Home PT Motivational Foundations How TO Break Out of The Functional Personal Training Cult

How TO Break Out of The Functional Personal Training Cult

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views … cannot be acquired by vegetating in one’s little corner of the earth.”
– Mark Twain

Functional Personal Training… Should you join the cult?  Whether its the crossfit cult or you offering functional Personal Training…beware because it’s a functional myth which doesn’t really exist…

“Oh, John.  Don’t you just hate it when clients just don’t get it?” …said Gemma

“Umm…No.  What do you mean?” I replied

“you know, you spend a whole month teaching someone how to squat but they still stuff it up.  Their knees come out to the front, their backs are rounded and when they try going down, they buckle up”

“Well, if you tried teaching ‘em squats and they don’t get it… why don’t you try giving them something else? …I advised

Shrugging her shoulders and taking a deep breath she said.. “There’s nothing else to give”

I jumped out and said… “I can think of at least 20 exercises for the legs right now”

It’s like she knew what I was gonna say and immediately replied with… “yeah John…but are they functional…?”

Isn’t it funny how every fitness centre you walk into, most trainers are either teaching squats, Deadlifts… or a variation of them – maybe throwing in a shoulder press here or there for ‘variety’

Ever since this ‘functional’ craze came into play the last few years, it’s now a novelty amongst Personal Trainers.

“Isolations and machines are useless because they don’t mimic real life movements”

And they continue… “When you bend down to pick something up, it’s like doing a Deadlift.”

“Cool.  Explain the squat then.”

“well, that’s the same thing.”


“It’s because it uses the same movements.  You must keep your back straight, knees behind your toes…”

“O.K. explain why you need to load your back with 80-100kg then?”


“I thought so.”

I mean, if you’re gonna be picking stuff off the floor, then why train for it while balancing a 100kg bar behind your back… and since your hands are holding the bar… I mean, what use is there?

Yeah sure… if you need wider hips and pack mass on your legs…then squats and Deadlifts are ‘functional’

But, if you’re prescribing them because you’ve been brain washed suffering from the functional fever… then I’m glad you’re reading this post.

On August 30, 2009 I was part of the first group EVER in Melbourne to be certified in CrossFit™   (That’s the last time I’ll ever be sucked into a CULT) <– by the way…I’m one of the very few who escaped from their web of deceitful religious training philosophies and narrow-mindedness.

And I remember when one of the instructors was talking about how CrossFit™ was superior to all other forms of training – comparing it to military training, marathon running and of course – bodybuilding.  I remember how he mentioned how ridicules bodybuilders were going up on stage and how many ‘fitness elements’ are missing from their training and how ‘inferior’ it is.

Now to me, they’re words of a cult leader trying to brain wash us into believing CrossFit is the ‘enlightened’ way to train and all others are deluding.

He failed to mention that perhaps body building is an art… and people do it for their own personal reasons that are far deeper than just ‘fitness’.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo

The functional definition: The word ‘function’ is Latin derived meaning ‘to perform’ Therefore, ‘functional fitness’ is performing what’s required for your fitness goal.

For example, I had a client with a bad right knee.  She wanted to shape up and of course..fix her knee.  The pain of squatting was like grinding to hell and back.  Deadlifts were of no help either.

The answer: Leg extensions.  Yep.  Simple machine based leg extensions helped shape up her quads and lying leg curls helped her hammies.  Within a few months, her knee pain was 90% gone.  She now squats 110kg x 3.

For rehabbing her knee, leg extensions were functional.  Why…?  Because knee extensions was the ideal exercise to perform in fixing her knee.

If squats worked better, then squats would’ve been functional for her needs.

“Some years ago, the late Nobel prize-winning Dr. Albert Schweitzer was asked by a reporter, “Doctor, what’s wrong with men today?” The great doctor was silent a moment, and then he said, “Men simply don’t think!”
– Earl Nightingale, The Strangest Secret

A weight lifter wanting to learn how to maximise load overhead would learn the proper mechanics of how to properly ‘clean’ the weight with proper joint and body alignment – ready to ‘jerk’ or explode the weight overhead with minimal stress.  That’s FUNCTIONAL in learning the mechanics required to maximise his weight overhead – because that’s his fitness goal.

