Mapping Functional Training to the Needs of Your Client

Personal Training

Mapping Functional Training to the Needs of Your Client

Every fitness professional brings their own understanding of “functional training” to their clients. Some focus more on fun and other focus on function. Is there a right way or a wrong way to do functional? The answer is…it depends who your client is.

Above all, we need to make sure that our clients are moving safely and competently. We need to ensure proper modifications and amplifications depending on their capabilities, and make adjustments to our programming plan based on what they bring to the gym (physically and emotionally) on any given day.  However, each client will have a training style preference. While some love play-based training, others are looking to push performance, while others want to start moving and feel better. Our goal is to match the movement to their motivation, training style preference and goals.

Queenax™ is a fully adaptable functional training environment. With endless training tools and motion pathways, the sky is the limit in exercise selection. To help trainers identify the best-fit movements for their diverse client base, we’ve developed a way to categorize functional movements. While our examples here may be specific to Queenax, this system can apply to any functional tool in the gym (whether a free weight, a medicine ball, kettlebell or something else).

Traditional Clients and Beginners

Are your clients new to functional fitness, or do they prefer more traditional fitness equipment?  Adding some functional movements to their workouts will help increase coordination, control, core activation, strength and confidence. When selecting movements, make sure they make sense with the training priorities and daily activities of the client. Always ask yourself: is this movement relevant to the goals, abilities and needs of my client? What is functional for an athlete may be very different than what a 50 year old office worker needs.

Once you’ve assessed the functional needs of your client, you’ll want to select a movement style that the client will connect to, enjoy, and see results from. For new or traditional clients, we recommend selecting Category 1 movements. These describe movements that are:

  • Bilateral/symmetrical
  • Have a fixed based of support (static training position)
  • Move in a single plane of motion


  • Provides the most stabilisation for those new to training
  • Provides the most support for lifting higher loads or manageing higher percentage of bodyweight
  • More traditional in nature; feels more familiar for new functional exercisers

For example, an air squat, an angled push-up, and inverted row, etc.

Athletes, Rehab/Prehab, Coordination

Every client has strength imbalances. Mom and Dad’s tend to have a dominant side when they pick up their children, we all tend to be right or left hand dominant, and old injuries cause us to favour one side or another. Maintaining proficient movement throughout life means identifying and addressing these imbalances so we can maintain coordination and confidence. On the flip side, many sports require single side dominance (swinging a bat, throwing a ball, etc.) and athletes need to train specifically to develop strength, speed and avoid injuries. For all of these individuals, we recommend selecting Category 2 movements. Category 2 characteristics include:

  • Asymmetrical (single side, alternating or reciprocating)
  • Have a fixed based of support
  • Move in a single plane of motion


  • Allows for more targeted strength training on either side of the body
  • Improves kinesthetic and postural awareness
  • Greater core muscular recruitment
  • Alternating and reciprocal movements emphasise rhythm and flow

For example, a single leg squat, a single arm push, a lunge (inherently asymmetrical).

These movements may be too challenging for those new to a functional training environment, because they require heightened core strength, coordination and balance. Additionally, people will typically be able to generate less force with these movements.

Everyday Movers, Athletes, Play-Based Clients

For those looking to train dynamic paths of motion, whether it is picking up a grocery bag or crossing over the monkey bars, we recommend Category 3 movements. Additionally, people who enjoy exploring movement and challenging their physical abilities will feel at home with these types of movements. Category 3 characteristics include:

  • Multi-joint or combination movements
  • Base of support can shift or move depending on motion path
  • Move in multiple planes
  • Play-based movements
  • High speed training or plyometric movements


  • Multi-joint and multi-planar movement patterns trained to different heights, directions and distances that better resemble daily activities and sport
  • Improves force production and management of dynamic forces
  • Elevates heart rate

For example, push-up asymmetric rollout, jump squats, multi-planar wood chop.

Category 3 movements require heightened neuromuscular control. Introduce these movements with lighter load (or easier training angles if using suspension) to ensure movement quality is achieved before adding quantity, speed, etc. Traditional clients may be less comfortable with these movements, where the focus will be on quality vs. quantity. When working with these clients, make sure you explain how the selected movement will benefit their training performance in other areas.


Once you identify your clients’ goals, training preferences and abilities, you can hone in on the right functional movement by selecting the movement type (squat, push, pull, etc.) and then the movement category that maps to their need. From there, find the right training tool for them to perform the exercise with. Using this system can help expand your training movement library and fight creative programming fatigue. Have fun!

Author Information

Erica Tillinghast
Erica Tillinghast's picture

Erica Tillinghast is the Global Education Manager for Precor. Over the last 15 years Erica has worked as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, performing artist, product developer, and master coach.  Erica specializes in fitness product education, business development, network building and curriculum design. She travels globally as an educator, coach, and industry presenter, and has authored and contributed to more than 20 continuing education courses adopted on six continents. She holds an MS in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, and is a certified Personal Trainer, 3D MAPS, and an NASM Group Personal Training Specialist.

Last seen: 4 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: 22/01/2016 - 17:15