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The Complete Guide to Functional Trainers

by Shelly LeSun November 16, 2022 8 min read

 Table of Contents

Complete Guide to Functional Trainers

    
 
       
   
  

What is Functional Training? 

Functional training is defined as exercises that mimic life's movements. Everday activities such as squatting, kicking, pushing, pulling, and more, can be considered examples of functional exercises. These movement-patterns employs more than one muscle group at a time that result in your body's muscle memory to function better as a whole. This can benefit your performance in sports and in everyday activities. Functional Training can be done with no equipment at all, or as simple as a pair of dumbbells. When adding a strength training component, a Functional Trainer can cover it all. 

A functional trainer is a piece of equipment very similar to cable machines in a commercial gym for pull downs, cable crossovers, and various other exercises. Functional Trainers uses resistance training that can work the most muscle groups in one machine in a safe and effective way. The cables and weight stacks ensure that the weight will not fall or cause harm to the user and there is no need for a spotter when performing heavier lifts. The cable systems these machines utilize, allow for exercises to be performed in every plane of movement. For these reasons professional athletes to fitness enthusiasts consider the functional trainer the quintessential strength and resistance training tool into their regular workout routines.

 

Functional Movements

 

 

Pros of a Functional Trainer

 

Hundreds of exercise options 

The exercise options are greatly expanded by using functional trainers. The amount of workouts you can perform with a functional trainer are in the hundreds. You can do pulldowns, pushdowns, rows, extensions, curls, different types of pressing, and fly variations, and a whole lot more. 

 

Small Footprint

Functional trainers requires a relatively small footprint. Compared to the many different single isolation machines needed for the same exercises, the functional trainer can cover it all.

 

Safety

Functional trainers can be used by everyone no matter your strength gaining skill level. Compared to the standard barbell, power rack, and free weights where lifting technique is necessary, a functional trainer is the safest strength machine due to the stability it offers. The more stable the exercise motion is, the safer the movement will be for the body, and thus the more muscle will be gained.

 

Convenience 

Benefits include the access to a complete full-body workout system anytime in the comfort  of your home or gym space within a sizable foot print.

 

Save Money 

Consider how much you spend on monthly gym membership fees, the cost of gas and the time to commute to and from the gym. The functional trainer will last you for years, if not a lifetime, that can easily result in a return on investment and time well spent. 

 

           

Cons of a Functional Trainer 

 

Price

The price of a functional trainer can range from $500- $5000+. Functional trainers can be plate loaded functional trainers which are less expensive or functional trainers that have the weight stacks included, which can increase their price. All functional trainer prices depends on the quality and bells and whistles included, such as attachments, a bench, and hybrid models (and all-in-one functional trainer with a smith machines added, etc.). Compare this cost to the purchase of a solid power rack, free weights, barbells, and a bench that may run you anywhere between $500 - $3000 of the same quality. 

Cutting through the price, safety may be a major concern when strength training by yourself at home or the gym. Afterall, cable machines including functional trainers, are a lot safer compared to free weights that sometimes require proper technique and a spotter to work out safely and effectively.

 

Maintenance

With a typical power rack, barbell, weight plates, and a bench, maintenance may not be required. On the other hand, functional trainers has a lot of moving parts, therefore, they may need maintenance over time. If the functional trainer is your main piece in your home gym, a little maintenance every now and then can go a long way if not last a lifetime of good use.

 

Learning curve

Functional trainers has endless exercise possibilities that adds to their appeal. For those that are new to training on a functional trainer, a learning curve to learn new exercises may be required. Single isolated machines are straightforward limiting you a single exercise movement. With functional trainers, there are hundreds of exercise movements that can be done to fully benefit a total body strength training workout.  

  

  

Choosing a Functional Trainer 

 

Weight Stacks

Most quality functional trainers use the included weight stacks that arrives with the unit. Functional trainers can have a single weight stack or dual weight stack system. Having dual weight stack system doubles the total resistance available and allows 2 people to workout at the same time, depending of the exercise each is doing. Some trainers also allows you to upgrade the weight stack for additional cost, normally in 50 lb set increments. If you’re looking for the best, and have the budget, a dual weight stack system is most common and typically considered best. 

 

Pulley Ratio and Resistance

A typical Functional Trainer has a pulley ratio of a 2:1 ratio. Which means pulling 100 pounds will give you 50 pounds of effective resistance. For most people this is enough weight and is well enough for most isolated strength training exercises.With a 1:1 ratio, you'll feel every pound rackedIt should be noted that some functional trainers use plate loaded weight plates instead of the selectorized weight stacks.

For the plate-loaded functional trainers the same rule applies with pulley ratios, a 45-pound plate may not provide 45 pounds of resistance. As with any piece of strength training equipment, make sure the resistance is neither too light and heavy enough that it is slighlty challenging during reps. Pulley ratios can complicate this concept, so ensure to test different weight stack settings to get the right feel. 

