by Bob Vandersluis
“We want to be simple, not just safe”
– Mike Boyle (Functional Strength Training Coach)
Unfortunately, the glitz and glam of some new crazy looking movements, catches the eye of people and lures them to train in that fashion. Simple is just as effective, and usually much safer in the long term. Just because a trainer uses all kinds of equipment and shiny objects to cast a spell on you, does not mean it is good for your health.
Over the past 10 years there has been a significant shift in training mentality. The term, or catch phrase, “functional training” has been used quite often, and sometimes is used irresponsibly. Trainers and businesses have caught on to this increased desire by athletes and clients to feel good, look good, and avoid injury. But is that all there truly is to actual functional training? Or is functional training just based on replicating real life movements, like carrying groceries, picking up children, or running the bases at slo-pitch? The short answer is….kinda
Functional training, like many other methods, was first established by physiotherapists. Then, this type of training was slowly adopted by trainers and coaches to reduce injury and keep athletes healthy. Training is a huge advantage to athletes and a great way to maintain health for the general population, but it doesn’t do any good when you are sitting on the sideline, or laid up on a couch due to injury.
The Mayo Clinic describes Functional Training as “exercises that train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability.For example, a squat is a functional exercise because it trains the muscles used when you rise up and down from a chair or pick up low objects.”
Front Squat to a Box
This is a fairly basic definition, and can mean many things to many different people. However, this sets the framework for more specific ideals and movements that are truly considered functional. The gurus suggest that Functional Training should be done standing, and using multi-joints. But, this isn’t always the case. Because function varies from joint to joint, the purpose of an exercise may change. Some joints need and thrive on stability, and others mobility. As an example, if we are talking about the lumbar spine, the muscles that stabilize that joint, including the transverse abdominis and the external obliques, can be used “functionally” when when in the prone position and not standing. Example Shown Below.
Low Plank w/ Trap Raise
Another area that requires a great deal of stability, that often is neglected because mobility is often a misguided solution, is the shoulder joint. More often than not, the scapular stabilizers require more stability in order for the rotators to function effectively. Without stability of these scapular muscles, and super strong rotator cuff muscles, (I’ll use Mike Boyle’s analogy), it would be like “firing a canon from a canoe”.
Ever wonder why you see a ton of shoulder injuries in some facilities where stability is sacrificed for moving heavy weight, really fast overhead, as many times as possible?
Here is a great exercise to reduce those injury risks.
Half-Turkish Get Up
Another point of emphasis in functional training is using a multi-planer approach. This refers to the three planes of motion (sagittal, transverse, frontal). Training in all threes planes of motion is essential for optimal performance, a balanced exercise regimen, and to reduce the risk of injury. However, when training in the transverse and frontal planes, especially, coaches and trainers often want to load up these movements the same as they would sagittal plane movements, like the squat, deadlift and horizontal press or pull. This concept of extreme external loads on movements like lateral plyometrics, lunges, raises, or med ball rotations in any flexed position, is dangerous and definitely not functional.
Below are a couple of examples of how we train multi-planar and athletic development.
Step Back Med Ball Shot Put
Lateral KB Lunge
A training program built around actions that do not occur in sport or in life simply does not make sense. The key is to design a training program that truly prepares athletes for their sports, and general population for life’s actions. This can be done only by using exercises that train the muscles the same way they are used in sport, in other words, functional training.