Training to be an effective Athlete – Understanding Functional Training

| Athlete News

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Right off the bat, let’s clarify what Functional Training (FT) is: FT is training that mimics and/or is specific to an athlete’s activities, sports and everyday movements. Technically, bodybuilding-type exercises can be considered functional, if your everyday activity or sport consists of pushing and pulling objects in a linear pattern using isolated movements.  However this is rarely the case.

This begs the question – why do so many strength and conditioning programs consist exclusively of these types of movements?  Prior to training at the Oval, we see too many athletes training under a general program like this:

Theme Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
Upper3 Sets8-12 Reps Bench PressPulldownsOH PressMid-RowsBis/Tris

x

Bench PressPulldownsOH PressMid-RowsBis/Tris

x

x

x

Day Off

Lower3 Sets8-12 Reps

x

SquatsLungesLeg CurlsLeg Ext.CalvesAbs

x

SquatsLungesLeg CurlsLeg Ext.CalvesAbs

x

x

Speed/Agility Sp DrillsLaddersCones

x

Sp DrillsLaddersCones

x

Sp DrillsLaddersCones

x

Cardio HIIT 20-30min Low Int. HIIT 20-30min Low Int. HIIT 20-30min Low Int.

 

I’ve seen countless variations on this theme, which makes me wonder why most athletic conditioning programs follow one general formula? A generic loaded program may produce some early athletic gains, but is not tailored to the athlete/sport, and athletic potential is not optimized.  These types of programs do not develop good posture, a strong core, or most importantly, keep an athlete injury free.  How effective is a strong and powerful athlete in the field of play when they are sitting on the bench nursing an injury?

Functional Training is not just about injury prevention, but it applies to sport-specific athletic performance.  Athletes can be strong and powerful while maintaining a functional base of athleticism (see “Performance Pyramid”).  The three key elements to any FT program include:

  1. Core Strength: Building core control through stability and mobility exercises is the foundation of FT. And by core, I do not mean just abs! The abdominal muscles (i.e. Six-Pac, Int/Ext Obliques and TVA[j1] ) are an important part of the core, but do not complete the entire package. The core muscles are all the muscles between your shoulder and hip girdle which help stabilize joints, maintain proper postural alignment, and keep athletes “strong” during movement execution. Examples of some common core development exercises are:
  • Elbow Planks – 3-4x 15-20sec. holds ensuring quad, glute and ab activation with shoulder retracted.
  • Pointing Dogs – 5-6 reps of 10 sec. holds per side while maintaining a neutral spine.
  • Single-Leg Balance – Maintain balance on one leg for 30sec. with minimal floor touches from opposing foot.

 

  1. Sport-Specific Movement Patterns: Once the core muscles are strong and react appropriately to movement demands, the next stage is to develop movement patterns specific to the athlete’s sport. The exercises should match the athlete’s movement demands on the field of play, such as: Hip flexions for a sprinter, torso rotations for a golfer/hockey player, leg swings for a soccer player etc. As athletes master these movements, the next progression is to load the athlete by adding higher levels of intensity in order to develop power and strength. Functional loaded exercises for this stage may include:
  • Olympic Weightlifter – Front Squats
  • Football Player – Angle-Bar Squat to Press
  • Hockey Player – 450 Fwd Lunge Strides
  • Martial Arts/Boxer – Lunged 1-Arm Row

Performance is not optimized and the risk of injury increases when athletes start training without proper preparation of these first two stages.

  1. Performance Execution: the last stage focuses on the execution of the desired movements, and in sport they tend to be more explosive in nature. While enhancing movements in this stage can take place in the gym, they are more than likely to be developed on the field-of-play through movement drills that require speed, agility, and usually the most forgotten and ignored, deceleration! A powerful movement cannot be fully executed unless one can properly manage one’s body-weight when slowing down to change direction.  In order to do this – one needs good stability through core control, movement mastery to avoid injury and enhance performance, and good strength developed through the loading phase.

Feel free to contact us if you believe you or your team would benefit from Functional Training.  We welcome the opportunity to review how you’re currently training and outline how we can increase your results with a Functional Training program.