Is Functional Strength Training A Fad? A Gimmick?

Functional Strength TrainingThis is the first in a four-part series on functional strength training. Click the links below to read the other posts in the series:
Stop Leaking Speed; You Need to Be Stable to Perform Your Best; Functional Strength: Key to Generating Power

Trends and fads in the fitness world come and go. There was Tae Bo, step aerobics--the list is endless. In 2012, even the ever-popular Pilates fell off the American College of Sports Medicine list of the top 20 worldwide fitness trends.

So what about the ubiquitous "Functional Strength Training"? Is it too a fad? A gimmick?

The answer is a resounding NO.

In our series of four posts on functional strength training, we'll walk you through:

  • What functional strength training is
  • Why it is necessary for your sport-specific training
  • How it can make you a stronger and more powerful athlete

Let's start with an overview.

Functional strength training involves building strength and mobility by moving in multiple planes of motion with the use of multiple joints. FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH MOVEMENTS RELATE TO WHAT YOU ACTUALLY DO IN A GIVEN SPORT.

Our bodies are called on to move in many different ways and in different planes when participating in sport. Functional strength movements mimic this by breaking down how we move, and FOCUSING the athlete on the firing multiple muscle groups in various positions with varying ranges of motion and intensity. Think one-legged split squats done with rubber bands for resistance, and executed in different ways--two feet on the floor, or on one leg.

The muscles of the core are engaged, and a degree of instability is incorporated to call on neuromuscular balancing. Add to that, learning to transfer power in sport-specific movements, and you have the basis of a proper functional strength plan. Over time, it all works together to allow individuals to perform their sport more efficiently, faster, and with less risk of injury.

In an article in Lava Magazine, Matt Dixon, MSC puts it well. He says:

The primary purpose of including functional strength as part of an overall training program is to make an athlete just that--an athlete. Creating a platform of muscular balance, synchronized muscle firing, and optimal ballistic output of the muscles can translate across all sports.

We couldn't agree more.

Functional strength training is the KEY to you being able to derive maximum benefit from your training. Being functionally strong allows you to unlock speed and create the foundation for DRAMATIC IMPROVEMENT.

When you watch Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington run a 2:48 marathon after a 112-mile bike, believe it when we say the woman has outstanding functional strength. Talent by the boatload for sure, but she is also incredibly strong, stable, and mobile in all the right ways. And you can be too.

There is hot debate in the endurance world on the role of strength training. Many triathlon and running coaches claim all you need to do is "just train more" for performance gains to be made--strength training need not be part of a plan. We know that advice is dead WRONG, and counterproductive to your performance and goals over the long term. You can see our blog post about that issue here.

The hundreds of athletes we have worked with prove that a focus on building functional strength--separate from sport-specific training--is CENTRAL to improved performance. It's borne out with any and every client--from vet to newbie--who followed and stuck with our training recommendations.

Functional Strength Training is an immutable part of a good, comprehensive sport training plan whether you are a runner, triathlete, or swimmer. This might be a new truth for many. But to not be FUNCTIONALLY strong does an immense disservice to your training and performance. Without it, you can't even come close to unlocking your ultimate potential.

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