Explaining Fitness Buzzwords.
You see it everywhere. Functional this, activate that, such and such with your core. But, what do these terms really mean?
Nothing special really.
Truth be told, these are very general terms that don't represent as much as fitness marketers would have you believe.
Functional means that this exercise/program will perfectly fix all of your physical problems. Or, it would be, if the salespeople had their way. Really, it's just a term reflecting the fact that exercise is good for you. It makes you better at functioning. All exercise is functional. Everything from walking to kegels has a role in enhancing the function of something. Perhaps the reason this term is used so much is because Western Civilization still hasn't appreciated exercise as the essential tool that it is, so we have to remind people every chance we get that exercise has a real function.
Activate your glutes translates to use your muscles. Activate your abs translates to use your muscles. Activate just means consciously use something. Exercising is just activating muscles in a sequence to accomplish something. Why activate has permeated the fitness world as some powerful term is probably to remind people that there is doing the exercise, then there is doing the exercise. You can get more out of a given exercise by recruiting more motor units to perform it, moving more intent-fully, and training the movement rather than just getting the thing done. There are many ways to butcher an exercise, sometimes to the point you get very little out of them (see most people's Bird Dogs). Consciously involving more muscle to complete the action is a form of activating. To move you have to activate something, so telling someone to activate is really just a reminder to do the exercise properly.
What is your core? Abs? Obliques? Diaphragm/Multifidi/Transverse Abdominis/Levator Ani? Like functional and activate, its not an official term and only refers to something very generally. In most cases, the core is referring to spinal stabilizers, but may just be reminding people that there are muscles to use that aren't in the arms and legs. The core is always working in exercise (although it often could be working more), and sometimes is a critical element of the exercise (squats and deadlifts). Again, this term is used to remind people to use their body during exercise by reminding them of the fact that they are responsible for stabilizing the skeleton during force production.
There you have it. No need to get excited about the use of these terms and no harm using them to describe things in a general capacity. Go forth and move!
A final note. Beware the hypers and denouncers. These terms mean things in only a general sense. Don't let someone up-sell you on what their significance; hypers. Conversely, they are generally useful terms, be critical of those who throw shade at their use (and those that use them); denouncers.