We’ve all seen it. The guy at the gym doing 155lb Barbell Squats on a BosuBall in the middle of a crowded gym. Or the Kid attempting Cleans for twenty repetitions after watching a video on YouTube. If anyone dares to question their purpose for such ridiculousness, they’ll undoubtedly respond with: “Its Functional bro.” For any educated and sensible strength coach, that would be considered blasphemy.
The fitness world has come a long way from one dimensional weight contraptions to the ever expanding world multi-plane, multi-joint movements, known to many as “Functional Training”. Expectedly, something has gotten lost in the translation. Thanks to the CrossFit movement, Functional Training, (or rather the idea of Functional Training) has become more mainstream. With it, comes a torrent of misinformation, mislabelling and misdeeds. For most people, even to many that are familar to this term, the true nature of functional training is a distant concept that is not well understood or practised. The follow is a list of five common mistakes of functional training, for the purpose of education and perhaps redemption.
1. Basic Strength and Mobilization Comes First
Any good architect can tell you that a house build on a poor foundation is due to collapse. The human body is no exception. Developing a proper base strength and flexibility is critical before starting any type of functional training routine. Especially important are bilateral closed-chained exercises such as squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, RDLs and bench press. Core strength is best developed when resistance is applied to it. Thus, performing a single set of barbell squats will do more for your core than a hundred sit-ups. Mobilizing and improving flexibility is also critical. When range of movement improves, the risk of injuries decreases. As strength improves, more complex motor development can take place. Think of base strength as the proper foundation, and mobility as the insurance.
2. Not Tracking Your Progress and Periodizing
Everyone remembers their shaker bottles or IPods, but rarely do I see any notebooks or pens at the gym. In order to facilitate progression and periodization, YOU MUST TRACK YOUR WORKOUT. There are quite a few periodization method out there, but they all follow a general formula of progressive resistance. In other words,: Total Volume (Load + Volume) is increased over a period of time. I understand that for many people, exercising is more subjective than objective. How they’re feeling is more important than what is on paper. Unfortunately, this is also why so many people fall off the wagon. Whether the goal is weight lost, strength gains or sport specific. A goal by definition of the term is objective. In order for a goal to be achieve, objectivity is not optional. It is essential. Randomized workouts and guesstimating will not help you reach your goals.
3. Failing to Understand Your Specific Needs
Again, this is where planning is essential. Understanding the specific demands of your sport (goal) must form the foundation of your training. An endurance athlete’s routine is quite different, when compared to a power athlete. Furthermore, some sports might also require position specificity – i.e. Goal Keeper/Forward , Lineman/Running Back, or Catcher/Outfielder. There is no one-size-fits-all template. Anyone that suggests otherwise is either clearly misinformed or seriously ignorant. With that being sad, understanding your medical history is also critical. The wider the variable, the greater likelihood for injury. So be aware of past injuries or any pre-existing medical conditions before doing certain functional exercises, especially Olympic lifting.
4. Monkey See, Monkey Do.
You saw it on YouTube, or perhaps you saw some beast-of-a-man performing
it at your local gym. Now you want to do it too. Don’t. As I have mentioned before, complex motor movements requires development and practise. It is a step-by-step process that can take months to years to acqu
ire. Before you try something, you should always ask yourself: Why should I do it? Or what is the purpose? The goal of any good functional exercise is to maximize Transfer and minimize In
terference. Performing muscle-ups will likely not transfer to sports such as football, hockey or soccer, but might even create interference. On the other hand, performing proper Hang Cleans will transfer quite well, with little interference. (I placed emphasis on proper, because doing Olympic lifts for more than five repetition for per set is not proper. Therefore it is not functional.) Your order of operation should be as such: Study, Understand, than Apply with Care.
5. Doing CrossFit, Before Having a Solid Strength and Power Foundation.
CrossFit is not for the faint of heart or body. It is incredibly stressful and demanding, even for those that are very well trained. All high-level CrossFit Game competitors utilize a proper periodized and planned routine in preparation for competition. Rarely, do they actually do WODs as a part of their training. With that being said, an untrained, or under trained person performing WODs as their primary form of training is a recipe for disaster. If you do choose to do CrossFit, understand that randomized workouts will not generate optimal performance results. Your physiotherapist will also be quite happy, due to your ever more frequent visits. As a strength and conditioning expert, I cannot regard CrossFit as functional, nor practical, especially for athletes training for a specific sport.