(By the way, performing a clean and jerk is not as easy as watching some dude on youtube doing it) read my article “The Youtube™ Certified Trainer” for more enlightened wisdom


If they want to grow bulk and shape up certain areas, then isolations ARE FUNCTIONAL .  To really isolate a particular muscle group, then some machines will also do. (note: I said SOME machines…  Most are useless. )

The discipline of those who like running.

A runners functional training treatment would involve proper running mechanics to reduce stress on joints, conserving energy, breathing patterns, and of course varying distances, intensities, different exercise loading and so on…

In other words, functional training is what’s needed SPECIFICALLY for your clients goals.  If there’s a movement or exercise that’ll benefit your clients needs, then… it’s functional.

The biggest misconception amongst trainers is they think by doing ‘functional’ exercises – (you know, the multi-joint moves) it somehow magically solves ALL challenges their clients have…

…treating it as a blanket – covering all their clients needs.  And that’s why Personal Trainers are NOT afraid in taking on new clients because they can easily persuade their way of ‘functional Personal Training’ will ‘benefit’ them.  Clients not knowing any better – they accept.

“Oh, you got a back problem, let’s jerk them with kettlebells…It’s what we’re meant to do.  That’s how the cavemen trained… I mean they wrestled with elephants, lions and gorillas… and look how strong they are…”

And if the client complains about pain, the ignorant trainer will simply prescribe a lighter Kettlebell.  Sound familiar?

“Using a simple tool to solve a complex problem does not result in a simple solution”
-Larry Wall

Or, wave a few ropes around and that’ll fix everything because it works ALL the muscles…

Overhead presses are a BIG one.  Nearly every trainer is teaching their clients some variation of that.  Whether it’s the standard press, a jerk of some sort or the CrossFit famous coined term… the ‘thruster’ which is a exercise complex consisting of a squat and overhead jerk rolled into one.

21 Kettlebell swings, 1 min swingin’ ropes and 21 thrusters – and repeat 3 times.

I’ve just outlined a typical workout structure you see PT’s using for at least 12 months.

And to jazz it up, simply youtube another ‘functional’ move and plug it into the above formula and you have workout structures lasting a lifetime.

I do admire CrossFit.  They commercialised a whole heap of workouts, routines and exercises many never knew about – adding a variety of options for people and trainers to use.

But, as soon as they saw their workouts and techniques being bastardised and stupidly performed… they made it harder for people to get officially certified.  And I don’t blame ‘em.

Forget about their biases for a second.  They do have a well thought out and detailed working out structure in their philosophies… but was only available to those certified (who spent 3 FULL days with them…) 

But in saying that here’s a quote from pg. 11 of their scriptures…

“The soundness and efficacy of functional movement is so profound that exercising without them is by comparison a colossal waste of time.  For this reason functional movement is one of the four dominant CrossFit themes.”

They tell you how to train.  What to eat – how much food, the kinds of foods and so on…  What exercises to use and NOT to use.  The use of carefully selected evidence to support their claims – strongly rejecting any contradictions and challengers of their beliefs and teachings.

They have their leader.  They have their teachers.  They have their scriptures.  They own their beliefs and they have a mass of devote followers.  They are a cult.

There are enough blind followers out there who’ll always hold them to their thrown and support anything they say – without question.

And when you throw those Google® certified PT’s into the mix… “functional exercises is the ONLY way to train and everything else is a waste of time” mentality is created… and the illusion becomes a solid reality.

And there’s so much pseudo logic out there that trainers and clients are afraid to or don’t have the right philosophical knowledge to question.

