training involves the "core" musculature, improves
stability, and helps you move better both for sport and general
physical function. - Or it can make you worse at moving.
term "functional training" is everywhere in the
fitness world recently. It's apparently the method that all
modern science based new age trainers use and what old school
iron pumpers don't understand. Let's take a look.
of functional training go back to 230 BC and beyond, so don't
believe it when the local hotshot trainer claims this is something
new. The truth is it would only be new to them. I had a track
and field coach who was also a strength coach give me a functional
training program in 1985. He said, "this is the way top
athlete's have always trained." So if I had a coach showing
me functional training in the '80's, anyone claiming that
this is the new way train today is a little late joining the
party, but at least they showed up.
I took my first coaching courses in 1987 it was called "SAID"
Specific Adaptation to Implied Demand - meaning that if you
want to improve ankle stability you have to train the ankle
in the specific way stability is required. Riding a bike trains
the ankle, but only for how the ankle is used in riding a
bike - to train the ankle for running, you would have to begin
loading the ankle in the way it behaves during running. Now
the SAID principal is incorporated into the "functional
training" principal. Same game, different name.
exercise will make you better at lifting boxes; Knee extensions
and hamstring curl machines, or squats while holding weights
in your hands?
squats will because you are practicing recruiting muscles
in the same pattern used when lifting a box - a functional
movement pattern. Sitting in a knee extension machine does
not resemble standing and lifting. Do knee extensions and
you get good at knee extensions without much or any cross
over to getting good at using your legs to lift a box - not
very functional unless you are entering a knee extension race.
(There aren't any knee extension races, in case you were wondering).
leg exercises like lunges, step ups, walking lunges, and bounding
(an exaggerated leaping stride), all improve strength, power,
and speed for most sports better than squats will.
squats are better than knee extensions and single leg squats
are better than standard two leg squats.. Right? Yes - if
you don't have any muscle imbalances or biomechanical problems.
is, most people who have not done all the preparation work,
even elite athletes, will have at least one or two biomechanical
problems that will be exacerbated when attempting the more
functional exercises. You must be able to stand before you
walk, and walk before you can run. The same concept applies
to participating in complex functional exercises. So how do
you achieve good biomechanics? By practicing good movement
patterns and eliminating poor movement patterns.
brain doesn't differentiate between good or poor movement
patterns. It simply automates whatever movements you repeat.
Repeat a "functional" exercise with errors and you
will adopt the error, not correct it.
Through repetition your brain creates a file (motor
engram) for a given movement pattern. This allows you
to multi task while performing physical tasks- like walking
and talking, or running away from a predator and thinking
about your best escape strategy while your body frantically
does the leg work.
thinks the following while walking, "OK, ugh, lift my
left foot- how do I do that? - Oh right, lift my left knee
up, push off with my right leg, lower my left foot, careful..
Don't fall over! Stay balanced, contract muscles around my
spine and opposite hip.."
not consciously aware of the sequence of muscle contractions
required to walk, even though hundreds of muscles must fire
in an eloquent symphony of coordination, with the odd stumble
here and there. We don't think about it because long ago when
we were laying down the foundation of learning to walk, our
brain was busy taking notes making motor engrams for walking.
the same adaptive mechanism that makes race car drivers super
sensitive and responsive to a cars handling, and has Tiger
Woods develop that perfect swing; lot's of repetition stimulates
the brain to adapt.
what happens if you repeat something the wrong way? You guessed
it, you get really good at doing something very poorly.
is a study
(1) demonstrating altered movement patterns interfering with
normal movement. The study looked at subjects ability to perform
a sit to stand motion 3 months and 1 year after complete knee
replacement surgery. After surgery the quadriceps muscle was
weak so subjects compensated by using their hip muscles more
to stand up. Over one year their quad muscles became stronger,
but the altered movement they used when their quad was weaker
stayed with them. Even though the quad muscle was stronger,
they still relied on the altered movement pattern they adopted
when they were weaker. The study concluded that this movement
pattern may not be resolved without retraining.
same thing can happen as a person increases their strength
exercising or training diligently for competition; They get
stronger, but unless specific retraining of altered movement
patterns is done, strengthening alone will not resolve poor
mechanics. A person may believe they are making their ankle
less prone to injury by doing single leg strengthening exercises,
but really all they could be doing is increasing strength
while retaining poor mechanics, which will increase their
ability to injure their ankle because now they can place more
stress on it - because they are stronger.
was in a gym when a personal trainer was giving a class direction
on power cleans, jumping squats with barbell, medicine ball
throwing, and other complex exercises. Each person executed
the advanced movements with bad to severe biomechanical errors
with knees bending inwards, spines bending and twisting when
they should be neutral and stable, and shoulders completely
out of place. These people were improving their ability to
step the trainer skipped was ensuring that his students had
the level of functional development to handle the complex
movement. He put the cart before the horse. Just as a person
requires enough preparation to enable them to execute complicated
exercises, a trainer needs practice to become familiar with
how to spot mechanical errors, and how to screen people to
ensure they are ready for the next level of exercise challenge.
