What is Functional Training?

Functional training has become synonymous with the strength & conditioning industry at Mind to Muscle, it is a core value within our training model and a pillar in how we develop good athletes in to dominant athletes. Functional training has grown in popularity based on the idea of replacing isolated machines with our bodies using our muscles to perform open chain, multi-joint movements requiring balance, coordination and stability rather than relying on machine-based closed-chain isolated exercises.

Seated Leg Adduction the anti-functional exercise

By training using compound (multi-joint) movements that target large muscle groups everyone from weekend warriors to elite athletes see huge changes in strength, power and performance. These compound movements (such as Squats, Lunges, Deadlifts, Push Ups, Pull Ups) and their variations improve sport performance based on the similarity between the muscles recruited to perform the exercise and the muscles involved in the movement pattern for sport.

There is some debate as to which exercise is the ultimate functional exercise, but for the argument's sake, lets select the Deadlift as our exemplary functional exercise. To properly execute a deadlift, an athlete must generate a large amount of force with their posterior chain (primarily hamstrings + gluteal complex) while maximally recruiting muscles through the core in order to maintain posture so that the strength created by the legs is transmitted through the body in order to pick up the weight. When we look at the mechanics of jumping, sprinting, skating or cycling, EVERY SINGLE ONE single one of these movement patterns requires strength through the posterior chain and core in order to move efficiently.

Very few athletes do not benefit from developing strength using proper deadlift technique

That's the essence of functional training improving the primary movement patterns of a given sport in order to improve performance. Where functional training sometimes gets off the tracks is when creativity trumps effectiveness. I remember learning to stand on a Stability Ball and perform a barbell squat an incredibly cool feeling (& also an incredibly cool circus trick), but unless I was a competitive stand up paddler or regularly competed during earthquakes, there was no need to be able to squat weight while the ground was moving beneath my feet! Research has clearly proven that when an athlete performs an exercise on an unstable surface, their ability to generate force (and become stronger) is compromised. If it's not improving your sport performance why do it? As a Strength & Conditioning Coach as well as an athlete, we must evaluate an exercises? potential to increase performance compared to it's potential risks as well as the resources expended (time + energy) to execute the movement.

Clearly not making the cut in a M2M Functional Training program

There are a ton of functional training tools and methods on the market today some are based on excellent science and are applied in a way that can really have a beneficial impact on sport performance for example the TRX is an incredible device for functional training as it enables athletes to perform compound exercises with their body weight while requiring stability through a number of joints. Unfortunately, there are other tools & methods that are marketed as functional training, but improve sport performance to the same degree as a dance class will improve my math skills. So critically evaluate the training tools & methods that are being prescribed in your training plan and compare them to the movement demands of your sport.

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