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Making Training More Functional

Function is, essentially, purpose. When we use the word function we are saying that something has a purpose. So when we apply that term to training for sports we are talking about purposeful training for sports. The idea of functional training or functional exercise actually originated in the sports medicine world. As is often the case, the thoughts and exercises used in rehab found their way from the physical therapy clinic and athletic training room into the weight room.

The most basic thought was that the exercises used to return an athlete to health might also be the best exercises to maintain and improve health. Since the concept of functional training was first applied to sports it has been misunderstood and mislabeled by many athletes and coaches. Terms such as sport specific, which implies that certain movements and movement patterns are specific to individual sports, have been used to describe some functional training concepts.

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But sport-specific training takes place with the athlete on the mat, field, or court, whereas in strength and conditioning we work to get the athlete stronger and to improve specific conditioning. Indeed, functional training may be more accurately represented by the term sports-general training than by the term sport-specific training.

Although we may deal with the smaller details of sport-specific adaptations in this book, it is important to understand that most sports possess far more similarities than differences. The sports-general school of thought views sports as being far more similar than different. Actions such as sprinting, striking, jumping, and moving laterally are general skills that apply to a broad range of sports.

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A sports generalist believes that speed training for all sports is similar. Fast is fast regardless of whether we are training American football players or soccer players. Core training is no different for golf than it is for hockey or tennis. In fact, speed training and core training vary very little from sport to sport.

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To exercise a muscle as it will be used, you need to close the chain and allow the muscles to work as they would when the foot is on the ground. In regard to the lower extremity, open-chain or single-joint can be considered almost synonymous with nonfunctional.

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