How To Make Your Training More Functional

First, let’s define Functional Training

Functional training is training that optimizes the functions a species needs to perform to survive and thrive, because those are the functions a species does again and again.

First, we must consider that the structure of a species adapts over millennia in order to become more and more efficient at the movements that offer it a survival advantage.

In any species, regardless of environment, the most important function relative to survival is its method of locomotion. 

The ability to get from A to B is what separates animals from plants and the non-living. 

  • Dolphins have bodies adapted to swimming via vertical curves cutting through the water.
  • Kangaroos hop forward on two legs (and therefore would get much more benefit from the copious squats and deadlifts that humans do).
  • Dogs are adapted to run on four legs, tongue flopping with reckless abandon.
  • And finally we have Humans,
    • humans move forward over the ground on two legs, as they do this you will see they continuously shift their center of gravity from one leg to the other, while rotating. 

Let’s recap, we have learned that the body(structure) of a given species has been primed over generations to have the most efficiency at moving in very specific ways, (dogs galloping, dolphins cutting, humans ambulating), and so, the degree to which a training methodology translates into better efficiency at those specific functions is the degree to which the training is functional.

So, is your training functional?

To find out, let’s look at the main functions a human needs to perform and that should be optimized in training in order to move well and live a pain-free life:

Stand well

  • You should be able to stand aligned in gravity, easily supported by ideal joint stacking that is held in place by the ease and readiness of postural muscles designed to support you.

Get from A to B efficiently(Gait Cycle)

  • How well do you get from A to B? This is the largest determinant of how much pain you live with. Any movement dysfunction or postural imbalance you have will probably show up in your walk/run/sprint. (which is why we record gait cycle in our work together). Side note: in gait cycle, force travels through the body top down.

Capacity to throw well

  • Believe it or not, you throw on a daily basis. Maybe not a football or baseball, but the underlying function still happens every time you throw your arm forward for a high five, or lean around someone to grab something. Our ancestors have been throwing punches, kicks, nets, spears, stones, and peace signs (probably?) for millennia. Side note: throwing is opposite to running, force travels through the body bottom up.

Ability to pick things up

  • It is important to be able to pick things up, and even just to bend at the waist and come back to standing. When done with proper drive from the hips and legs coupled with sufficient core tension, low back pain is not an issue. Most people over emphasize the training of this function to such a degree stiffness occurs and gait cycle efficiency suffers leading to pain in the knees, low back, etc. 

Jump, Side Step, Roll, etc

  • Some of the other functions that we might use on a consistent basis. The point is there is an order of importance to functions. And the better we do the important functions, the better auxiliary functions happen as a by-product. In general, the more a movement uses elastic recoil and the force transmission of muscle chains, the more functional it is.

There you have it. I hope this helps you have a clearer understanding of what makes training functional!