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What is Functional Training?

Functional training. There has been a bit of a debate over in facebook land over this controversial topic.

Back when I worked in a commercial gym, I remember shaking my head in disbelief at what some of the other fitness instructors would tell people to do in the name of functional training. And recently I had one of my own clients, who is himself a fitness instructor, talking some meaningless bollocks that he thought was functional training.

If instructors are this confused, what chance do their clients have? So lets start by looking at the words in the title: “Functional” – Something that serves a purpose, has function. “Training” – Practicing to get better at something.

These, by the way, are not dictionary definitions, they are my own words. So functional training then is “training in a manner that will improve your performance in a chosen function.” If you don’t know what that function is, you cannot train functionally. That sounds confusing. Lets clarify a little.

In 2004 I took it upon myself to run the Dublin marathon. Therefore my training program had to revolve around the need to be able to run for hours at a time. I had my function, to run for extended time, it was easy then to decide on how best to train. It worked too, I ran my first and only full marathon in 3hrs 41. Then, after the marathon, I wanted to regain the weight I’d lost during the marathon training, and also add some extra muscle weight to my frame. So the function of my next training phase was to build muscle mass. The fastest way to achieve this goal is by training as a bodybuilder. For my goal, the most functional training method was a 5 day bodypart split. It worked too, I went from 12 ½ stone pre marathon down to 11 stone on the marathon day. After the bodybuilding training I was up to 13 ½ stone and stronger than ever.

The reason I’ve picked out these two phases in my training life is because neither of them fit the current “functional training” methods that are espoused by Johnny fitness instructor. They will tell you that hours and hours of cardio is non functional. They will tell you that bodypart splits and bodybuilding are non functional. They will tell you that standing on a bosu ball while lifting a paperweight is functional.

But they’ll never explain why. At least not in words that you can understand.

I love to train with kettlebells and bodyweight. For me they are enjoyable and effective tools for my goals. They also suit most of my clients goals, they utilise multi joint movements and lend themselves very well to circuit style training, both very efficient methods of raising the metabolism and burning fat. Plus kettlebell movements also counter office posture very efficiently, reducing back pain, building core strength and shaping a tidy derrière, what’s not to like? It’s no wonder that they are almost universally accepted by “functional trainers”

I do though have a client who is on a bodybuilding split, and one that is banned from lifting any weights whatsoever. Why is one banned from weights? Because of her particular injuries, weight training would not only be non functional, but counter productive.

So you see, next time some idiot instructor is harping on about the wondrous benefits of functional training, ask them what function they are actually training. See if they can actually explain themselves in simple layman’s terms, or if they go off on some psychobabble quackery tangent in an effort to baffle you with bullshit rather than help you understand.

In an attempt to bring this to a conclusion, here are my top functional movements that I believe should be trained: • Hip Extension • Squatting • Over head pressing • Overhead pulling • Horizontal pressing • Horizontal pulling • Counter rotation of the spine • Counter flexion of the spine • Counter extension of the spine • Single leg stability

Notice how I haven’t listed tools or exercises? “Why not?” you ask, “ I thought you were the Kettlebell guy?” Well, while I am a Kettlebell guy, I’m also a barbell, bodyweight and sandbag guy. In fact, more accurately I’m a training guy. The only thing I really don’t like are weight training machines and aerobics.

However if you have a specific goal in mind, be it a marathon, a double bodyweight deadlift or getting back into those old jeans, they way in which you use the above movements will change. Once you know why your training, how you train will start to become obvious. If it doesn’t, give me a shout and I’ll be happy to help.

All the best

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