What Is The Goal Of Functional Training? Does It Work?

You're not just another gym-goer clocking in your daily sets, reps, and rests. You hunt the backcountry. You live your life on a different level. Your training needs to be as tough, relentless, and diverse as the terrain you conquer. You're not just lifting weights - you're lifting your future trophies off the mountain.

The goal of functional training is to enhance real-world physical performance. It’s focused on holistic fitness rather than isolated muscle strength. Emphasizing core stability, mobility, and flexibility, muscles work in unison while mimicking common movements one performs in the field. 

Think a few sets of leg presses each week are enough? Sure, they might help you lift your ruck, but they won’t power you and your pack through every rugged mile. That’s a distinction reserved for functional exercises.

By the end of this article you’ll see why functional fitness is a transformative force and how it can turn you into the apex predator in any environment.

Functional Training vs. Traditional Strength Training

Functional training is a simple formula: compound exercises engage multiple muscle groups while simulating movements you’ll not just use but also rely on. While traditional strength training might give you the biceps to flex in a mirror, functional training sends you into the field with raw, full-body toughness. 

The use of ‘field’ in this instance isn’t confined to the open wilderness either. Functional training can be modified to enhance anyone’s mental and physical readiness for any interest or profession, from athletes to military, fire, and law enforcement.

If we’re talking about western hunting, leaving your entire prep to conventional training is like showing up without your gear. 

Sure, you’ll build muscle mass or maybe condition your heart and lungs for the job, but what about the agility to crawl and climb over deadfall, the balance to navigate uneven terrain, or the coordination to carve a path to your destination?

Functional training fills these gaps. 

The premise isn’t just about lifting more and building more muscles. It’s about lifting smarter, moving better, and enduring longer. This leaves you with a resilient, adaptable body that can withstand unthinkable conditions.

It’s the difference maker when you’re hauling your gear up a hill and doing so with the mental focus to stay in the hunt the entire time.

That’s why functional training is both a matter of fitness and hunting mastery, helping you build skills that translate to the wild. The same can’t be said for traditional strength training.

Let’s explore 3 major differences between the two forms of training:

1. Movement vs. Muscles

If bodybuilding is your reason for training, then isolating each muscle group through traditional training is a great choice. But if you’re training for a task that goes beyond posing on a stage, a task that hinges on moving, your training should shift from isolated muscles to integrated movements.

Take the deficit reverse lunge, for instance. It’s a functional exercise, and built into the routine of a backcountry hunter it’s a rehearsal for deadfall, bushwhacking, and all other obstacles faced. 

The deficit reverse lunge requires greater strength through a large range of motion and adds value to many movements while hunting. Here’s what we mean:

  • Balance Boost: This movement tests your sense of balance, one leg at a time. Over time, your strength and stability (on one leg) will improve, proving their worth when hiking and one foot is all that connects your body to the earth.
  • Injury Prevention: Most injuries occur at the end of a person’s range of motion. This exercise tests your joints in this injury-prone position, helping you manage uneven terrains.
  • Posture: As you’d expect, the deficit reverse lunge targets a large system of lower body muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves), some upper body (depending on how you hold the weight), as well as your core muscles. Core muscle strength (stomach, pelvis, lower back, and hips) determines the level of control a person has on their upright posture - that’s valuable strength when going uphill.
  • This is just the tip of the deficit reverse lunge iceberg, but hopefully it’s enough to show how a functional exercise is a comprehensive movement with obvious benefits for real applications.

    With that in mind, it’s easier to see how exercises like seated leg extensions lack the same value exchange. Isolating muscles won't take you where you’re going, you need full-body movements for optimal training.

    2. Specificity 

    Functional training is dialed into your needs and goals while traditional methods offer a one-size-fits-all approach to your muscle groups. Better yet, it’s like the fit of a custom suit compared to a hand me down from your brother.

    Think about weighted pack training for a second - lunge, row, squat, or any movement - it’s inherently close to the experience of a backcountry hunter. 

    Functional training isn’t about building muscle, it’s about building the right kind of muscle. This is the defining difference between functional and conventional training methods.

    Whether you’re military or your purpose for training just calls for hoisting a heavy pack over your shoulders, you can see and feel this functional pack training for yourself with the MTNTOUGH Military Pack Test

    Just make sure you give your back and legs proper notice before you take the challenge.

