The sole goal of functional training is to enable the practitioner to function more effeciently. Like any workout regime, it requires planning and progression.
There are a few factors to make functional training functional.
1) Muscle balance: If you have a tight muscle for example, a tight hamstring, doing single legged deadlifts though a “functional movement” is not going to improve function. In a similar case, if you have tight pecs (what is known as upper cross syndrome) pushups are going to decrease rather than increase function. A proper assessment has to be done to find out what exercises have to be prescribed (and in what ratio), only then can you improve function. Having muscle imbalance is like a guitar with some strings too taut, some strings too loose..It’s just gonna play bad music.
2) Stability: Now just because you manage to stand on a bosu ball doesn’t mean that you are stable. Or just because you can kneel on a swissball doesn’t mean that either. Sure you are stable while you are static, but look at the word – Static. How functional is that? Let’s not forget that the body can move in 4 directions, back and forth, left and right, it can rotate and it can change levels. “Being stable” means being able to move in these directions while being stable.Either that, or we call it being mobile. Also, even when static, the body MUST know which muscles have to be fired up. You don’t just wing it. You MAKE it happen! You make it happen by firing up the right muscles, at the right time ( We call this the kinetic chain )
Now, I’m not saying that movement has to always be abnormally strict, I am saying that the proper progression has to be followed to let functional training increase function. The body can move in countless ways. YES. But it has to be trained to move in countless ways. Not taking the proper steps and progression is as good as throwing a child into the deep end of a pool and saying “we humans were born to swim.”
3) Strength: Now this is a VERY important part of Functional Training and is often dismissed. Without Strength, the body can NEVER generate power. Strength will promote speed. Power = Mass x Acceleration. So if your functional training program sees you picking up 5 lb mediballs from the floor for the past 6 months. Time to think again if any of this exercise is benefiting you at all.
Strength training is ALSO used to improve flexibility! YEP! doing a load of stretches will not necessarily improve flexibility. Ask yourself, why are you tight in the first place? Why are you tight in that specific place? Why? Why? Why? It’s okay to ask yourselves questions like you were a 4 year old. Static stretching (usually done after a workout) relieves a tight muscle. Dynamic stretching (usually done before a workout) promotes range of motion of a joint and when done right, fires up the muscles required to activate for that particular movement you are about to do. Now there are many benefits of stretching, i won’t go into that right now. Will be a very long story. But stretching like this alone does not solve the reason on why a muscle is tight in the first place. Simply put – A muscle gets tight, too tight when it is overused while compensating for a weaker or unstable muscle group.
Don’t understand me?
Ok, Imagine a room, with a floor covered in ice. Now walk across it. What happens?
A) Legs tense up (compensation for lack of stability)
B) you take shorter steps (shorter range of motion)
4) Power: Now you might be thinking, I’m in the gym to lose weight, I’m not an athlete. Why is power training important? Is it applicable?
Ok, let us take a power workout that HOUSEWIVES love. STEP AEROBICS. Now without power, do you think, you can leap up and down, across and over? Again, when we talk about power movements, we are talking about moving FAST with good alignment. Now, if someone didn’t have proper rotary and lateral skills in the hips and torso, do you think they can change direction while moving up and down a step without compensating with their knees? And if they didn’t TRAIN to have the right firing patterns in their body’s kinetic chain, can you imagine the disastrous effects of overcompensation? Think about it.
So to sum it up - Functional training is NOT doing balance acts, it’s about moving right. It’s about tolerating positions WHEN your body knows how to fire up the right muscle groups. Like any workout, it requires progression.
Exercise = moving the body.
Training = exercising and progressing.
Don’t train blindly.
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