True Functional Training

What is functional training? We define functional training as training or movement that is based on the individual’s activities of daily living. Notice I said the individual’s activities, which means something that is functional for person A is not necessarily functional for person B.

Function is not a definitive line of function or nonfunctional, it is a spectrum from one to the other and some things are closer to each end of the spectrum than others depending on the individuality.  Function is a big buzzword in fitness/sport/rehab facilities all over the country and the world.  I think it has a benefit to being called functional (if it is truly functional), but many trainers and people misinterpret what functional truly is.

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The best way to make a functional fitness plan is to have a functional assessment that takes into account the principles of human movement along with the individuality of the person being assessed.

Assessing functionally is not necessarily a certain protocol to follow. It is a series of movements and questions performed and asked to dive deeper into someone’s history and current movement patterns.

An example would be a squat: we can assess so many different variations to test how someone reacts to different muscle groups being tweaked in and out. The different ways we preposition their feet and then hands or head or anything will give us different info on how they squat.  If they have compensations in their squat we can then determine more of what may be causing this dysfunction by following the principles of human movement and anatomy.

A lot of assessments I have seen are prone, supine, or too structured to let someone freely move.  I am not saying these assessments are bad or good, because information is gathered regardless.  It is all about how we use that information.

If I do a Thomas Test and see anterior hip tightness as a result that can lead me to test that anterior hip tightness in a weight bearing position that is upright. From there I am able to determine if it is a limiting factor when performing activities of daily living.  I also might be able to see combination planes (sagittal, frontal, and/or transverse plane combinations) that can lead me to gather more info.  Once an adequate amount of information is gathered it is time to train/correct movement patterns.

functional training

How do we train functionally?

In order to train functionally our assessment needed to cover some questions to learn about what the individual does during a typical day, what sports or activities they participate in, what positions they are in for periods of time, etc.

These are all valuable in determining how to train.  One big controversy is the use of certain lifts or techniques used to achieve certain results.  A hot topic I hear a lot about is the bench press. Is the bench press a functional exercise? A lot of trainers say no-I say it depends.  For a 45-year-old woman trying to lose weight, I would say no.  For someone who competes in bodybuilding or power lifting competitions I would say absolutely!

Here is where it gets tricky, what about an American football player? I need to know their position first to see how much use it will have for them, but in no situation do I see bench press being functional for a football player.  Will I use bench press to train upper body strength? Without question, but it still doesn’t make it truly functional on the spectrum of function however, it can still be useful and beneficial.

What is functional for you? What activities or sports do you perform daily/weekly/seasonal basis? How can you best split up these movements to enhance them in order to in turn enhance quality of life, performance, and health? That is where a specialist comes into play! Make the most of your workouts by making them truly functional for you, don’t believe the hype of the buzzword-do your research and find out what is best for YOU!

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