Is that functional training or a circus trick?

An Vern always says, you shouldn’t try to mimic the game in training, you should try to distort it. During last month’s HMMR Media Hangout, another member asked me about how a coach knows when something has been distorted too much. The question got me thinking because this is an issue you see all around. At a certain point, if you distort things too much they start to get weird.

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When things get too weird

We used to laugh at people who did weird things in training, but somewhere along the line weird became cool. Along with the advent of the “functional training” idea is the notion that “weird” movements are, by definition, “functional.” So: standing on a physio-ball juggling chain-saws and whistling the Samoan National Anthem would (naturally) qualify as functional because it is just so . . . out-there.

I used to present with Vern and others at the Perform Better “Learn By Doing” seminars. We would have five hundred personal-trainers in an auditorium listening to a presentation on periodization or some other relevant topic. Generally, their eyes were glazed over while Vern and I were speaking. They were really waiting for other coaches that would give them six movements neither they nor their clients would have ever seen or done, before . . . along with no context or instruction on the why, when, how, with whom, to use them.

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You can imagine the following Monday sessions they all did with their clients. They probably incorporated everything in a one-hour session because they knew that, when the session was done, their clients would shake their heads and say: “Gee! How do you think these things up?!” and leave the session believing their personal trainer was an innovative genius. (And it may be worth mentioning: one of the presenters tore his ACL while demonstrating a stand on a physio ball.)

Keep it in context

I know: A lot of the things I have done in my coaching life could/would certainly be described as “out there” too . . . but I always try to keep myself from becoming so enamored of a new idea that I shove it into a training session without first giving it a good dose of critical analysis. I try to sort movements into two main categories:

  1. Genuinely functional movements and movement puzzles (i. e. movements that both improve performance while attenuating injury potential); and
  2. Circus tricks.

I don’t like it when circus-tricks are passed off as functional training. And so I think there has to be a critical filter for all things that purport to “distort the game.”

Are you trying to impress or teach?

There is a personal trainer in my town whom I have known for a long time. He is an accomplished practitioner of Brazilian Jujitsu. In working with his fitness-seeking clients, he loves demonstrating things he can do . . . but they cannot. What a dirty thing to do to your customers, no?

And since there is so much “proprietary” garbage available for coaches, personal trainers, physical therapists, etc., on the internet, these days, I felt it was important to do a bit better job of trying to distinguish between the idea of distorting things for the sake of distortion . . . and doing so for the purpose of advancing the training dialogue.

I mentioned at GAIN that I attended Vern’s first Building and Rebuilding the Complete Athlete seminar in June of 1992, and that I did so with a really poor attitude. I came away from that seminar more confused and less confident. But the one thing I was sure of was this: there are two kinds of presenters . . the ones who genuinely want you to know what they know and the ones who want you to be impressed by what they know. In other words, you have the simplifiers vs. the complexifiers.

I hope I fall into the former category; but please—all of you—feel free to yell “Bullshit!” if/when you catch me dispensing it. And the next time you see some weird training video online, ask if it is a circus trick intended to impress, or true functional training intended to teach.