In this case neither the trainer nor the trainees were ready
for these advanced movements. As a consequence, although these
people will get stronger, they will also continue to compensate
with their poor patterns which either lead to injury or limit
their long term improvement, or both.
I see happening is trainers and coaches who are excited about
the promise of what functional training can deliver are too
quick to implement balance drills and single leg exercises
etc., but don't really understand the biomechanics behind
these movements. With good intentions a person is put through
a complex exercise with the promise of reduced injuries and
better delivery of power and skill. Unknowingly, the person
has pre existing muscle imbalances and biomechanical errors.
Ironically, the very problem the functional exercise is designed
to resolve is made worse.
If you have an altered movement pattern the challenge of a
complex exercise is too high and will cause you to compensate
by relying on your learned poor pattern. You will not overcome
the problem by trying to "straighten your knee"
because you will simply employ another altered movement pattern
to straighten the knee. You just created another biomechanical
error for yourself, but you don't know it and you think you've
corrected an old pattern.
these issues usually involves smaller isolated movements with
a high degree of concentration on localized body movement.
The movement is usually done slowly to facilitate learning.
Usually you can't initiate practice on your own because you
will not be able to sense what you need to do, you need a
pro to walk you through it. Gradually the complexity of movement
patterns is increased until you can maintain good mechanics
with the "functional training" movement. Physiotherapy,
massage therapy, and a return to more general preparation
may also be required before returning to the more complex
functional training moves are NOT where you begin exercise,
they are what you do when you've completed prepetory exercise
phases. Which of course is why very few do it this way, it
isn't a quick fix. Most jump right to the complex move, and
most are urged to go there by their trainer.
Ironically it is dysfunctional to prescribe training that
is beyond the current ability of someone, no matter how "functional"
the actual movement may be when performed by those who are
of recruiting synergistic muscles making for a more stable
coordinated kinetic chain, these supportive muscles are pushed
beyond current limit's and are overused. Instead of better
biomechanics, mechanics are worsened by the pelvis tilting,
spine bending, and femur's rotating. The fancy "functional
training" is dysfunctional training when not applied
you're an elite athlete don't assume you're past the prepetory
phase. In fact, you may have developed poor mechanics over
the years and require a return to basics to fix mechanical
errors before taking it to the next level.
training tips for beginners, same tips apply to elite athletes:
a trainer who understands biomechanics and screens you for
problems before moving you into complex exercises. No screening?
See someone else.
movements down into small segments and learn how to properly
recruit the right muscles at the right time while also learning
what the wrong way feels like. Being taught these moves
by a good trainer is important.
both feet planted until you measure strength and stability
improvements, then try one or two simple single leg exercises
common seated exercises while standing, but use a much lighter
resistance than usual. If you do seated overhead press with
dumbbells, try the exercise while standing. Decrease your
usual weight by at least 50% when learning a new move. Contract
core muscles to prevent your spine and pelvis from moving
while lifting - keep them neutral. Have an experienced trainer
look for mechanical problems - you might lift the weight
easily enough, but not realize your shoulder blade wings
traditional seated shoulder press is not considered very "functional"
because we typically lift things over our head while standing,
not while seated. If you're in a wheelchair or are always
doing a task that involves lifting over your head while seated,
then seated overhead press would be functional. Core muscle
recruitment, and in fact recruitment of all the muscle of
the body and sense of balance correction are different between
seated and standing shoulder press/ overhead press, so performing
this exercise is more functional while done standing. Keep
in mind that this "functional" exercise could be
dysfunctional if you can't stabilize your scapula, spine,
and pelvis while doing so. If this is the case - don't do
it. Get help correcting the imbalances before returning to
the complex "functional" movement.
wary of misguided claim's regarding the application of some
"functional training" exercises; Sitting on an
exercise ball while mimicking a golf swing is not a functional
exercise for golf, unless you sit on an exercise ball when
you play golf. If you sit on a ball while practicing your
golf swing, you may as well throw your swing mechanics out
the window. None of the balance and counter balance mechanisms
present while standing swinging a gold club are going to
be accurately reproduced when seated.
February 21, 2008 Physical Therapy DOI: 10.2522/ptj.20070045
of Altered Movement Patterns During a Sit-to-Stand Task 1
Year Following Unilateral Total Knee Arthroplasty. Sara J
Farquhar, Darcy S Reisman and Lynn Snyder-Mackler.
2008 Rhino Fitness