What is functional training?
How can functional training improve my sport?
Exercises used to functionally train?
Questions are answered by exercise physiologist Pete, from his Mayfair gym in London.
1. What is functional training?
This is a question I’m regularly asked and a training technique which is often confused, even amongst trainers. The answer is in the title: functional is the key! Functional training is specific cross training with a focus on benefiting the primary sport or every day movement/s. Individual or combined elements of sporting techniques or general movements are strengthened and refined by executing specific movement patterns (usually with resistance) with the end result of improving the complete performance of the primary sport, or everyday movement.
The neural system is key within functional training by improving balance, co-ordination and control across complex movement patterns.
Arguably functional training a type of cross-training.
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2. How can functional training benefit my sport?
Strengthening specific elements of the musculoskeletal or neurological systems can have significant benefits on overall performance. In the same way that a rotational weighted lunge can improve the stability and power development of a runner, also a rotational resistance band twist can strengthen the act of lifting a heavy dustbin bag out of a bin and twisting to place it out on the path for collection.
Going back to our examples: the runner needs stable pelvic, lower back and abdominal areas to allow for a powerful, efficient and injury free running gait. Functional training may reduce deficits and benefit the complete gait cycle.
3. How to do it?
Bodyweight or resistance can be used in multiple ways with/without the addition of balance devices like a Swiss ball, Bosu or wobble board. Important: the specific movement/range of movements are replicated as closely as possible for the training effect and performance benefit.
An example of this: say a golfer want to improve their stability and power delivery in the swing of a long range shot. One of many ways to functionally train this component would be to lay the golfer on a Swiss ball, upper back on the ball and the pelvis neutral. Using a band or holding a dumbbell slowly rotate laterally as far as possible keeping pelvic stability and control through the torso. This trains oblique strength with abdominal and lower/mid spinal stability, the end result is a more powerful and stable rotational capability in the swing.
4. Common misconceptions and training errors
- Use large resistances! Not necessarily! As always the target sport or activity and training movement will dictate the mode, intensity and resistance.
- Use a range of devices! No! Bodyweight and simple coordination and balance exercises can make significant difference to performance.
- Precision and specific replication of movement patterns is more important than lifting large resistance or indeed over complicating sequences.
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