What is your training designed to do? Are you performing each movement with a purpose in mind, knowing exactly how each exercise will lead toward your goals? Or, are you just ‘exercising’ in hopes that you will perform better?
'Functional' is quite the buzzword these days. Everyone touts 'functional' training, but few know what they mean when using this term. Functional is relative, and specific, to your chosen endeavours. Sports specific training is functional. Strength training is functional. Energy-systems based conditioning is functional. Why? They improve your capacity to perform and adapt. From this point, I will refer to truly ‘functional’ training as ‘Adaptive Training.’
'Functional' is quite the buzzword these days. Everyone touts 'functional' training, but few know what they mean when using this term. Functional is relative, and specific, to your chosen endeavours. #trainforlife Click To Tweet
I like the term 'adaptive' because my personal training philosophy is based on being as adaptable as possible. If your goal is to be a marathon runner, your training will be different than mine, but it will still need to be designed to help you overcome any demands you may be put under. I use the term 'adaptive' because when people hear 'functional' they may picture themselves doing barbell squats on a Bosu ball, and that has minimal functionality at best.
I also use the term 'adaptive' because when people hear 'functional' they may picture themselves doing barbell squats on a Bosu ball, and that has minimal functionality at best. #functionaltraining Click To Tweet
The principles of Adaptive Training include level-dependent generalised movement literacy (learning-to-move basics, depending on skill level and previous training), strength (the foundation of all fitness), conditioning (energy system or skill based), and sports specific movements. It may sound complex, but it actually turns out to be fairly simple. The idea is to create a solid base and thus improve your performance without interfering in your sports specific training. It will also help you develop athleticism and an athletic physique.
When developing an Adaptive Training program for a new client, each session has a similar outline. The key to this training methodology is not to mimic their sports specific training, or create a generalised circuit, but to train the systems involved in what they want to improve. For example, a generalised program will include the following sections:
Dynamic warm-up based on mobility, balance, and primal movement patterns
Power movements for rate of force and speed development
Strength movements; focusing on body-weight then controlling external weights in the primary movement patterns
Energy systems conditioning
Mobility, focusing on areas of restriction, or generalised as needed
This basic outline facilitates the creation of athleticism in general population clients and can be tailored for sport-specific outcomes.
The first step towards reaching a client’s goal is to improve their performance of activities of daily living (ADL). Can they walk, or run up the stairs at work without fatigue? Can they lift the 50-pound bag of dog food off the ground and put it on the shelf? Are they able to run and crawl around when playing with their children? All these activities take a base-level of strength, mobility, balance, conditioning, and technique. In the elderly, this is a matter of life-or-death. A fall, and subsequently broken hip, can be the end of someone living on their own. It’s best to have the requisite ability to avoid this accident in the first place.
When judging a program’s effectiveness, we look to increased performance in ADLs as the first level of improvement.
Most often, when I see athletes, or teams, working with a coach or trainer, I see a generalised circuit. They work to fatigue, they may mimic their sporting movements with weight, all exercises are turned into cardiovascular training, the sequence of movements causes fatigue so that nothing is done with strength or power, and ‘rest’ is turned into a chance for more burpees. This is both inefficient and potentially harmful to sports performance. This is often the product of lazy programming, which turns every session into an hour-long muscular endurance and cardio session.
The most damaging area of training with a generalised endurance circuit is for power and strength. Both elements of athleticism require a recovered and primed system to produce the ideal output for the set repetitions. In these areas, if an athlete is training to failure, they are training to fail.
An Adaptive Training protocol will develop the movement attributes mentioned above, but to a greater degree with an athlete, who has a higher level of physical competency.
This style of programing develops a resilient individual who is capable of producing force quickly, has relative strength, and enduring output. The purpose of this simple programming style is for maximal adaptability and functionality. As mentioned before, ‘functional training’ is the training that improves your ability to function in your chosen endeavours.
Whether you participate in bodybuilding, Crossfit, marathons, or community basketball, make sure you use a training program that develops a generalised athletic base before getting too caught up in complicated training plans. Adaptive training is any training that lays out the athletic foundation, fills the gaps in your training, and improves your performance in any arena.
What is functional to you? Share your thoughts below.
Coach Josh Wood, BHSc, is a fitness coach and outdoorsman who brings together fitness training and the real world. Working as a Wilderness Guide in Tasmania, he strives to help people find their passion for activity, and loves introducing folks to the art of backpacking.