Buzz…Buzz…did you hear that? Its every social media channel and every gym in America touting “functional training”.
Its the buzzword of 2015 continuing to live on in 2016 and EVERYONE thinks they’re an expert at it AND its defined differently by kettlebell users, Crossfit coaches, and personal trainers.
Let’s stop for a moment and breakdown what functional training really means. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), functional training is considered:
“Integrated (total body) multi-planar movement that requires efficient acceleration, deceleration and stabilization capabilities. It also involves training in a proprioceptively enriched (unstable, yet controllable) environment.”
More confused and scratching your head? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone! Many people are just as confused.
Does climbing on a treadmill and and then moving through a series of machine-driven exercises that primarily work a small group of muscles in one place of motion count as functional fitness?
Did old-school bootcamps utilizing body weight movement and on-the-field drills nail the functional fitness trend before the rest of the world caught on?
Perhaps they DID!
Lets take a look at 4 common types of workouts that we see in the gym daily and assign them a Functional Fitness Score (yes we made this up for discussion purposes) by assessing the following NASM-defined components:
- Integrated multi-planar movement: This is a movement that crosses multiple planes. An example of a single-plane exercise would be a Leg Press. An example of a multi-planar movement would be a Step Up with Single Arm Dumbbell Press.
- Efficient deceleration: A good example of this would be having to slow down the landing phase of a jumping drill or just before a change of direction while running.
- Stabilizing capabilities: Imagine taking a boxing lesson and you go to hit the heavy bag. Yes, your arm is doing the punching, but what holds your ribs and spine still? That would be your abs and deep spinal stabilizer muscles.
- Proprioceptively enriched environment: Lets take surfing! Imagine the environment. The ground is moving underneath you while you respond. That requires some proprioception!
Lets take a few case studies and give them a functional training score of 1-4 based on the areas listed above.
Case Study 1: Running Ron
Ron is a gym goer who runs 2-3 marathons a year and considers himself a functional fitness athlete. He logs between 5-8 miles a day, three times per week on the treadmill with two weekend runs outside. He often finishes his treadmill runs with some jump roping and light stretching. Is Ron the functional fitness athlete he thinks he is? Ron is missing major components of true functional fitness.
Ron moves in the same plane while running on the treadmill and the environment is very controlled. No terrain to navigate, no elevation changes, and no chance of suddenly stopping or starting due to a car or another runner along the route. He may encounter some variability on his long weekend runs but the bulk of running on the treadmill plummets his score.
We would add some multi-planar exercises to his routine to challenge his body’s ability to stabilize. Standing cable woodchops, medicine ball twists, lateral stepping lunges, or one arm cable rows would all be great additions to help here.
Ron is having to decelerate during running activity, so he gets a checkmark in that box.
Ron does use stabilizing capabilities to keep himself upright and deal with heel striking forces so he gets a checkmark in that box.
Jumping rope a few days a week gives him some proprioceptively-enriched input because its somewhat unstable yet very controlled. He could do better if he alternated legs, or jumped on one foot. Ron needs some variety here. We would add some swiss ball exercises to get the base moving underneath him, which would require him to have to react to that environment.
Overall, Ron is headed in the right direction, so we would give him a score of “2”, but he could easily get to a 4 by make the changes we recommended above.
Case Study 2: Crush It Carrie
Carrie has a long history of CrossFit training and often simulates CrossFit style workouts as the weightlifting portion of her training. These workouts include whole body barbell movements such as the clean, push press, thrusters, deadlift and squat. She does interval sprints on the treadmill twice a week and works yoga into her regimen at least once a week. While Carrie is certainly working outside of her comfort zone she is only a bit better than Ron when it comes to functional fitness score.
While her barbell work involves whole body movements she is still working in a singular plane of motion. Yoga uses multiple planes of movement and increases flexibility upping Carrie’s functional fitness score in that category.
Her sprint work includes effective acceleration and deceleration but her use of the treadmill creates the lack of a proprioceptively enriched environment. Carrie could benefit her score and training techniques by sprinting outside and adding agility drills and even some jump training to build explosiveness.
Carrie is doing a bit better than Ron, so we would give her a solid 3. With just a few minor changes, she could be an outstanding 4.
Case Study 3: All About It Alley
With a background in gymnastics and a love for kettlebell training, Alley loves to mix up her training to avoid burnout and boredom. A typical week for Alley involves 4 days of training with a long hike on the weekends. Her weekly breakdown includes a kettlebell workout day, a strength training day, a bodyweight team training day, and one yoga class to keep up her flexibility. Alley is racking up the points here.
Alley’s kettlebell day involves complex movements like the Turkish Get Up that involves 3 planes of movement. Her kettlebell swing exercises check the box for acceleration and deceleration AND stability as she works one-armed movements into the workout. She racks up even more points on her body weight team training day as she includes a variety of lunges, battle-rope exercises, jumping and TRX strap training movements while adding in balance tools like the Bosu and Airex pads. Her long hike involves various terrains and inclines meeting the requirements for the proprioceptively enriched environment.
Alley is a GOLD STANDARD when it comes to functional training fitness. She is a 5 all the way.
Do you want to become an Alley? Do you want to score a 5 in your own training?
Schedule an intro session with one of our head trainers to assess your functional fitness. Our team can help you create a routine that helps you reach your goals while staying functionally fit and ready for everyday life.
At IRON Fitness we ensure our training staff is accurately and effectively teaching functional training. All IRON trainers are certified through internationally recognized organizations such as NASM. They are trained to identify and address both specific areas of the body as well as see the “big picture” with regard to how the entire body moves.