Begin With The Correct
Functional Training Philosophy

Functional Training Philosophy Overview

Functional training is slowly making its way into the strength training mainstream and the latest craze to hit the strength and conditioning world. It is still relatively new to most exercise enthusiasts. To be honest, functional training is not a new concept; it has been around since the beginning of time. The main distinction between functional training and traditional bodybuilding training is that functional training more closely mimics the movements one is trying to improve (running, hiking, golf swing, etc...).

Fundamentally, any training effort being applied should improve any attempt at better performance capacities. All training that improves any level of performance is by definition FUNCTIONAL. But, functional training requires a more refined approach than simply lifting heavy weights to complete exhaustion or running on a treadmill 3 times a week. Therefore, it is time to develop the right mindset and know what works and what doesn't.

"What are we really asking our body to do?"

We are asking it to "Move Better" and to be efficient in its many capabilities. Think of the human body as a kinetic chain, a unit, where movement is more than just individual muscles contracting and relaxing. Each link in the kinetic chain has a specific role to play and each link is part of an integrated whole resulting in efficient flowing movement! Training functionally will address efficient/inefficient movements, body positions, and all other abilities that are deemed essential for success.

It is really about how the body moves in sport and everyday life activities. This is the needed foundation for developing your functional training philosophy approach.

So listen very carefully and focus on the important questions that need to be asked.

"What is Function?"

* A duty or purpose

"What is Functional?"

* Performing a duty or purpose for which a person or thing is intended for

Having a functional approach has become popular because of its main premise, training movements not muscles. However, functional training is not a new concept.

Any effective functional training philosophy needs to be based on the concept of "specificity". The concept of "specificity" dictates that you get what you train for: if you train complex movements, you get better at moving; if you train one muscle, that muscle gets bigger.

In simple terms, if one wants to get better and stronger at an activity, one would instinctively rehearse the activity, or at least parts of that activity. It is safe to say, the best training for a particular activity, is that activity itself. Therefore, the incorporation of a functional training philosophy into any strength training efforts can yield superior results to traditional bodybuilding or machine-based training.

Approaching strength development from a movement and skill perspective rather than the perspective of isolated muscle hypertrophy develops what I call neuromuscular efficiency—the body’s ability to move efficiently as an integrated unit (higher levels of coordination).

Since a functional training philosophy focuses on training movements, the repetitions that you need to do should positively influence the gross motor patterns of the needed movements involved. To optimally enhance gross movement motor patterns, two major things are required: Practice of the movement and progressive overload during the movement.

This enhanced functioning focuses on strengthening the needed movements thus reducing the chance for injuries and therefore, improving performance.

Fundamentally, your body recognizes 4 major movement characteristics:

1 STANDING and LOCOMOTION: Holds and linearly displaces the body's center of mass over double or single leg bases of support - (Ex. Activities Like Running, Walking, Side-To-Side Motion, Lunging)

2 PUSHING and PULLING: Characterized by pulling an object toward the body or pushing an object away from the body - (Ex. Medicine Ball Pushes, Resistance Band Rows, Opening or Closing A Door)

3 LEVEL CHANGES IN THE BODY'S CENTER OF MASS: Characterized by movents of the trunk, the lower body or a combination of the trunk / lower body at the same time - (Ex. Picking Up A Child, Lunging, Up or Down stairs)

4 ROTATION: Characterized by changes in direction and rotational torgue production - (Ex. Swing of a baseball bat or chopping wood)

Once we understand that a functional training philosophy targets the movement characteristics of the human body, looking at improving the "movement capabilities" of the body becomes rather simple. The bottom line is that you must focus on conditioning your body the way it will be used in athletic competition and or your everyday life activities. By embracing a functional training philosophy we can learn from your body's many capabilities, I think everyone involved can confidently understand why we should follow a functional training philosophy. There really is no other way!

It is now time to ask more specific questions so we can better understand what is really involved in developing a functional training philosophy.

"What is Functional Training?"

* Training that optimally enhances the body's kinetic duty or purpose and provides significant transfer to target activity

* Training that familiarizes the body with its operational environment. Using gravity, momentum, ground reaction forces and 360 degree movement freedom to make movement more efficient

"What Makes A Movement Functional?"

* Its relationship to the targeted activity

"What Does Functional Training Do?"

* Increases inter and intramuscular coordination

* Reduces inhibitory responses

* Increases neuromuscular efficiency of movement (enhanced coordination)

* Allows you to use more of the strength you already have

* Increases joint integrity and stability

* Transfers greater forces across joints

Implementing A Functional Training Philosophy

Lets look at some important considerations we need to take into account when we are implementing functional training philosophy. You will see that all of these points deal in one way or another with the kinetic chain principle, gravity, ground reaction forces or momentum. Functional training must:

1) Be specific, or mimic, the target activity. This includes all of the appropriate joints, as well as the speed and amplitude of movements. The principle of specificity dictates that you "train like you play/live".

2) Not be restricted or supported by external means. No machines or artificially stabilized positions. If you are going to isolate and support for the sake of improving isolated strength ("your means"), integrate it ASAP and regularly into its functional/integrated role ("your end").

3) Eventually integrate a significant amount of controlled chaos into the training. Sports, and life in general, are chaotic and unstable in nature. The more chaos an individual rehearses, the better they will react under unrehearsed-play conditions.

4) Deal with multi-joint, multi-planar movements. In real life, especially sports, movements do not occur along a single joint or a single plane of motion. Therefore, the kinetic chain must engage all three planes simultaneously.

5) Approach loading and development from the inside out. Load the system internally (i.e. bodyweight) first, then add external resistance. Develop the core of the body first, then develop the extremities...

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