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Benefits of Functional Strength Training

By: Nick Osborne – Built Solid Training Systems, Go: Sports Performance
Brad Nicora – B.S. – C.S.C.S. – Master Coach

A great side benefit to this type of training can be it’s most important feature, keeping athletes safer and healthier. Reducing injury because of proper mobility, stability, body awareness, and coordination that can be brought about in the weight room. This is yet another great reason to include functional training in your lifting program. Training correctly not only builds better athletes, but it keeps them safer as well.

What is Functional Training?

Right now it is a catch phrase in the fitness and sports performance field. However, because of misinterpretations, misinformation, and people wanting to make themselves “unique,” people now equate functional training with images of athletes standing on surfboards, juggling, with their eyes closed. When actually functional training is not to be done by itself, but together with traditional lifting movements.

Functional Training is a type of training that develops useable strength that trains the entire body as a unit, instead of one muscle group by itself. It trains movements that mimic athletic movements and positions. After all, when playing sports your mind, body and muscles needs to work together to make you the best athlete possible, so why train them separately. Functional training includes multi-planer, multi-dimensional, unstable, non-parallel foot placement, involves rotation, unilateral and bilateral movements.

No athlete plays their sport on two legs all the time or with two arms or on machines, so why do almost all training programs have athletes laying on benches and squatting up and down in a one dimensional program. Athletes move in three dimensions and need to train their bodies to be ready for athletic types of movements. That is why they need to train in a more athletic way. The traditional lifting doesn’t train the core (four levels of muscular layers between the ribs and hips) strength and joint stability. Many studies have shown that the human body must have flexibility, balance, stability, and core strength to perform optimally in sports or in real life.

An example of how traditional lifts can be supersetted with functional exercises to make the athlete more athletic are back squats super-set with one legged shoot the duck squats work for a basketball player. The first exercise is to build raw strength, and the second exercise is going to help the flexibility and unilateral strength and stability in the hip, knee and ankle that a basketball player needs to perform at his or her best.

Another example of how traditional lifts can be supersetted with a functional exercise is super-setting bench press with one arm dumbbell chest press lying face up on a stability ball. This type of exercise relates to the strength a football player needs for shoulder and core stability. Now the second exercise in the superset cannot be done with near the amount of weight of the bench press. Therefore, it cannot build the max strength that the bench press does, however, the one arm chest press lying on the ball builds the functional strength of the shoulder. This exercise teaches the body to stabilize the shoulder, so the athlete can use the strength just built during the bench press.

Another example of how a traditional exercise can be supersetted with a functional exercise is sit-ups supersetted with one leg kneeling side-to-side rotations with a rubberband. Side-to-side rotations are used to train core related sports like golf, field hockey, lacrosse, and wrestling. Doing this kneeling on one-knee adds to the instability of the hip, causing the core to work hard to stabilize the hip and core. This type of core training was featured throughout the Summer Olympics, as one of the reasons champions were being so effective.

Including functional training in your workout routines eliminates the negative effects of traditional resistance training. Traditional weight lifting and power lifting are very static and one-dimensional which teaches the athlete how not to be athletic or how to move correctly, while playing sports. Functional strength training teaches the body how to have multi-dimensional strength and overcome traditional static strength.

Athletes need to use a combination of training modalities so they can build actual usable athletic strength that will make them a better athlete on the field and decrease the chance of getting injured. We want strength to be multi-planer and multi-dimensional so the athlete is not only max strength strong, but also functionally strong.