 

Attachments 

Dual weight stack functional trainers will have a middle crossmember that normally allows for attachment storage. The most basic functional trainers will come with a pair of short handles, and that is it... Others may come with accessories such as a  D-handles, Tricep Rope, or Ankle Cuff included. These attachments make the machine much more versatile than it already is, and if they’re not included with your trainer, a wide variety of attachments are often sold separately.  

 

Commonly used attachments for Functional Trainers include:

  • D handles- the common handles that are included with every trainer, most exercises can be performed with these.
  • Triceps rope- allows for a large variety of tricep extensions and bicep curls and abdominal crunches from a kneeling position.
  • Long bar- straight bar that attaches to both pulleys to perform like a barbell
  • Short bar- attaches to one side only, and a shorter version of the long bar. 
  • EZ curl bar- contoured bar often used for bicep curls
  • Sport bar- a small, straight bar used for performing sport specific moves (swinging a bat or golf club, etc)
  • Ankle cuff- attaches around your ankle so you can do hip strengthening exercises
  • Multi-purpose belt- often used for pull up assistance
  • Pull up bar- Most trainers come with apull up bar in the front, these come in all kinds of shapes.

Benches can be sold separately, unless part of a package. Attachments come in an endless variety for functional trainer. Be sure to check what attachments are included with your functional trainer to get an idea what exercises can be done and which attachments needs to be purchased separately.

 Functional Trainer Accessories

Size 

Functional Trainers are not small, but they can accomodate different sizes, corner models, inclusive packages that can fit your need and gym space. A benefit of having a functional trainer is how much strength training versatility you receive within a sizable footprint compared to a single isolation exercise machine.

Once you’ve targeted your ideal functional trainer, get the measuring tape out and determine whether the functional trainer will fit in your home gym space. You should also determine the cable travel distance (this is how far the cables can go to get maximum tension).

 

Design 

Functional Trainers are going to be one of the biggest pieces in your home gym, and why not have these stand-out pieces look sharp? Finishes such as smooth powder coating and chip resistance coatings will keep them looking polished longer. Rubber coated handles, with cables made from colored aluminum or nylon can add a fashionable element. But most improtantly the functional trainer design needs to be.... well, functional. Meaning, the design of the unit should not have parts that can get in the way of certain exercises, or difficult to use at anytime. 

 

Durability 

So you got your ideal function trainer, check. What is the frame made out of? Most functional trainer frames are made out of 11-guage steel ( the lower the guage of steel the better). Plastic components are fine, but if most of the frame and components are made of plastic, it may be better to consider alternative models for lasting quality. 

 

Versatility 

Functional trainers are one of the most versatile and safest full body strength equipments on the market today.  The resistance training gained from a functional trainer include strength, hypertrophy, speed and power, and endurance. From isolating smaller muscles to training full body explosive movements, these machines provide versatility that other strength equipment can’t. No other system allows for the sheer volume of exercises that can be performed on a functional trainer.

 

Warranty

Warranties on functional trainers are usually broken down into frame and parts. And the longer the warranty, the better.Good businesses that are proud of their products typically offer excellent warranties. The standard is a lifetime warranty for the frame with varying warranties for cables and attachments per brand. Typically, warranties only cover manufacturing flaws, and does not cover normal wear and tear. Always study the terms of the manufacturer's warranty to prevent issues and unpleasant surprises later on.

 

  

Functional Trainer Assembly-What to expect.

Functional Trainers are normally big machines, and with that comes some assembly. Some Functional Trainers arrive partially assembled (hallahujiah) and some not at all. Most Functional Trainers will be shipped on a crate and is recommended for two people to assist. 

The basic set up of the functional trainer is made up of the middle crossmember connecting the two stands that house the weight stacks. A pull-up bar normally connects at the top. 

Although this already sounds very simple, some Functional Trainers are not so simple to assemble. It may be tempting to "wing" the assembly without reading the manual first, however it is highly reccomended that you follow the instructions step by step. By not following the step by step instructions exactly how it reads from the manual, can easily set you back to de-assembling the unit to pick up any missed steps, starting over again to correct working order. And no one wants that. 

   

 

Who should get a Functional Trainer?

Most people reading this has a planned home gym space and may be considering to purchase a functional trainer. You may already have a squat rack, dumbbells or other foundational equipment in your set up, and now you may want to elevate your training by adding some resistance strength training, the Functional Trainer is your best bet. 

 

   

Is a Functional Trainer worth it?

A Functional Trainer is an excellent piece of equipment to expand your exercise selection. Compared to most machines for the amount of exercise that can be done within a small footprint, the functional trainer reigns superior. Conveniently, hundreds of different exercises can be done within one unit to train each muscle for a full body workout. Another benefit include the safety that comes with training on a functional trainer. No need for a spotter here. Functional trainers allows for smooth stability for the ultimate muscle gains safely compared to free weights. 

In today’s market, there is a large variety of functional trainer qualities, sizes, and packages with included accessories and a bench at varying price points to serve everyone. The definition of functional training is described as exercises that mimics life’s movments, the functional trainer strongly serves that purpose in building strength in a safest way possibel, perfect for anyone at any fitness level. 

     

 

Functional Trainer models

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