Functional is defined as “something able to fulfill its purpose or function,” according to Wikipedia. Functional Training is defined as “a classification of exercise which involves training the body for the activities performed in daily life”. Taking it a step further, “Functional Training is one’s ability to perform a training regimen and/or exercise that recruits specific musculature being utilized in real life / athletic situations. Often times these movements have similar movement patterns to that of its real life counterpart; however, exercises do not have to mimic the athletic / real life situation precisely to be considered functional training.”
Functional Training has become a hot topic in recent times. Simple economics tells us that an increase in demand will result in an increase in supply. The fitness and athletic performance industry has begun to witness a boost in the supply of functional training due to its ever-increasing demand. However, anything that turns mainstream or corporate soon becomes tarnished and water downed. Functional Training is no different. The boost in demand for a more original and creative style of training has resulted in a loss of what Functional Training truly is. The biggest loss has resulted in training efficiently and correctly for it.
Functional Training incorporates all aspects of strength and conditioning / fitness training. Having been involved with Strength and Conditioning departments of NFL teams, Division I Universities, high school programs, numerous health clubs, and owning athletic performance centers, the question has become what style of training do you do? Are you a functional guy? Are you an Olympic power lifter? Are you a strength guy? Are you a speed guy? The answer lies in each question because they are not separate; they are one in the same.
Functional Training must utilize power lifting, strength lifting, core movements, speed training, agility training, cross education (one side) training, flexibility enhancement (dynamic and static), range of motion, cross energy training, nutrition and the most functional of all styles, Olympic Weightlifting. Each style of training emphasizes a different component in athletics and fitness, which results in a superior athlete with increased life / athletic performance.
Trainers and athletes alike must analyze their sport and look at the movement patterns performed to create an efficient program. Following an analysis, they often formulate movement patterns and attempt to re-create movements exactly to that of the sport. More often than not trainers skip over efficiency, energy system training, repetitions, power training, strength training, sets, rest time, and overall volume as a whole. Emphasis is placed upon the exact movements and the training variables are neglected. Decreased athletic performance and/or real life performance is the result.
Although an analysis of the sport is necessary, even more necessary at higher levels of athletics, we must still develop a better athlete as a whole. If an attempt to make an athlete merely one sport specific, then the results for that athlete will be limited in nature. There is not a “one size fits all” rule of thumb when it comes to exercises. One exercise can be utilized for numerous sports and numerous athletes. Squats, cleans, 2-1 jumps, Turkish get ups, dumbbell front squats, jump rope, stability ball horizontal knee in, agility ladder drills, heavy rope movements, seal sit ups, and so many more can crossover between sports / athletes.
The crossover between exercises is not what makes training sport specific or functional; it is the variables that make the difference. Variables such as rest time, sets, reps, the exercise order, speed of movement, range of motion, and so on. Training a professional football player is not the same as training a professional soccer player, although they do share similar characteristics. Similarly, training an advanced fitness enthusiast is not the same as training a young high school athlete. However, each participant can perform power cleans, 2-1 jumps, power jump step ups, and one arm dumbbell bench press if taught correctly. The job of the performance coach is to incorporate movements and variables appropriately.
“Anybody can know exercises, but it takes a coach to incorporate them correctly into a result oriented athletic performance program.”