What is functional training?
According to dictionary.com,
the kind of action or activity proper to a person, thing, or institution; the purpose for which something is designed or exists; role.
I had the opportunity to see Mike Boyle and Gray Cook last weekend at the Perform Better seminar. Mike is labeled as a “functional strength coach”, and Gray, a Physical Therapist, speaks of “functional movement”. Both had comments about what the term meant. Coach Boyle joked that he is linked to people standing on balance balls, blindfolded, on one foot (none of which is close to true). He also said some people are surprised to see his athletes lifting heavy weights (he just happens to have one of the most successful performance enhancing business of anyone training collegiate or professional athletes). Gray said “tying shit to golf clubs and swinging them is not functional movements!”
The term functional training really has taken a life of its own. In many cases, it is seen as a weird or radical type of training. Many personal trainers think of it as a foreign concept. Balancing on weird platforms, using body weight movements, light weights only, nothing seated……these are all things associated with functional training; some true, some not.
Here is my take:
Some trainers and gym-goers think of my methods as weird. Often it is in a negative light, as if what I do is a phase or fad. I take this as a complement. I prefer not to be seen as average, and that is exactly what modern training is these days. I’ll go ahead and say it, machines are the worst thing to happen to strength training. Minus cable racks, all other strength training machines make problems worse. An elite bodybuilder looking to detail a specific muscle, OK. For everyone else, please, no. They make doing the work easier, all you have to do is sit, plug in a weight, and push or pull. Isn’t this why we ended up in the gym in the first place? Our daily lives require less physical work than ever before, we become unhealthy, weak, and overweight. We go to the gym, sit down, and make physical work easier. Hmmm?
Going back to the definition above, the word ‘purpose’ stands out. Who wouldn’t want to train with a purpose? Why spend the time, money, and energy for no good reason? Who would want to be labeled as ” non-functional”? Looking at it that way, it is almost comical this discussion even exists.
Here are some things about effective training (I am ditching the word functional):
- Our body was meant to move as a unit, not in segments. Why train it differently?
- Seated machines only make posture issues worse, meaning more injuries when you add strength to it. This strength does not (even though we hope) translate to athletic or everyday strength and performance.
- “Weird” exercises, often core or balance training is there for a reason. Think of it as a precursor to getting to the big strength exercises.
- Yes, some trainers and trainees spend too much time with the core and balance stuff. It is important, but not at the expense of good strength training. Take care of the posture or movement issues, get muscles to fire in the proper sequence, get the necessary flexibility and joint mobility, and go get stronger!
- light weight and high rep stuff has a place, especially for the endurance athlete or novice learning a move. However, it should not be a staple of training. Lift heavy, challenge the body. The great bodies were not forged doing resistance band curls for sets of 15.
- As Mike Boyle says: Just because something happens in sport (or life) does not necessarily mean you should train it. Two great examples hes uses are car accidents and quarterbacks. You won’t practice whiplash because you may get into a car accident one day. A quarterback won’t take blindside hits in practice because it can happen in a game. This goes back to Gray Cook talking about tying shit to a golf club. Train the body, and leave golf to the golf instructor.
- Set a goal, and reach for it
I use kettlebells, barbells, bodyweight, bands, dumbells, etc. etc. for a PURPOSE. Using things just to use them is not the answer. I look at the destination, and map it out using different modes of training. I don’t mix things up just to keep clients happy. They are too busy working hard to notice. Work hard, not long. I know one thing, nobody argues with results. Why waste time with anything not getting them?
In our society, anything new is seen as weird. Hopefully, 10 years from now pull ups won’t be seen as an impossible task for trainees, and a proper squat won’t be as rare as an albino giraffe. Think outside the norm, and get the body moving!