What is functional training?
Article by Steven Goodacre
Matt Roberts City
Functional training is a widely discussed topic. You may have read about it in fitness magazines or heard trainers speaking about it on the television or at the gym, but what exactly is it and how can you use it to your benefit? The sceptic may consider it to be just another fad or gimmick that promises maximum results for little effort, but if you take the time to have a proper look at the facts you will see that functional training will offer you the chance to achieve more than some traditional training styles ever possibly could.
Functional training can be defined as:
An exercise continuum involving balance and proprioception, performed with the feet on the ground and without machine-assistance, such that strength is displayed in unstable conditions and body weight is managed in all movement plane'.
Multi-joint, multi-planar, proprioceptively-enriched activity that involves deceleration (force reduction), acceleration (force production) and stabilization; controlled amounts of instability; and management of gravity, ground reaction forces and momentum.
A spectrum of activities that condition the body consistent with its integrated movement and/or use.
The definitions above are fantastic for telling us what functional training will challenge and develop but the beauty of them is that it does not in any way tell you what specific training to do. This is because to be functional, you need to know the requirements of the task at hand before you can train specifically for them. Each individual will have an entirely unique set of requirements; this therefore means that the training programme for each individual will be different. Although unique in its content, each programme should be constructed using the same method.
Aspects of a Functional programme
A functional programme should cover every possible factor that can affect overall performance. No stone should be left unturned when designing this programme. We can ensure that all bases are covered by focusing and meticulously planning every sub section of the programme.
Goals and Aims
A definite aim is pivotal in the planning of the overall programme. Like any task in any environment, you cannot plan a journey unless you know where you want to finish. Every phase of the plan will be directly related to achieving the final aim. This goal is the very function that we are training for.
The physical training is a huge component of the overall programme. The chosen exercises will mimic as closely as possible the relevant movement patterns of the aim at hand. For example if we are training for improved performance in a rugby player, we will plan for movements that replicate the demands placed on a player during a game. Factors that are brought into consideration when planning the appropriate exercises include the range of movement patterns, frequency of movements, duration of movements, rest periods between movements, rate of force production and total force production. It is possible to go on and name further factors but the idea is to demonstrate just how many affect exercise selection. With all of these factors considered it is then important to pick the correct type of equipment to perform these exercises with. Sitting on a fixed path machine is not going to be the best option for somebody who performs in an unstable multi-planar environment. The use of kettle-bells, sandbags, ropes, medicine balls as well as other pieces of functional kit helps to provide the correct training stimulus.
Tapping into peoples mental state has a huge bearing on the results. Focus, clarity of thought and calculated expectation are all beneficial in achieving long-term goals. The exercise of visualisation can improve performance considerably.
Fuelling the body appropriately is another key component to achieving success. In weight or body fat related challenges, tailored nutrition is pivotal to success. With other aims it is still important to provide the body with what it needs, avoiding intolerances, or foods that complicate the digestive processes. Providing a measured calorie intake that contains the correct macronutrient balance dramatically affects the body's response to exercise. A week to week, day to day, meal to meal plan is an effective way of maintaining a solid nutritional plan.
Correction and maintenance
As with every individual, we all suffer from physical imperfections. These imperfections can lead to alterations in posture, reductions in performance or an increased likelihood of injury. A daily routine of correctional stretching, mobilisation and correctional strengthening all help to reduce the potential for injury.
As with any plan, it is important to plan in stages. Dependant on the aim at hand and the condition of the individual, training periods will differ in their content, duration and intensity. Each training period allows for calculated overload, adaption and progression. The constant measurement and evaluation of the training cycle prevents plateauing and ensures that we keep heading towards the final aim.
Factors outside of training can have a huge influence on the end result. In most cases you would only be physically training for a maximum of 2-3 hours a day at most. So what you do in the remaining 21 or so hours has an impact on your results. Factors such as sleep, stress, external activities all have an influence. For example we often see in individuals that remain seated for long periods that they develop postural deficiencies related to an imbalance in certain muscles. Making these persons more aware of this and consequently avoiding these situations helps to reduce any negative effects on the training. By avoiding any lifestyle factors that can negatively impact on achieving our aim we improve our chances of success.
An example of a functional programme
This is a general conditioning programme for a rugby player, a back, to use mid-week during the season.
Functional training is essentially tailored training that is aimed at getting the individual fit for purpose. The programme above and the explanation of what goes into constructing a functional programme demonstrates the use of a logical and methodical approach. Sprinkled with imaginative exercises and drills, it is the most effective way to guarantee that you reach your goal. It would seem a very ineffective way to train using your friends programme or with a random pullout from a magazine now that you can see there is a more focused approach. Let your training and your results evolve and achieve more by using a functional approach.
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