What is “functional training”?

29 04 2009

I’d like to delve further into the description of functional training before I get further into helping you design a workout.  I am a firm believer that you should always look to the most successful people to find the right way to do things, and Mike Boyle is top-notch when it comes to functional training for sports (his book is coincidentally named Functional Training For Sports).

He describes functional training as purposeful training, but in a general sports sense.  By that he means that most sports share similar movement characteristics like sprinting, jumping and lateral movement, and enhancing these movement patterns will most likely improve your ability in the sports that require that type of movement.

Ask yourself a couple of questions and you will see where conventional weight room training and functional training deviate.  For example:

  • How many sports are played sitting down?  While rowing is the exception (or sitting on the bench if your training is bad), most sports are not played sitting down, so exercises performed in the seated position are not functional.
  • How many sports are played in a controlled environment, where stability is provided?  None.  Thus, it would be obvious to point out that exercises like machine-based hamstring curls and leg extensions are useless in sports.
  • How many sports use only one or two muscles at a time, with joints acting in isolation?  Zero.  Movements of the field of play require the use of muscles acting in conjunction with one another, so movements like the isolated biceps curl aren’t functional in sports performance training.

One goal of a strength and conditioning professional is to integrate muscle groups into movement patterns, so when designing your own programs you must understand that you’re trying train the whole machine to move together, not just training the parts to look better.  Compound movements that use several different muscle groups that work together are much higher in functionality and are therefore more useful in sports training.  You’re NOT trying to get a good pump in the biceps, bro.

Hopefully this has made you more aware of what’s going on in your own programs.  A good program is designed around movement patterns like pushing and pulling for both the upper and lower body (pushing examples would be the bench or squatting, and pulling examples would be deadlifts and bent over rows).  Eventually the goal is to progress to balance-oriented movements (on unstable surfaces) that greater enhance the strength of movement patterns.  The other goal of functional training is that the program is balanced between pushing and pulling, so one part of the body does NOT get more work than another.

Please feel free to email me with any questions you have, and if you’d like to know what workouts we’re doing at Total Performance visit ironkult.wordpress.com.  In the next article I will discuss what progression is and why its important, and then we’ll move on to specific parts of program design.  Take care!


Total Performance Sports & Fitness




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