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Functional Training - The Real Meaning

THP Total Health Performance

The term “functional training” has been bastardised so badly by horrible marketing tactics from PT’s that have to try to look fancy to attract clients, that when I hear the words I tend to just laugh and walk away scratching my head. You see them take an exercise and make it less effective but call it “functional”. For example squats on a Swiss ball. This exercise might look cool but it will not get you any stronger or make you perform any better in your sport than a regular squat. In fact it will make you weaker as the load you have to use is so light. Or take the trainer of a tennis player who attaches a racquet to a pulley machine and calls this functional. It will ruin the athlete’s performance, not improve it. Plus it is just added training time that could be better spent elsewhere.

Another example can come from the sport of netball. Now in this sport having a good vertical jump can be of benefit if you are a defender or shooter. The problem is their athletic trainers often program a lot of vertical jumps into their strength programs thinking it will help them perform on the court. The problem is, by performing so many jumps in training and then in competition, it often leads to a lot of overtraining injuries, particularly patella tendonitis. They would be much better off working on strengthening the VMO, hamstrings, and lower back. This would help prevent a lot of knee injuries seen in that sport. Plus the strength gained in the gym would carry over to an increased vertical jump anyway.

The real meaning of functional training is how well a training program or exercise carries over to a desired sport or activity. It doesn’t have to exactly replicate a movement performed in the sport. For example, if you want to increase power, grip strength, and say core strength then something like the Farmers walk will be a functional exercise. In fact the farmers walk improves so many physical qualities that it can be called “functional training” for a host of sports and everyday activities. The chin up for the sport of Judo is a functional exercise as an increase in the gym on this exercise often carries over to increased performance on the mat.

Don’t get tricked by the circus acts out their claiming to be “functional training” methods. Functional training is simply training that increases your performance in your chosen sport.

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