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|Functional Training - Advanced|
Functional Training: An old concept with a new name
Juan Carlos Santana, MEd, CSCS
The hottest phrase in the fitness and conditioning field is “functional training” (FT). FT has been to the 90s what “Plyometrics” was to the 80s, a buzzword that everyone used, but few understood. This article will discuss the basis of FT and give fitness professionals a rational for its use and a direction of focus.
FT is not a new concept, it has been around since the beginning of time. If one wants to get better and stronger at an activity, one would instinctively rehearse the activity, or at least parts of that activity. In sports we always say, the best functional training for a particular sport, is that sport! Although this is an oversimplification of the concept of functional training, it is its essence. As my colleague Vern Gambetta points out, “FT trains movements, not body parts”!
Sounds easy enough, it is common sense, right? One would think so, but “the problem with common sense is, it’s not so common”. One look into any gym and you will see 99 percent of the people training in a non-functional manner. In fact, many gyms spend as much as 75-95% of their equipment investment on non-functional equipment. Next time you go into your gym, check out how many people are doing machine leg extensions, machine leg curls, machine seated-calf raises, machine rowing, machine pressing, machine everything! These pieces of resistance-training equipment are the most popular in most gyms, and the gauge by which many people evaluate the “productive worth” of training facilities. “The more machines the more better”! Why is this happening? Believe it or not, it may be due to “too pure of an academic view”!
At first glance, functional biomechanics and academic anatomy do not always coincide. For example, in an anatomy class you are taught that the quadriceps extend (i.e. straighten) the knee and the hamstrings flex (i.e. bend) the knee. Therefore, every time we look at a movement where the knee is being extending, we think the quadriceps is doing it. Conversely, every time we see the knee flexing during a movement, we think it is the result of the work of the hamstrings. What they forgot to tell us in the anatomy class is that the quadriceps extend the knee and the hamstrings bend it only when the foot in hanging in mid air; not planted on the ground. Other than your occasional seizure, or brake-dancing episode, the foot is in contact with the ground during almost all “functional force production”!
Without getting into a complex biomechanical analysis of running, let us look at basic quadriceps and hamstring function during forward locomotion (i.e. walking, stair climbing, or running). The quadriceps’ primary role in running is to decelerate the leg’s collapse (i.e. the system’s pronation) during the plant phase, stabilize and accelerate propulsion (i.e. the system’s supination), and decelerate hip extension at the end of propulsion. The hamstrings decelerate hip flexion and knee extension during the swing phase, and stabilize and accelerate propulsion.
This oversimplification does not accurately depict all of the tri-planar rotational, stabilization and counterbalancing components involved in locomotion. Nor, does it represent the complexity and importance of the entire kinetic chain, and its loading and unloading mechanisms (referred to in functional terminology as “pronation and “supination” of a system). However, it does illustrate the shortcomings of an exclusive single joint approach, as a means of enhancing an integrated movement. Probably the most important observation one needs to make is that, human locomotion is a “ground-based, one- leg, tri-planar, counter-balanced” event. That is, only a single leg is in contact with the ground, and the body is simultaneously counterbalancing and moving in all three planes.
Now, with better appreciation for the functional nature of locomotion, would you select a leg curl to condition or rehabilitate the hamstrings, or a leg extension to condition or rehabilitate an ACL? I hope not! If these exercises were functional and effective, hamstring and ACL injuries would not exist. Most athlete performs leg extensions and leg curls. Yet, athletic training rooms across the country are plagued by these injuries! You can isolate all you want, but if you do not soon integrate the move into its functional pattern, you will cause faulty neural recruitment that could actually lead to an injury.
This is just one example of the discrepancies between the traditional academic view of rehabilitative-anatomy, and the practical approach of functional biomechanics. FT follows functional biomechanics, not academic anatomy. This is modern concept orthopedic and rehabilitative medicine still grapples with. Leg curls and leg extensions are still part of ACL rehab protocols, despite the detrimental (i.e. dysfunctional) shear forces research has demonstrated they impose on the knee.
FT revolves around two very basic principles. The first is the “kinetic chain”, which simply illustrates that the body never moves a single joint in isolation. Rather, the kinetic chain is a series of joints working synergistically through multiple planes. Rehearsed, multi-planar movements, such as a golf swing, are engraved in our brains as neural patterns, not isolated muscle movements. By design, we are functionally, integrated beings.
Juan Carlos Santana is the CEO of The Institute of Human Performance (IHP) in Boca Raton Florida. To contact Mr.Santana please visit www.ihpfit.com.