Functional Training – Insight into the Truth
Functional is defined as “something able to fulfill its purpose or function” [Wikipedia]. Functional Training is defined as “a classification of exercise which involves training the body for the activities performed in daily life” [Wikipedia]. Taking it one step further, “Functional Training is one’s ability to perform a training regimen and/or exercise that recruit’s specific musculature being utilized in real life / athletic situations. Often times these movements have similar movement patterns to that of its real life counterpart; however, exercises do not have to mimic the athletic / real life situation precisely to be considered functional training”(www.functionalmusclefitness.com).
Functional Training has become a trend and an overly used classification within the fitness industry. The fitness and athletic performance industry has begun to witness a boost in the supply of functional training due to its ever-increasing demand. However, anything that has too much demand rapidly can become tarnished and water downed. Functional Training is no different. The boost in demand for a more original and creative style of training has resulted in a loss of what Functional Training truly is. The biggest let down has come from undereducated personal trainers who are training their clients inefficiently and often causing injury.
Functional Training incorporates all aspects of strength and conditioning / fitness training. Having been involved with Strength and Conditioning departments of NFL teams, Division I Universities, elite high schools, health clubs and my own athletic performance centers, the question has become what style of training do you do? Are you a functional guy? Are you an Olympic lifter? Are you a power lifter? Are you a strength guy? Are you a speed guy? Do you do cross fit? The answer lies in each question because they are not separate but rather one in the same.
Functional Training must utilize power lifting, strength lifting, core movements, speed training, agility training, cross education (one side) training, flexibility enhancement (dynamic and static), range of motion work, cross energy training, and nutrition. Each style of training emphasizes a different component in athletics and fitness, which results in a superior athlete with increased performance. It is important to note that when I refer to athletes I am referring to persons in traditional athletics and persons who do fitness, such as cross training and/or boot camps.
Trainers and athletes alike must analyze the sport(s) and look at the movement patterns performed to create an efficient program. It is not about re-creating those movements exactly but rather analyzing how the muscles are activated and the potential injury areas that could succumb. The mistake most trainers, coaches and athletes make is that they attempt to re-create the movements exactly during training. They do this with use of bands, medicine balls, suspension trainers, and other new fitness equipment. Emphasis is placed upon the biomechanically specific movements rather than the training variables. This leads to variables such as efficiency, energy systems, load, technique, exercise order, repetitions, exercise order, tension time, sets, rest time, recovery and overall volume being neglected. These untraditional biomechanically specific movements are what allow facilities to classify themselves as “functional training.”
The first focus of functional training should be placed upon creating a dynamically flexible athlete who is symmetrical. Our job as coaches and/or trainers must be to develop a better athlete as a whole. If our focus is to make an athlete one sport specific then the results for that athlete will be limited and will eventually lead to injury. For example, a baseball player or golfer swings one way, which creates muscular imbalance. If we were to work on strengthening that one side then that athlete would eventually suffer from an injury due to vast asymmetry. Instead, the focus should be placed on increasing strength, balance, flexibility and symmetry within to prevent injury and increase athletic performance. There is not a “one size fits all” when it comes to exercise selection. One exercise can be utilized for numerous sports and numerous athletes. Squats, cleans, box jumps, Turkish get ups, deadlifts, jump rope, bridges, agility ladder drills, heavy ropes, seal sit ups and so many more exercises can crossover between numerous sports (www.functionalmusclefitness.com).
The crossover between exercises is not what makes training sport specific or functional; it is the variables that make the difference. Variables such as rest time, sets, reps, the exercise order, speed of movement, range of motion, and so on. Training a professional football player is not the same as training a professional soccer player, although they share similar characteristics. Similarly, training an advanced fitness enthusiast is not the same as training a young high school athlete. However, each participant can perform Olympics lifts, box jumps, bench press, and sprints if developed correctly. The job of the trainer and/or strength coach is to write programs that take into account all the variables, not just exercises. This is true Functional Training.
“Personal trainers write workouts, strength coaches write programs.”
Copyright Functional Muscle Fitness LLC © 2012