We all know we need to train “functionally.” It’s been a trend in the fitness industry for the past decade and to be quite honest, “functional training” is a sexy word to throw around. The thing is, everyone talks about “functional training,” but ask a group of personal trainers why functional training is important and a large majority of them will not be able to give you a proper answer.
Let’s break down the actual importance of functional training so that you can be among the elite who know why we need to train functionally and how to better use it in our programming. It all starts with gravity…
Gravity is the force of attraction between an object and the center of the Earth. It is the fundamental force of nature that keeps one grounded and must be overcome with every step an individual makes.
The lower extremity musculoskeletal system is designed with large bones and muscles, producing forces that enable one to compensate for gravity. The way these muscles work against gravity is slightly different from what is classically taught. Instead of one muscle flexing a joint and the other extending it, the same muscle is responsible for both actions. The muscles work in conjunction with other muscles in the kinetic chain eccentrically to control the bending caused by gravity and concentrically to overcome it. Since the lower extremities function primarily against closed chain forces, they need to be exercised in a manner that duplicates these forces and therefore improves their functional strength. As one ages the maintenance of this closed chain functional strength is a key to preserving our quality of life.
At the other end of the body, the shoulder joint is anatomically unstable in an open chain. Even though humanity has evolved from using the upper extremities as legs, they are not designed to function solely in an open chain. They are designed to utilize the compressive forces of gravity to assist with joint stabilization. The shoulder has a cuff of musculature (the rotator cuff) to assist in this stabilization. When the compressive forces provided by gravity are utilized in closed chain exercise there is less need for the rotator cuff musculature to stabilize the shoulder joint. On the other hand, motion in an open chain, especially with load, places a great deal of stress on this rotator cuff musculature. Over time, the rotator cuff wears out. As a result of this disruption, the rotator cuff is a major cause of pain and disability in modern life.
Training the upper extremity musculature in a functional closed chain manner also helps to keep the joints of the upper extremity properly positioned. Most machines and barbell-based forms of exercise require the user to lie or sit on a bench. When this happens the motion of the shoulder blade is limited and even greater stress is placed on the rotator cuff as the cuff has to stabilize the shoulder joint that is being asked to do too much. The shoulder joint is forced to increase its contribution to the overall motion of the shoulder girdle because the shoulder blade is less able to contribute due to its fixed position. Over time, injury to the rotator cuff often occurs.
Training functionally improves strength and, like other forms of resistance training, causes muscle hypertrophy. However, functional training provides superior protection from injury, has a greater metabolic cost due to the multi-joint nature of most of the exercises, and thus tends to be more effective.
The importance of functional training cannot be overstated. Even when training for sport, most do not train all the components of muscular performance. For example, athletes at most levels emphasize strength training in their programs but fail to train their neurological conduction speed. Neurological conduction speed is the rate at which one’s body can send a signal via the nervous system that in turn causes a muscle to contract. Neurological conduction speed is critical in power development and should be trained by using functional movement sequences. Power is the result of the marriage of strength and neurological conduction speed. Training that ignores this means athletes are not doing everything they can do to improve their performance. Power development is integral in the functional training provided by the CKC Training System.
Functional training will elevate your fitness level as long as you understand the why behind the movements you choose. As we have discussed, functional training has 5 major benefits:
Improves natural strength
Provides superior protection from injury
Increases one’s metabolism due to the multi-joint nature of the exercises
Develops neurological conduction speed and coordination
Preserves our natural quality of life by keeping our musculature intact as functionally designed
Be an expert. Don’t just train functionally because you have been told to or because it is the trendy thing to do. Train functionally because you understand its importance and the impact it can have on joint integrity, metabolic function and overall wellness.