And when clients soon realise their trainer is not listening to them, ignoring their well-being, recycling the same old workouts but in different order, showing them new exercises because they’re cool, showing them advanced exercises the trainers can’t even do and sense their trainer is just copying and pasting workouts from Google (you’d be surprised how many members of the public are aware of this now)… they just leave.

So, why do so many ignorant trainers still buy into this crap…?

Here’s your answer…

First, at the early stages – your clients don’t know any better.  And it’s easy to shove a heap of multi-joint exercises in their face, make up a story about their ‘effectiveness,’ force them to complete them with no rest time and pray they get a ‘good sweat’ so they go home feeling “WOW, what a hard workout” happy.

And there’s so much ‘research’ out there so if clients ever question their trainer, there’s a million (logical) answers you can make up on the spot so clients don’t feel they’re wasting time with you. (this strategy only works short-term until clients soon catch on)

Most amateur trainers think like this:  if clients huff, puff and sweat… they made their clients happy… and live another day.

Because it’s bloody hard work studying your clients condition and applying the right exercises for them.  I mean, that’s what a full time Personal Trainer does.  They analyse and study their client’s condition, set out a weekly plan, prescribe the right exercises – measuring ideal intensity, repetitions, sets, time, progressions and so on…

But, it’s easier thinking of 3 or 4 multi-joint exercises on the spot and slapping them into a circuit and ‘pretending’ to teach a bunch of ‘functional’ moves they got from youtube that has nothing to do with their clients goals – but looks cool anyway.

So, is there still hope in being the ‘functional’ Personal Trainer…?

Of course there is.  It’s great for core conditioning and overall strength.  It adds variety – which clients love.  More calories are burned.  Workouts are more demanding on clients metabolism – equalling a greater training effect and more calories continue to burn during rest.

Lactic acid threshold levels rise.  It’s great for speedy increases in overall fitness and so on…

It’s great for breaking up the ‘routine’ and giving your clients variety – keeping the excitement up.  (giving your clients cool exercises like ropes, kettlebells, heavy bags and so on always puts a smile on their face 🙂 )

So for clients who just want a general training effect, love working out with different gizmos and who love variety, then ‘functionality’ is for them.

In other words… IT HAS ITS PURPOSE.  But should not be used for all purposes.

Some exercises are better than others for shaping.  Others are more useful for rehabbing.  Make your choice.  There are many out there.  Be wise.  Refuse to follow the herd.  Dare to be different.

Dedicated In Accelerating Your PT Success Every Step Of The Way…
John Toumpakke

P.S. Your comments are always welcome 🙂

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John Toumpakke for years has been helping Personal Trainers build marketing systems and business positioning strategies - turning regular PT's into gurus of their industry. His brand PT Power Club is known as the provider for advanced Niche marketing solutions for Personal Trainers and has developed new and unique systems helping trainers find and develop their own fitness niche. He coaches and trains a tightly, successful bound community of trainers teaching them how to stand out and dominate their competition through his powerful positioning strategies. PT Power Club’s goal is to teach and coach Personal Trainers across Australia on how to truly find their unique status within their community and eliminate all competition.


  1. Another great read and on a topic I have read about recently re functional exercises.

    I think many PTs give their clients exercises that they consider functional but not necessarily functional with regards to their clients goals. They get prescribed because they look cool and they’ve found these new exercises to do…..cool yes, functional? Maybe not so much.

    Like you said it takes a little extra time to work with your client, what works for them and what is going to achieve their goals…this will get results and be so much more focussed. There is a place for the “train ’em hard make them spew” sessions but only if it is related to what the client wants and if it is beneficial to them. I think PTs feel they need to be seen to be killing their clients otherwise they’re not getting their moneys worth…..this is pressure but on PTs by themselves and their colleagues.

    Sometimes you need to step back from the crowd and forget what is considered “standard practice” and do what’s in the best interests of your client…..leave the ego at the door!!!

    • I couldn’t of said it better Misty!

