There has been an increasing amount of publicity and attention being drawn to the concept of functional training. Whilst the ideas behind this is well founded I feel it is promoting a concept that doesnt actually exist.
The idea is that certain exercises are functional and others are not. For example a bench press is non-functional whereas lying on a ball doing a press with dumbells is functional or doing a sit-up is non functional whereas holding onto a medicine ball and twisting your body from side to side is.
The problem with this is that there is no clarification of what functional is. What does functional mean? Some people may reply that functional means more real life movements – the type of movements we do in our day to day life but when did you last hold onto a weight and rapidly rotate from side to side in your day to day life?
Functional training does not exist, it is merely a label given to a group of exercises. Whether or not they are functional depends on what a persons function is.
Now hang on you might be thinking , isnt that how I promote myself? Well yes and I’m going to stop doing that from now on, the whole concept of functional training has been taken over by people who dont understand the true meaning behind the concept.
Functional Training is better defined as training for function. By that I mean using exercises that will improve a specific function. So for example if you are a tennis player and want to work on your backhand then some rotational type exercises would be of great benefit but if you were a golfer even though you still rotate as part of your swing, your arms move through a different plane and your feet are in a different position so your exercises would be different to that of a tennis player. If you need to get off the ground quickly after being tackled in a game of rugby then a situp might be beneficial, if you are recovering from back surgery a situp would be avoided.
The benefits of exercise are specific to the joint position, body position, speed of movement, weight, repetitions, rest between sets and several other variables. If these variable dont match closely the conditions of your action or sport then the benefits you gain from one exercise wont translate to the other.
For example if you want stronger legs for hiking then sitting on a leg extension machine will have very little benefit for you. When you hike you have one foot on the ground, you involve your feet, hips, spine as well as your knee whereas on a leg extension machine your feet, hips and spine have no role to play at all.
If you want to improve the way you perform a certain action or movement than make sure your exercises mimic the action.
Training for function involves assessing what every joint in your body does during a particular action then looking for any restrictions, weaknesses or compensations in any joints or muscles. These can then be addressed which leads to a more efficient means of performing that action. Strength, endurance, speed and power can now be developed to improve the ability of the body to perform that action under load.