weights to challenge our stabilizer muscles and the primary movers throughout the movement.

It also emphasizes unequally loaded movements, such as bending down and twisting to pick up a weight to the side. For example, lifting an equally loaded barbell is more challenging for our core.

Anyone can benefit from functional training, but it is especially appealing for those who have physically demanding jobs that place them at higher risk for injury. Many emergency responders, nurses, laborers, and truck drivers gravitate toward these workouts because they build strength through a greater range of motion and help prevent job-related injuries.

The benefits of functional training include the following:

  • Building strength through a greater range of motion
  • Injury prevention
  • Improved resilience
  • Increased stability and coordination

What is Cross Training?

Cross-training is a valuable training strategy that athletes use to achieve total fitness, prevent injury, and bust training boredom. But anyone can benefit from cross-training.

Cross-training has many benefits because it helps you holistically develop different aspects of your fitness. Whether it is strengthening, rehabilitating an injury, increasing your flexibility, or improving your posture, cross-training is a helpful training tool.

If you do the same workouts repeatedly, try incorporating exercises that challenge your body differently. For example, if you typically do cardio workouts like running, cycling, or rowing, include strength training and stability work once weekly.

Conversely, add some cardio and flexibility training if you strength train for most of your workouts.

The benefits of cross-training include the following:

  • Injury prevention
  • Postural correction
  • Increased flexibility and coordination
  • Improved posture
  • Beat training boredom

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Is Functional Training or Cross Training Best for Me?

When choosing between functional and cross-training, ask yourself:

What is my primary fitness goal?

What kind of exercise do I enjoy most?

Do I have any injuries, postural issues, or weaknesses I want to address?

Both functional and cross-training done right provide well-rounded fitness programs that keep you fit and healthy long-term. They merely differ in the way they achieve it.

Functional fitness takes a utilitarian approach and emphasizes compound, practical movements that mimic our daily physical demands. These programs focus on squatting, deadlifting, pushing, and pulling throughout a full range of motion.

Cross-training will look different for everyone based on your primary training focus. However, the common thread is incorporating exercises that train aspects of your fitness that are lacking, balancing out your fitness and your posture.

The Bottom Line

Both functional and cross-training are effective workout regimens that will keep you fit, prevent injuries, and increase your fitness.

Functional training uses multi-joint exercises that target multiple muscles. Conversely, cross-training supplements your current training with different exercises that your program lacks.

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