      Too many times on clients FIRST session, Personal Trainers start whooping out the advanced stuff like kettlebells, cleans, jerks and swings.
      I mean yeah… they’re a great move and all…but, most of the time, trainers haven’t got a clue about the exercise themselves… and to top it, they don’t understand progression.

      Exercises requiring co-ordination, agility and multiple nerve impulses usually take a while to master. And if done wrong is sure to cause injury (not to mention how silly clients look – not forgetting the trainer)

      I remember once when I was mastering the 1 arm dumbbell snatch. On that session I was using 47.5kg. And this muscle bound dude comes along and says “how do you do that?”

      I said… “don’t worry. It took me nearly a year to figure it out”

      He said… “I wanna have a shot. It can’t be that hard”

      I said, “If you wanna try, go with the 20kg for now.”

      He looks at me like I was nothing… “move along boy”

      He bends over, picks up the D/B and with absolute passion tried to ‘mimic’ what I was doing and with a growl lifted the damn thing… doing a shoulder shrug.

      I said… “you better stop”

      He refused. After 5 or 6 ‘shoulder shrugs’ he gave up.

      I then picked it up and swiftly snatched it above my head.

      When I put the weight down, I said… “simplicity is not born out of easiness. The easier something looks, usually, the more confusion and preparation went into it”

      Having an ego is a good thing. It shows you stand for something. But when it starts getting in the way, it’s time to shoot it down.
      Thanks for your in-depth comment Misty. You always see things beyond than the surface. 🙂

  2. What a great article, you gave a new view to functional training.
    Love all the information that you give, thanks for the great advice.

    • No Problem Michael. Functional Training is the new ‘thing’ now and it’s time Personal Trainers start applying it the right way and start caring and focusing on their clients and not the ‘exercises’

      As always, great comment Michael 🙂

  3. The functional myth. You hit it right on!

    Too many trainers are becoming cross fit ‘losers’ and aren’t actually training for their clients needs.

    Instead they are blanketing their clients with ‘functional’ mumbo jumbo without any real thought or proper specific instruction.

    Great post. Easily one of your best 🙂

    Thanks John!

    • I know what you’re saying Rob…

      Many trainers out there are applying ‘functional’ blankets over ALL their clients with the logical justification of “its how your body is meant to operate”

      Clients have specific goals. Functional fitness should be applied as a general principle to get them ready for the specifics. Not just ‘hope’ the functional bit covers all grounds. It doesn’t. It’s silly. And it makes trainers look even sillier… and we can’t have that. There’s too much of it already.

      Very insightful comment Rob. Thanks 🙂

  4. What an awesome read. I love browsing through your archives. Your content is epic John.

    It’s about time personal trainers wake up from the boring old ‘functional’ training justification for training anyone they come across.

    How sad the industry is prevailing through “i don’t know” syndrome. Poor clients who pay money for service they think is professional – but it’s just a youtube mash-up with no real science behind it.

    This post should be in all the fitness magazines to further educate the public and make PT’s start listening to their clients real needs.

    Thanks John 🙂

    • Thanks for your kind words Natalie!

      I’m glad you’re discovering epic content through my archives 🙂

      It’s funny how so many PT’s are getting away with a license to take their clients’ money and kill ‘em in the process all in the name of ‘functional’ training.

      It just goes to show how huge our industry really is and even poor trainers can get away with bad training principles. But the public is waking up.

      Maybe a magazine article will even the playing field 🙂

      Thanks for your comment Natalie.

  5. The functional dilemma finally cleared up!

    That’ll shut up all those cross-fitters and ‘functional’ trainers out there.

    WAKE UP!

    Your ‘system’ of training is losing its strength. People know you just go on youtube and google your workouts.

    Great article John:)

  6. Excellent Post!

    It makes sense how ‘functional’ is determined by your clients goals and not by what someone else says.

    It’s great how you’re standing up and and seeing things differently. Great article!

  7. Yes! Finally someone who understands the functional issue a little deeper than those shallow trainers out there.

    Great Post John 🙂

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