When most people think of functional training, images of people over head squatting on top of stability balls come to mind. The idea is that training on an unstable surface while holding miscellaneous objects for resistance, prepare the body for anything life can throw at it. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
In the simplest sense, functional training is anything that improves the performance of the individual, in whatever task they are training for. This could be an increased vertical jump for a volleyball player or a pain-free lower back for a carpenter. Often times, the training itself only loosely resembles the speed or joint actions required to be successful for the particular task. The only prerequisite for anything to be considered functional is whether or not it actually improves the parameters that are valued for that given person. If they do – functional. If they do not – not functional.
Things that are not necessarily functional:
1. Speed – In sports speed kills, but not necessarily in the training for said sport. Training at a lower velocity is safer and more beneficial for a majority of an athlete’s training time. At these lower speeds, athletes can master movements, increase stability, and develop strength more effectively. If an athlete spends all their time doing full speed drills/exercises, they will be leaving a huge amount of potential on the table.
2. Planes of Motion – A prime example of worrying too much about the position of the body is a baseball player using a weighted bat or cable machine to simulate being at-bat. The problem with this situation is that the bat is not light enough to master technique and not heavy enough to stimulate strength gains. Additionally, performing a bat swing with a heavier than normal bat will, without question, change the biomechanics of the swing, which could actually decrease performance.
3. Novel Things – Wearing a weighted vest and a high altitude mask while going through an agility ladder on the beach may gain you a few Instagram followers, but will do little to nothing for your performance. New pieces of workout equipment and training routines like this come and go, but things always seem to revert back to the basics. Athletes should be cautious of novel training techniques and limit them to a very small portion of their training program.