Just yesterday I completed my last quiz, which was crazy hard (postural assessments will be the death of me), and got this specialty certification in functional training.
So what exactly is functional training?
Functional training is definitely a buzzword in the fitness world, the type of training that makes it seem like certain moves are more superior than others, like a squat vs. the leg press. Some will argue the squat is superior because it’s a natural movement, while the leg press is not. But during my studies, functional training is actually contingent on the individual’s goals. For example, the chest press isn’t functional to someone wanting to gain strength. After all, what natural movement do you do on a constant basis that involves pushing something off of you–unless you’re Bruce Wayne and a beam falls on top of you. Yet, the chest press IS functional to someone working for muscular hypertrophy.
As a personal trainer, specializing in functional training has given me a deeper understanding of how to train people so that they can move more efficiently. This includes conducting detailed postural assessments in order to correct muscle imbalances that are already causing pain or may lead to future pain. These muscle imbalances include tightness in a set of muscles and weakness in another set. They have the terrible habit of pulling the body out of alignment. For example, having tight hamstrings can pull your pelvis out of proper alignment.
Your body is like a car. When your car has one thing wrong with it, it can’t function the way it should function. This is the same way with your body. When there is one thing wrong with it, it cannot be metabolically efficient; thus, hypertonicity can develop in the muscles, wherein the muscles lose their “normal” tone, whatever that norm generally is. And because these muscles cannot function to their fullest, they cannot properly burn calories during a workout. So this is why you would be metabolically inefficient.
I like to think of muscle knots when I think of muscle function. Muscle knots often form from chronic overuse, eventually losing proper mobility and flexibility. The fibers then start to adhere to one another, forming that painful knot. They’re not fun. At all. If you don’t do something about that muscle knot, the surrounding tissue isn’t going to be able to function as it should. Blood is going to have a hard time getting to that tissue and delivering the necessary nutrients to keep it healthy. Over time, this knot will scar over, and it’ll be even more difficult to get rid of. The muscle around it will be weak. In order to make up for that weakness, other areas of your body will start compensating. For example, muscle knots in the calf may force your lower back to start working harder, which can then lead to injury of the lower back.
That is what your body will do to you if your muscles are not working together synergistically.
To me, functional training exists to correct these imbalances while staying in line with the client’s goals. It seeks to present a better understanding of how muscles work synergistically to produce movement within the body. Within a trainer’s scope of practice, it does not seek to diagnose a client’s pain or fix that pain. If I notice someone has hyperlordosis and they have back pain as a result, it isn’t my job to treat the back pain. My job is to correct the hyperlordosis. Oftentimes, this will just happen to have the happy side effect of also correcting back pain. However, if the back pain is persistent and can’t be explained by incorrect posture or movement, then that’s when a referral would be in order.
As a result of functional training, I have gained a much deeper understanding of corrective exercises and when I should utilize them. The corrective exercises themselves are functional. I wouldn’t use a chest press to strengthen someone’s pectoral muscles because the chest press doesn’t mimic commonly used natural movements. Instead I might incorporate push-ups, with isometric contractions at the top of the push-up.
So this is just a little bit on functional training and what it’s about.