What is Functional Strength Training?
The Term “functional strength training” has become very popular in the fitness industry. It also has been used to describe a wide variety of exercises and workouts. But what is Functional Strength Training?
Simply stated, the primary goal of functional strength training should be to transfer improvements in strength and coordination achieved in the weight room to everyday activities. In an athletic sense we use functional strength training to enhance sports performance. These workouts should involve compound exercises and full body movements designed to enhance the relationship between the muscular and nervous systems.
We put an emphasis on “movements” not so much on the particular exercises or a singular muscle. Once we understand the different movements of the human body in all three cardinal planes -sagital, frontal and transverse, we can rotate through different exercises. These exercises should transfer to activities such as running, jumping, throwing, lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, starting, stopping, twisting, climbing, lunging and turning through bi-lateral and uni-lateral movement.
Thus we think in terms of the “transfer-effect” of the movement in the exercise to the field or everyday life. When we perform a multi-joint exercise such as the squat we use many muscles as compared to the leg extension in which we are mainly isolating the quads through a single joint. The squat will have a greater transfer effect in everything form running to getting up off a chair.
To choose the exercises that best transfer to real life activities we want to choose multi joint movements and consider the types of muscle contractions, coordination, range of motion and the speed at which the movement is performed. From our more traditional exercises we want to emphasis the squat, bench press and deadlift variations. We usually start from bodyweight movements then progress to adding resistance.
At Meta Performance Center we add another element of functional strength training to our workouts in our strongman training. When we say “strongman training” the term is used loosely to describe movements similar to those performed by strongman competitors. These include farmer walks, log press, tire flips and basically picking up anything heavy and moving it through space. We also throw in heavy sled pulls and pushes.
To correctly flip a tire an individual must activate multiple muscles through proper coordination, neurological synchronization and balance. This movement transfers not only to the field but also to the power clean. Here we see that non-traditional exercises can not only transfer to sport but to other more traditional exercises. Another benefit of these exercises or movements is they greatly tax the body. We use a lot of energy and stress the cardiovascular system and the central nervous system in turn increasing strength and the general physical preparedness of an individual. In short these movements increase ones overall level of fitness.
The key to getting the most out of these workouts is variation, proper execution and understanding the physiological capabilities of the individual performing the exercises.
It should be noted that isolation or “single-joint” movements also have a place in every training program as they can be used to improve weak points. Individuals should also keep in mind that functional strength training is another tool in their training tool box and should not replace traditional strength training but rather add to it.
Properly applied, functional strength training will provide benefits that directly transfer to improvements in sport and real-life activities.