Functional Training – Method or Madness? Part Two

I have never been reluctant to challenge conventional wisdom and it was conventional wisdom that was causing us to stagnate in training. It just was not getting the job done. I felt there had to more than max V02 and other artificial measurements of performance, more than just mindlessly running straight ahead, more than excessive emphasis on heavy lifting, more than fancy machines that isolated body parts and more than static stretching. I leaned heavily on the work of Logan & McKinney and their classic text Kinesiology, Knott & Voss and their work on Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation and John Jesse and his approach to performance training and injury prevention. It was a move away from a linear reductionist and segmented view of the body to a holistic, synergistic quantum approach. In so many ways what evolved as functional training taps into old tried and true concepts and methods that were once the norm and then fell out of favor for various reasons. The saying that everything old is new again could not be truer.

Unfortunately the concept of functional training as it has evolved and been co-opted by the “fitness industry” has been bastardized and compromised into a weird amalgamation of crazy exercises without any logical progression or justification. It is more than exercises; it is a systematic sequential and progressive approach to training for the rigors of competition. There is no magic or mystery, just application of basic principles that are proven and have stood the test of time. It is more than just a bunch of exercises thrown together that are different; it is variety with a purpose. The key to a good sound functional training program is progression. You must carefully assess where you are at the present time and carve out a step-by-step progression to achieve specific realistic training objectives. Know where have you been and where are you going. Then fill the gap with a logical functional progression that will move forward only when the previous step has been mastered.

In today’s high tech world we sometimes forget the basics. The farther away from the body the less functional we become. The human body is a beautiful finely tuned organism that far surpasses the most finely tuned high performance machine created by man. It is the ultimate high tech machine. Despite all its complexity the body is also incredibly simple. In order to take advantage of the body’s wisdom we must focus on how the body actually functions. We must understand the movements in sport in order to understand functional training for sports. A thorough understanding of function will allow us to design and implement a comprehensive training programs for each sport and athlete.

The body is a link system; this link system is referred to as the kinetic chain. Functional training is about linkage – it is how all the parts of the chain work together in harmony to produce smooth efficient patterns of movement. Conventional academic preparation still focuses on studying individual muscles based on classical anatomy. This is where the confusion begins as to what is functional movement. We must remember that we do not function in the anatomical position. The anatomical position is static; it provides us with the perspective of mental convenience to arrange of all the individual muscles for ease of study and observation. In order to truly understand functional training we must get away from the focus on muscles and focus instead on movements. It is important to emphasize that the brain does not recognize individual muscles. It recognizes patterns of movement, which consist of the individual muscles working in harmony to produce movements required by the sport.

In order to completely understand function we must understand the role that gravity plays in movement. The fact that we live, work and play in a gravitationally enriched environment cannot be denied. Gravity has minimal effect on the body in the anatomical position, but maximum effect on the body in movement. We simply cannot ignore gravity, it is essential for movement, and it loads the system. Therefore we must learn to overcome its effects, cheat and even defeat it occasionally. Over reliance on machines for training will give us a false sense of security because they negate some of the effects of gravity. Gravity and its effect must be a prime consideration when designing and implementing a functional training program to prepare the body for the forces that it must overcome.

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