Redefining the Meaning of (Not So)
Functional Training part I

by Arik Orosz

Functional training has become a commonly used, and perhaps badly abused catch phrase in the training industry. What exactly is functional training? It simply refers to training in compliance with your specific functional needs. If you are a football player, you do whatever it takes to be a better football player. If you’re a fighter, you follow an optimal training protocol that will make you a better fighter. This is hopefully an obvious statement.

However, somewhere along the line, the meaning has been twisted in many training circles. All of the sudden, doing a headstand on a stability ball while balancing a 50lb dumbell on each foot became functional training. If you’re training to join the Cirque du Soleil then maybe it is great drill, but for the rest of us it has nothing to do with anything! I go into the gym on a daily basis and see these newbie trainers who can’t even teach a proper bench press but they have a group of old ladies doing these crazy, contortionist swiss ball movements that have no business doing whatsoever. Looks more to me like they are promoting Dysfunctional Training.

We need to put an end to this era of doing inappropriate, needless movements, and using nine syllable words to impress everyone, then calling it functional training. There has also been another fallacy incorporated into the teachings of these so-called functional training advocates. Somewhere along the line, they started promoting functional training as a protocol for those who don’t want to gain any size but want to have great balance and strength in awkward planes of movement. Try telling that to a guy like (Vikings tight end) Jim Kleinsasser who is 275lbs with bodyfat levels in the single digits, has a vertical like an NBA player, will deadlift your car, and can run a forty like he’s trying out to sprint in the Olympics. Functional training only means being lanky if you’re in a sport or a postion that would require you to be lanky. For example, if you’re a grappler or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practioner it is kind of hard to slap a triangle on your opponent if you have 30 inch thighs. Instead you would focus on a training protocol that promotes flexiblity, strength, and endurance without causing the legs to hypertrophy to any great extent.

The basics are the basics for a reason and that does not change. The only thing that will vary is what basics you need to focus on in order to excel at your chosen sport. Stop trying to dig into the creamy middle without eating the outside of the twinkie first (please don’t go and eat a box of twinkies now… this statement was intended as an analogy only). Yes, this applies to bodybuilders too! Obviously a guy who is solely focused getting as big and lean as possible, and nothing else, really doesn’t have much need for plyometrics, lateral movement drills, balance boards, and medicine balls. He needs to stimulate muscle fibers to grow, eat to sustain muscle repair, and keep his bodyfat levels in check. That’s it! No more, no less. In future Shapeshifter articles we will be covering in depth, many of these training protocols that are specific to different types of athletes. Focus on your needs as an athlete first. When those needs have been met, find new needs and meet them as well. This is the only way to be on top of your game…and stay there!