    3. Dynamic vs. Static 

    In a controlled gym environment, traditional training often leans on static exercises like bicep curls or leg extensions. Anyone training for better performance outside the gym doors can bet their environments will be far from controlled. The wilderness is synonymous with lacking control. 

    Functional training embraces the chaos, incorporating dynamic movements that demand coordination, balance, and stability to maintain proper form.

    It throws you into shifting, unstable scenarios. Whether it's stability balls, resistance bands, or your own body weight, the goal is to engage those often-neglected stabilizing muscles.

    For example, speed skiers force you to rapidly shift your body weight and direction, a helpful motion when reacting to sudden, unpredictable changes in your surroundings.

    Objectives of Functional Training for the Backcountry

    You’re now well-versed in the major differences between traditional strength training and functional training. But let's get to the heart of the matter: how does functional training specifically gear you up for the rigors of backcountry hunting? 

    Here are the 5 game-changing ways functional training turns you into a backcountry powerhouse:

    1. Improved Endurance: Functional training is your ticket to limitless endurance. More than cardiovascular health, it stems from a spike in muscular stamina - the game-changing variable for tackling those long, grueling hikes without gasping for breath.
    2. Enhanced Strength and Stability: Forget isolated muscle gains. Functional training zeroes in on the muscle groups and movement patterns you'll actually need out there. Whether you're hauling a heavy pack or shouldering your rifle for that perfect shot, functional training builds the kind of strength that counts.
    3. Core Strength and Balance: A strong core and heightened balance are criminally underrated for their backcountry importance. Each considered a ‘nice-to-have’ by most in the hunting community, but the truth is both should really be considered a ‘you can’t afford to not have.’ Functional training puts core engagement and balance front and center, building the stability required on inclines and uneven ground. 
    4. Movement Adaptability: One moment you're climbing, the next you're squatting, crawling, or lifting. Functional training fine-tunes your body for the entire spectrum of movement, keeping you one step ahead of the game.
    5. Injury Prevention: Slips, trips, and falls are always teetering between minor setbacks and total disasters. Functional training is your safeguard, focusing on strengthening and stabilizing muscles, enhancing joint mobility, and boosting proprioception to minimize the risk of injuries.

    MTNTOUGH's Approach to Functional Training

    MTNTOUGH’s Backcountry Hunter programs are all designed with adaptability in mind. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner, intermediate, or elite, you’ll reap the benefits of the training optimized to your fitness level.

    All the factors of holistic hunting fitness will be challenged and fortified: your strength, endurance, toughness, flexibility, mobility, and oxygen adaptation. For western hunting, they’re designed to train you to conquer whatever comes your way. 

    Including strength, flexibility, and mobility into one workout prepares you and makes your risk of injury less. It also reduces the time you need to spend in the gym. 

    You’ll need brute strength to get through unscathed, which you’ll most certainly attain in any MTNTOUGH program. Flexibility and mobility are equally responsible for your success. That’s why our programs take a balanced approach. Just as strength and endurance are essential to your backcountry hunt, flexibility and mobility are necessities to ensure your success. MTNTOUGH programs use all aspects of functional training. We ensure your body and mind are ready for all that mother nature will throw at you. 

    Our program is adjustable to every skill level, no matter where in your hunting journey you are. If your work in the gym isn’t delivering, check out our programs to start getting the results you want.

    Beyond the Gym: Training for the Wild

    As a backcountry hunter, the goal is to get that tag. Many lose sight of the purpose behind their training, but it’s almost impossible when you’re engaged in a training program that is designed specifically to achieve that goal. 

    Shift your focus from chasing muscle to enhancing your ability to navigate mountains, carry heavy loads, and adapt to challenges with clear focus.

    Functional training's emphasis on real-life movements, adaptability, and full-body engagement. It offers a comprehensive fitness solution. It bridges the gap between isolated muscle building and the dynamic demands of backcountry hunting. 

    Remember, the wilderness demands more than sheer strength. It requires adaptability, coordination, and mental clarity. All of which you get with MTNTOUGH programs. Start your functional training with a free 14-day trial to every MTNTOUGH program.

    As you embark on your backcountry hunting training, keep your specific goals in mind. Let functional training be your partner in achieving those goals. Ensure you're prepared for every twist and turn the wilderness has to offer. Your success as a backcountry hunter awaits - functional training is the key to unlocking it.