The reality of "Functional Training"

Functional Training in a nutshell...

So what is Functional Training?

Functional Training is a certain style of training that has been developed by strength coaches and physical therapists as a means to replicate people's everyday life into their training regimen. This style includes using modalities such as stability balls, bosu balls, and asymmetrical weights to theoretical improve the client's balance, stability, and any imbalances that they might have.

The biggest issues with Functional Training

1) You cannot progress from it

The biggest thing functional training focuses on is balance. However, you can only progress so far if getting on the modalities is the biggest limiting factor. If you don't know what I mean, try doing a 225 lbs. squat on a bosu ball and tell me how you even got on it!

2) Asymmetrical Loading Causes Asymmetries

The idea of asymmetrical exercises in functional training is that the weaker side of the body will catch up to the stronger side. The problem with this is that the definition of asymmetrical loading causes asymmetries. Therefore, when a client performs an exercise that is asymmetrical in nature, they are losing symmetry and can be counterproductive in their training.

Let's use a realistic example:

Mary uses her right arm more than her left, so her right arm is stronger. Therefore, she decides to perform exercises that would use the left arm alone like a single arm row, a single arm press, squats only using the left arm, etc.. Then one day Mary decides to do pushups, and unbeknownst to her, the left arm begins to work differently from the right arm.

Why is that?

The main reason why is simple: Mary did not teach the left arm and all the muscles that correlate with it how to work in sync with the right arm. Instead, she made each side work for themselves, and that is not how the body adapts the best.

3) Excessive balancing can cause excessive injuries

Lets take a step back and think which exercise is more related to everyday activities:

A) stepping up onto a flat, stable surface (Hint: climbing stairs)

-or-

B) stepping up onto a rounded, unstable object that can roll your ankle

get my point?

When your training program begins to look like balancing on objects for an hour, you are not only wasting time, you are potentially setting yourself up for injuries

Do not die trying to become more balanced...

4)Proper training fixes every issue functional training was designed for

If you use exercises that are symmetrical with correct technique, you can sufficiently become symmetrical; Likewise, the function of the exercise creates stability, balance, and strength by default.

For example, Mary decides to perform a squat with a barbell evenly on her back. If any side of the hips shift, the exercise is asymmetrical until she can fix it; if the bar is not moving in a straight vertical line above her feet, then she is off balance; if she cannot go deep enough, there may be a stability/mobility issue. If Mary's squat becomes symmetrical, balanced, and in proper depth, then every muscle in her squat is working correctly and is increasing in strength, stability, balance, and her symmetry.

A balanced and symmetrical physique is best portrayed with balanced and symmetrical exercises.

Why Functional Training Exists

With all these issues related to this style of training, why is it so popular? After all, there are much more satisfying types of training that exists and can still contribute to the idea of becoming a more balanced individual while also benefiting a steady pace of strength and conditioning without the side effects of silly injuries.

Do not misunderstand

There is a time and place in which to emphasize aspects such as balancing, stability, mobility, power, etc., but when all you emphasize is balancing on a ball for weeks on end, you might as well watch your dog chase its tail.

Sadly, however, there is a simple reason:

Some trainers are simply trying too hard to differentiate themselves from other trainers that know how to properly correlate a program together. In their minds, why would you go to a trainer that makes you perform the same routine set of difficult exercises that progress each week when you can go to a "functional trainer" and do nothing but simple balancing exercises that "confuse the body"? To the naked eye, it seems like a brilliant concept; however, as someone who understands the nature of proper training, it is nothing more than a sales pitch.

Then there are the ones that genuinely want to help but have somehow been brainwashed to believing the trends; if truth be told, I was one of those people for a short amount of time. After all, on the surface, functional training seems as a unique approach to things that can become complicated. However, having been on both sides of the spectrum, it is not difficult to see which seems to help me and my clients most effectively.

So when you look for a trainer, find one that knows how to make you stronger, not how to balance in mid-air...and if you are a trainer, know how to make people stronger, not how to twist an ankle.

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