Functional Training: Is Your Workout Falling Short?
‘Functional training’ is an industry buzzword, but what does it mean to truly train in a functional way? It doesn’t mean that you have to buy all the functional training programs on the Internet or follow all the fitness fads at one time. We need to consider that what is functional for one person is not necessarily functional for another.
Restoring function to the body is a high priority for truly functional workouts. If we struggle with our coordination, balance, and with using the right muscles during complex functional exercises, then high-intensity functional training tools and workouts may be doing more harm than good.
4 Steps To Effective Functional Training
Soft-tissue work (that is, foam-rolling, trigger point) to improve circulation and hydration of fascia (connective tissue) and to address trigger points and postural imbalances prior to exercise.
Too many athletes jump straight into their training session, neglecting important movement prep. If you are sore from a previous session or rehabilitating an injury, be sure to spend extra time preparing your body to endure weight and stress of movement.
Before beginning a formal warm-up, prepare your nervous system and increase your core temperature slowly by using methodical movement preparation. You may even need to activate certain muscles and movement patterns prior to your main session. Often, we find even athletes have lazy glutes, so time is well spent activating them prior to strenuous exercise.
Dynamic mobility drills, essential for firing up the nervous system, preparing muscles and connective tissue and improving joint ranges of motion prior to strenuous exercise.
Place particular focus on warming up the hips through a variety of different movement planes. Our hips and pelvis are the junction point for the spine and the legs. They are also the hinge and pivot point for so many different movement patterns and exercises. They allow us to step, stride, run, pivot, hinge, extend, jump, and lift, all while maintaining a neutral spine. The better we move at the hips, the less load and stress is placed on the lumbar spine and knee, helping to prevent injury.
Try: Hip flexor stretches, glute and adductor stretches, high hurdle steps, shin boxes, dynamic multi-plane lunges, leg swings, high knee hugs, prisoner squats, and downward to upward dogs.
Whether you are strength training or practicing endurance work, true functional training should have a good balance of exercises that incorporate all three planes of motion: sagittal, frontal, and transverse.
Unfortunately, most training programs are dominated by exercises in the sagittal plane (linear, up, down, forward and back). The reason that training in 3D is so powerful is that it trains your body to respond to the random, unpredictable situations of real life and sports. Watching professional athletes who play competitive sports against another team, you’ll see pretty quickly that they are moving in all three planes, allowing them to move powerfully, but without sacrificing speed and agility.
We naturally move in 3D all the time, so incorporating it into our training is essential. When trying new movements, remember to keep the weight low to start with. If you’re new to multi-plane exercises, your body won’t be used to stabilising against the new forces, so build them up slowly.
Another aspect of the workout to consider is that movement should not just be power and speed. For true function, we need the ability to decelerate, control external force, and catch, hold and carry load in a multitude of different positions and directions. Not every workout needs to be against the clock or even for reps.
Try: Multidimensional movements such as lateral lunges, Turkish get-ups, cable woodchops, skater lunges, warding patterns, and the med ball lunge with rotation into lateral lunge and reach.
Hydrate, repeat soft tissue work, and light stretching of overworked muscles while still warm.
Don’t forget, static stretching while cold or heavily fatigued can lead to injury. Recovery is an essential part of any athlete’s training program. At the top level, recovery strategies are scheduled into the training program and timetable.
Understanding the symptoms of overtraining and listening to your body are both essential for recovery. You need to know when to push hard and when your body is telling you that it’s time for a de-load day.
There is a big difference between pushing yourself and draining yourself. It’s great to be dedicated to your training and want to achieve your goals, but unfortunately we can’t constantly progress, as otherwise we’d all be superhuman by now! Realise that sleep, balanced nutrition, good breathing patterns, and consistent massage and mobility training will support consistent long-term health and recovery. Don’t wait until you’re injured to implement these tactics.