Functional Training

func·tion·al  train·ing
ˈfəNG(k)SH(ə)n(ə)l/ ˈtrāniNG


              1.  made up training program that has no scientific merit and is sure to get you slower, smaller and weaker. 


I’m not even sure if I would call it a fad or if I should chalk it up under the training methods of the incredibly misinformed, but one of the worst things I hear people promoting is this idea of “functional” training. This thought process has stemmed from physical therapy practices designed to get people back to normal functioning and somehow found its way into performance training. It has coaches steering away from the big lifts and trying to justify as to how they do not carry over to sport performance or daily living.

This functional training buzz will go away like most nonsense in this industry. Hey, it even took some time for the shake weight to disappear right? Your time allotted for training is limited so spend it very wisely. Below are the two biggest functional training red flags to make sure to avoid:


              1.   Everything is focused on balance and unstable surfaces:

If you walk into a gym and you see more bosu balls and wobble boards than barbells, you should be concerned. The first move of these functional gurus is to turn everything in to a balancing act. They will have you squat on a bosu ball, do overhead presses on a wobble board and have you throw med balls on one foot and somehow claim it promotes core activation and balance. First of all, balance is incredibly movement specific. A gymnast that can do a single leg flip on a balance beam will surely eat it the first time she puts on ice skates. There will be zero carry over in terms of balance when standing on an unstable surface performing an exercise, not to mention sports are played on a stable surface and you are moving further away from the sport specific movement. The ground is never moving underneath you in team sports. Eric Cressey, one of the top baseball performance coaches in the country, performed his master’s thesis on this very topic and it was featured in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. He had two groups of elite soccer players, one group training on stable surfaces and the other on unstable. To sum up his findings, the unstable surface group had a decrease in speed, vertical leap, agility, strength and even stability. The stable surface group had increase in all of the above. These bosu balls and wobble boards have their place in rehab settings and also some upper body and ab work (another blog for another day) but in healthy athletes they have should be avoided like the plague.

2.   The program is centered around exercises that look very similar to the sporting movement:

Throwing a baseball is in all three planes of motion so every movement they have you do should be in all three planes or else it doesn’t carry over right? Wrong. These coaches way of thinking has become so visual. They think that if it doesn’t look like a punch then it can’t carry over to a punch. What they are missing? Joel Jamieson is MMA’s top performance coach defines the role of strength and conditioning as “to develop the physical preparation (motor work potential) necessary for an athlete to effectively utilize their skills as fast and as long as possible.” Now if I am training a fighter and I want him to kick harder and longer, a sumo deadlift and a sled drag will not be considered functional by these coach’s standards. But the sumo deadlift is an incredible exercise for strengthening the power potential of the hips and posterior chain which are most important for kicking power. A sled drag can not only strengthen the posterior chain and hips as well but increase muscular endurance. Both exercises are directly contributing to utilizing skills as fast and as long as possible. That is as functional as it gets in my book. Remember, everything in the weight room should be considered GPP (general physical preparedness). Raise the potential for sport specific skills to be utilized. Do not get caught up on mimicking these exercises in the weight room.


Edwin KnoblockComment