Posts Tagged ‘fitness exercise programs’

Is Functional Strength Training Rubbish?

MODERN TRENDS IN PERSONAL TRAINING

By STEVEN MILNER IIST VTCT Qualified

Is functional training a viable addition to traditional strength training?

Over recent years functional training has been touted as the gold standard for developing strength and athleticism. Unfortunately, a lot of this is due to some misguided theories and assumptions rather than actual results. Some would have you believe that in order to be a disciple of functional training you must:

1. Exclude most single-joint exercises
2. Avoid split routines
3. Avoid the use of machines
4. Have a strong dislike for bodybuilding!

Functional” coaches promote the delusion that progressive resistance methods are only useful for aesthetic purposes. However, this stance is not supported by research or empirical evidence. The word “functional” in the strength training arena is vague and causes much confusion for trainers and clients alike. We can define the word functional as:
*Of or serving a function
*Designed or intended to be practical rather than attractive
Resistance Training manuals generally define “functional” exercise as:
*Exercise that improves one’s tolerance or performance of work, daily life or sport.

Eliminating single-joint exercises has become commonplace with functional trainers due to an incorrect assumption that they and or machine exercises will ruin performance. It is programme design and loading parameters of training that determines the benefit of an exercise.

“A client who participates in rowing requires great pulling strength. Top strength coaches agree that the limiting factor in a primary movement like pulling, is a weak link; a weak muscle. If the biceps are weak in comparison to the lats, then incorporating arm flexion (single-joint) exercises into the programme will improve pulling strength and thus performance in the sport. Select exercises based on the client’s goals and needs, not on the genre of training you support.”

Below, Erik Minor challenges the arguments created by the functional training establishment.
Argument 1:
Functional exercises are natural and single-joint (isolation) exercises are unnatural.
An exercise is natural if it obeys the laws of joint mechanics, neurophysiology, and the limits of soft tissue. All exercises have risks and benefits, it is imprecise to label any exercise as “good” or “bad”. The risk is determined by how far you stray from optimal joint mechanics, how much load is used, and how often. An exercise is valuable if it contributes to the overall improvement of a desired motor pattern. For example, let’s say you’ve recovered from a hamstring injury and now you want to strengthen the weak leg. The most efficient way to recover the lost strength and muscle mass on the injured leg is to perform unilateral single joint exercises. You will achieve more motor unit activation by isolating the movement pattern. Once the hamstring is at a desired strength level, bilateral exercises can be added. There really is no such thing as isolation exercise because single joint exercise requires isometric stabilization of the support muscles. So, single joint exercise could be called iso-metric or iso-kinetic exercise. During a standing biceps curl, the shoulder girdle and core musculature must contract iso-metrically to maintain body position.

Argument 2: Functional exercises are better than single joint exercise for injury prevention.
Other than acute trauma caused by impact, muscle imbalances and faulty movement patterns are major causes for muscle and joint injury. When an individual has weak muscles within a movement pattern, the body will compensate by avoiding the weakness, especially during complex movements such as running, jumping, squats, Olympic lifts, chin-ups and shoulder presses. Repeated exposure to faulty movement patterns can result in pain and joint dysfunction. It has been said, and I agree that you are only as healthy as your joints. The best way to address faulty movement patterns (not caused by a medical condition) is to pinpoint the weak muscles, strengthen with single-joint exercises, and then re-educate the muscular chain with compound exercise. Greg Roskopf, founder of the soft-tissue therapy called Muscle Activation Technique, states, “Functional Training will only reinforce the bad compensatory patterns if the weak links are not first identified and eliminated.” Functional training can be especially problematic for athletes since most have experienced injury during their careers. Correcting muscular imbalances and weakness should be the first priority when training anyone.

Argument 3: Functional exercise is more sports-specific than single-joint exercise.
Unless you are a weightlifter, power lifter, or strongman, there are no sports-specific exercises. The only sports-specific training is the actual sport movement, also known as practice. The sports-specific move for shot-putters is shot putting, for a rower it’s rowing and so on. The real question is whether the strength acquired will transfer to the prime movement of the sport. Transfer of strength is a better indicator of an exercises value. All strength training performed in a gym is “artificial,” but even “artificial” exercise can contribute to improved performance. Wayne Westcott, Ph.D. performed several studies on the effects of machine based strength training on golf driving performance. All 77 participants improved their driving power (average 3.4 mph increase). This reinforces the fact that even machine-based strength can improve performance. Take two individuals with equal skill, body structure, size, and experience; make one athlete 25% stronger in the prime movers of their sport. The stronger individual is now the superior athlete.

Conclusion
A trainer must utilize the best tools available to achieve the goal. Don’t eliminate exercises because they don’t fit into a particular genre. Evaluate every exercise, piece of equipment, and gadget for its efficacy at achieving the desired result. Be practical in your approach and recognize the complexity involved in manipulating the human body.

Adapted from The “Functional” Training Delusion By Erick Minor
Wednesday, May 6th, 2009 | Dynamic Barbell Club

It’s not called personal training simply because it’s one on one. It’s supposed to be personalized to suit the individual, and personalized training has to be so much more than exercise selection and program design.

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