In the twenty-first century, functional training (FT) has become a strong worldwide fitness trend (Thompson, 2016), resulting in a growing interest to investigate its effects on many variables (e.g., morphological, physiological, and psychological) with different populations (children, adults, and elderly). Confirming this view, the current position stand of the American College of Sports Medicine on the prescription of physical exercise for healthy individuals includes FT (also termed: “neuromotor training”) as one of the modalities to be considered (Garber et al., 2011).
Although the tools (exercises, equipment, and accessories) used in current functional training have long been employed in rehabilitation and conditioning programs, the systematic use of these tools, as well as scientific interest in this topic, are recent phenomena (Anderson and Behm, 2004; Rhea et al., 2008; Gordon and Bloxham, 2016). However, since it is still a subject of recent scientific interest, there are many methodological conflicts and divergences in training prescriptions (La Scala Teixeira et al., 2016). For example, some studies have associated FT with the use of instability and applied unstable bases in many exercises (Pacheco et al., 2013), while other studies have used instability in a small part of exercises (Weiss et al., 2010; Distefano et al., 2013) or have not used any unstable bases (Lohne-Seiler et al., 2013).
In view of these considerations, detailing the actual concepts and characteristics of FT forms the basis for maximizing the benefits of both research and day-to-day interventions in terms of performance or rehabilitation (Behm et al., 2010). However, the methodological divergence observed with practical interventions in several fitness facilities, as well as in scientific studies, points to a reality in which the real concept of FT and all that it encompasses are still not well-elucidated (Fowles, 2010).
A major factor that has contributed to this problem in the general population are probably the marketing campaigns promoting FT, which explore random several medias in order to attract consumers (Da Silva-Grigoletto et al., 2014). For example, publications of functional exercises can contain at the same time exercises of low (e.g., planks and squats) and high complexity (e.g.,Olympic weightlifting and calisthenics/gymnastics exercises). Similarly, marketing explores simple and low-cost accessories (e.g., balls, balance disk, elastic bands, medicine balls), as well as expensive equipment (e.g., multi-station machines, pneumatic resistance equipment). Although contributing to the consolidation of the term “functional training” in the fitness scenario, this wide variation in publications impairs consolidation of its true concepts and characteristics (La Scala Teixeira and Evangelista, 2014).
Taken together, these facts highlight the need for researchers to establish a consensus about the concept of FT so that studies can be conducted according to a methodological pattern using pre-established criteria and, finally, that coaches and practitioners can make practical applications based on sound theoretical and scientific evidence. Therefore, in this paper we defined the concepts and characteristics of FT based on the analysis of current and relevant specific technical and scientific literature.