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Functional Training

I was asked this question the other day:

"What is functional depends on the person and where they are at physically. But in general we all need to be able to do our daily activities without injuring ourselves. A lot of what we do is unilateral but so few people want to do unilateral training. People often train to look better but not to improve their life. What are some movements you think that people don't do in the gym but you think are critical..."

Then, I was giving a presentation last night to a high school volleyball team and the coach asked me if I "do functional training."

I figure since the questions are going to both have a similiar answer, I would tackle them tonight. So....here we go......

Functional training is a real buzz word in the fitness industry these days. What is it really though? Most people hear the words functional training and they think of some idiot on a woblle board or bosu ball doing dumbbell curls with their head tilted to 45 degrees. I don't know about anybody else, but I really can't see the functionality of that.....unless of course you are ever going to need to do a curling movement in the middle of an earthquake with an ear infection throwing off your equillibrium.

In reality, functional training is really as the name suggests. It is any type of training that enhances your performance be it in a game like situation or in real life. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to do anything that WASN'T functional! If it isn't going to make me better at moving about in my daily life, why would I ever waste my time doing it?

So, to answer the second question more specifically. Yes, I do functional training. I am going to work with the volleyball athletes to help enhance their performance and most importantly prevent injury. How do we do that? We train to be functional in the game of volleyball. Things like learning how to land, learning how to jump, strengthening their core, glute strength, ankle strength (ankle injuries are the #1 injury in volleyball), scapular stabilizer strength (shoulder is another area that tends to get injured in volleyball), etc. What ever we do in the gym is going to have some element that is functional to their specific sport.

For the first question. Yes, functional depends on the person and where they are physically. Sometimes, you may be working with a senior citizen and what is functional training for them? Learning to sit down to a bench or chair slowly without just "plopping down" and then learning how to stand up. Working to improve walking kinematics and gait. Etc. These would be functional to their needs. For someone that is just interested in looking better and not in improving their life, I still think that they can benefit from unilateral exercises like lunges, split squats, step ups, etc. Is their something about these exercises that wont make these individuals look better just because they are single leg (unilateral) movements? I don't think so. I think those are excellent exercises whether your goals are pure hypertrophy or athletic performance. I don't see how "fucntional" means not looking better? Even if they did want to perform unilateral exercises (I would advise against it as it would really limit your training options), there is still nothing more functional than good old squats and deadlifts. What is more functional than those exercises? We squat down and pick things up all day!

As far as critical movements that people in the gym don't perform enough of, I am a real meat and potatoes guy. I like push ups, pull ups, benching, overhead pressing, rowing, deadlifting (especially single leg RDL), squatting, etc. Nothing to fancy. I like unilateral work (which I think gets overlooked by a lot). Mainly though, people can do very well with the basics. The problem with people in the gym is that they don't know how to properly perform the basics so things just fly out the window and go to hell. That and they waste time working on things like 45min. of biceps training when they can be rowing or doing chin ups. Poor waste of time and poor execution of exercise technique is the biggest problem in my opinion.

hope that helps to clear up some of the confusion. I will try and get to a few more questions tomorrow.

have a great night!