Saturday, November 8, 2008

Functional Training


Functional training has its origins in rehabilitation. Physical therapists developed exercises that mimicked what patients did at home or work in order to return to their lives or jobs after an injury or surgery. Thus if a patient's job required repeatedly heavy lifting, rehabilitation would be targeted towards heavy lifting, if the patient were a parent of young children, it would be targeted towards moderate lifting and endurance, and if the patient were a marathon runner, training would be targeted towards re-building endurance.

Functional training involves mainly weight bearing activities targeted at core muscles of the abdomen and lower back. Most fitness facilities have a variety of weight training machines which target and isolate specific muscles. As a result the movements do not necessarily bear any relationship to the movements people make in their regular activities or sports. Functional training attempts to adapt or develop exercises which allow individuals to perform the activities of daily life more easily and without injuries.


Functional training may lead to better muscular balance and joint stability, possibly impacting the number of injuries sustained and individual's performance in a sport. The benefits may arise from the use of training that emphasizes the body's natural ability to move in three anatomical planes of motion. In comparison, though machines can often be safer to use, they restrict movements to a single plane of motion, which is an unnatural form of movement for the body and may potentially lead to faulty movement patterns or injury.

Functional training for sports

Many athletes equate strength training with bodybuilding; accordingly, individuals involved in endurance or flexibility-based sports do not strength train for fear of gaining too much bulk and losing flexibility, or mimic the training of bodybuilders without adapting workouts to their specific sports. As a result, training can lack the performance benefits that strength training could provide.


Standard resistance training machines are of limited use for functional training – their fixed patterns rarely mimic natural movements, and they focus the effort on a single muscle group, rather than engaging the stabilizers and peripheral muscles.

Preferred options include:

* Cable machines
* Dumbbells
* Medicine balls
* Kettlebells
* Physioballs (also called Swiss balls or exercise balls)
* Resistance tubes
* Rocker and wobble boards
* Balance disks
* Sandbags

Cable machines

Cable machines, also known as pulley machines, are large upright machines, either with a single pulley, or else a pulley attached to both sides. They are extremely useful for functional training as they allow allow an athlete to recruit all major muscle groups while moving in multiple planes. Cable machines also provide a smooth, continuous action which reduces the need for momentum to start repetitions, provide a constant tension on the muscle, peak-contraction is possible at the top of each rep, a safe means of performing negative repetitions, and a variety of attachments that allow great flexibility in the exercises performed and body parts targeted.

Components of a functional exercise program

To be effective a functional exercise program should include a number of different elements:

* Specific to the sport. Any program must be sport specific, working to develop and maintain sport specific strength.
* Integrated – It should include a variety of exercises that work on flexibility, core, balance, strength and power.
* Increases Core Stability – core stability is crucial for any sport or activity. A stable core allows for more efficient transference of power from the lower to upper body, and an increased ability to maintain correct athletic posture over long periods of time.
* Progressive – Progressive training steadily increases the strength demand from workout to workout. While most people are aware of the need for this in relation to traditional strength training, it is sometimes overlooked in functional training. For functional training is also means varying speed of movement to make it more sport specific.
* Periodized – for competitive athletes, their functional training needs to fit into their competitive cycle of competition. In broad terms this means that they will vary their program throughout the year to achieve optimal results, peaking for competitions or races and building in recovery time also.
* Individualized – An athlete’s program need to be designed for them. The only way to do this is to work with a coach or trainer who specializes in the particular sport and can custom design a program. A qualified personal trainer can easily include functional training in their clients' exercise programs, whether they are recovering from an injury or preparing for competition.


Bodybuilding training, by definition, is “cosmetic.” In a bodybuilding competition, you are judged on the way you look, not by the way you perform. Whether you use light weights or heavy weights, slow reps or fast reps, long workouts or short workouts is completely irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that on the day of the contest, your physique is visually the best one onstage. This means having the perfect package of low body fat, muscular size and classical symmetry.

Bodybuilding is not aimed at increasing strength, flexibility, endurance, speed or other athletic factors as ends in themselves. In bodybuilding, these performance qualities are only sought to the extent to which they help the bodybuilder look better onstage. (Or as one functional training expert sarcastically put it, “The only athletic component bodybuilders encounter is having to walk across a stage and selectively spasm muscles to their favorite tune!”)

Functional training emerged primarily from the sports conditioning and rehabilitation world. By definition, functional training refers to a well-rounded program integrating exercises which contribute to better, more efficient and safer performance of real world activities or sports movements.

For example, functional training would help the average person develop strength that carries over into daily activities such as pulling open a heavy door, hiking up a rocky trail, starting a lawnmower, carrying a child, unloading heavy packages from the trunk of a car, or reaching up and pulling down a bulky box from an overhead shelf.

If you’re an athlete, functional training will help improve your performance: You will improve your swing, throw further, run faster or increase your vertical jump. Because functional training helps link your entire body together so it performs optimally as a cohesive unit, you’ll also decrease your chances of getting injured.

The terms “core training” and “functional training” are often used interchangeably, although core training is just one modality of functional training. Core training means doing exercises that activate the “core” muscles of the torso, neck, pelvis, lower back and abdominal area.

Basically, your core is everything except your arms and legs. Core training doesn’t just work the muscles you can see – it also works the deep muscles like the quadratus lumborum and transversus abdominus which are important in strengthening and stabilizing the lower back and torso.

The most common example of a core-training apparatus is the “stability ball,” which is used for full range abdominal work, resistance training and numerous other exercises to develop balance, stability, coordination and core strength.

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