Understanding the Principles of Functional Training

‘Functional Training’ is a term that has been used dare I say it “loosely” within our industry over the last few years.

So what does the term ‘Functional Training’ really mean?

What I will aim to do in this article is to give you an overview of some of the principles of functional training and how you can apply those principles to improve client performance through exercise prescription.

Let’s first take a look at some of the definitions of functional movement:

  • An exercise continuum involving balance and proprioception, performed with the feet on the ground and without machine assistance, such that strength is displayed in unstable conditions and body weight is managed in all movement planes.
  • Multi-joint, multi-planar, proprioceptively enriched activity that involves deceleration (force reduction), acceleration (force production) and stabilisation; controlled ammounts of instability; and management of gravity, ground reaction forces and momentum.
  • A spectrum of activities that condition the body consistent with its integrated movement/use.

All of these definitons authentically state what functional movement is, but with the growth of new trends within the health and fitness industry we tend to lose site of the application of some of these principles.

To keep things simple, I propose an alternative definition:

Functional Training involves movements which are specific to the task or purpose within a person/s activities of daily living.

Conditioned Athlete vs. Non-Conditioned Athlete

There seems to be a belief that sports activities differ from active daily living and that we should train our conditioned athletes one way and our non-conditioned athletes another way. While this is typically true in terms of power and performance, both activities share some basic features:

  • They involve skillful application of ground reaction forces.
  • Forces are transmitted through the body through a chain reaction.
  • Tasks are performed in 3 dimensional planes of motion.
  • In order to achieve balance and skills needed to perform these tasks, we regularly get into certain postions. As these tasks are performed more reguarly, motor programs and functional adaptions are reinforced.

For these reasons it’s helpful to re-think the traditional distinction between athletic and non-athlethic activities.

Therefore when designing a program we can look at the fundamentals of the type of activity which is being performed by either the conditioned athlete or the non-conditioned athlete. Then we can then determine the role ‘functional training’ will play in either the enhancement of performance or is helpful in improving the overhall quality of life.

Principles of Function

Principle 1 

Function is 3 Dimensional and includes all three planes of movement:

  • Sagittal: Front to Back
  • Frontal: side to side
  • Transverse: Rotational

Principle 2

The physical forces that the body has to contend with are:

  • Gravity
  • Ground Reaction Forces
  • Momentum

Principle 3

Movement is Driven

  • Drivers of the body

Note: For example we would classify the foot as the driver during an anterior balance reach with the foot reaching towards the specified target.

Principle 4

  • Chain Reaction

As 3D movement includes the whole body and involves multiple joints, we must therefore assume that there will be a chain reaction created throughout the body as we deal with the physical forces.

Applying these Principles of Functional Training

As trainers we all have an understanding of exercise prescription and an abundance of different exercises to choose from in our forever expanding tool bag.

However we must understand that it is not the exercise that will determine the success of the movement – it is the movement that will determine the success of our exercise prescription.

I often see clients that have come to me for post-rehabilitation after several weeks of working with a health professional during the acute phase of injury. These clients have mostly had a reduction in pain and are therefore ready to engage in a post-rehabilitative exercise program.

After an initial subjective summary we start to build a picture of the client’s functional health and activity history. An example of this would be a client who sprained their left ankle 6 months ago and received no treatment for that injury. A great one to remember for later on, whilst performing the client’s functional assessment.

A typical functional assessment would include:

  • Gait evaluation
  • Balance Reach
  • Lunge
  • Excursion Tests
  • Other Tests

Staying within our principles of function, let’s take a look at the balance reach assessment.

For example:

Observing the Sagittal Plane Balance Reach

We direct our client to reach their right leg anteriorly and posteriorly at a verticality of ground and at a distance of mid range.

Results

Interestingly during our observation our client shows a limitation in dorsi-flexion through the left ankle complex when reaching the right leg anteriorly.

Exercise Prescription

On completion of our functional evaluation we can review our subjective summary and observation of functional movement before we determine our exercise prescription. The great thing about a functional assessment is that some of the exercises that we use to assess our clients may be also prescribed in our exercise selection.

For example

Balance Reach Observation

Our observation in the sagital plane showed a degree of limitation in dorsiflexion in the left ankle on a anterior reach with the foot as the driver.

Corrective Exercise selection

Balance Reach – Frontal Plane

Frontal plane reach with foot driver working within the ‘threshold of success’ – same exercise selection but alternative plane selected to work on improving the mobility of the ankle complex.

Conclusion

Observing our client’s movement in all three planes of motion may help us to identify a series of limitations in their functional capabilities.

Clients learn new skills in stages so it is important to work with our clients within the ‘threshold of success’. It is important to recognise these stages and to prescribe your exercises accordingly.

Mistakes play an important role in how we learn, as long as we are adhering to the main principles of function and our mistakes are minimal. The trainer must be able to identify those mistakes and be able to provide a solution to enhance our client’s functional capabilities.

References:

  • Mentoring Workshop 2011 Dirk Crafford Orthopaedic Rehab and Performance Consultant and Founder of Functional Health Fitness
  • Santanaj.c. (2000) Functional Training Boca Raton FL: Optimal performance systems

Dean Quirke
Master Dip. Fitness Testing & Sports Therapy, Dip. Exercise Science, BWLA Weight Lifting Coach, Advanced Strength Training AGSHSS Corrective Exercise Level 2, AGSHSS Pre & Post Natal Exercise, AGSHSS Myofascial Trigger Point Release Therapy, CHEK Exercise Coach,NLP & Transformational Coach, GRAVITYPost-rehab Trainer. Dean specialises in corrective exercise, injury prevention, weight management and special populations. Based out of Sydney, Dean’s passions lie within movement and rehabilitation. This has led him on an incredible journey of self discovery and education. Dean believes there is a great need and a requirement to be open-minded and adaptable in order to be successful in this field.
www.holistichealthconcepts.com
Ph: 04 3144 1213  or   Mob: 0431 441 213
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw


Advertisements

3D Functional Strategies for Improving Movement

By Dean Quirke

As a trainer your aim is to fulfil the needs of your client through correct exercise perscription and guidance, that will help you to enhance their movement and overall function.

This article is designed to help you to identify some of the movement challenges presented to you by your clients and to give you some creative tools and strategies for developing a correct and safe training plan.

Identifying Movement Limitations through Screening

Prior to starting a personal training session with a client, it is important to observe and assess any movement limitations that they may have.

Developing a systematic approach to screening clients through movement and determining the limitations that a specific joint complex may have in relation to the acceptable ranges, will help to create a corective strategy and training plan.

Understanding How We Move

Interestingly we may refer to a client’s movement goals, exercise history and biomechanical abilities before we make the assumption of how an individual moves.

To get a greater understanding of human beings, we must be aware of how the body moves in a three dimensional space.

Triangulation is a concept patented by Physical Therapist Gary Gray.

This refers to movement within a three dimensional space which creates three aspects of motion – Tri – and the angulations which are:

  • Direction. Refers to the Plane of Motion i.e. Sagittal (forward and back), Frontal (side to side) and Transverse (rotational).
  • Height. Refers to the movement created either from the ground, the base of an object or from directly above. For example when a client is performing a balance reach with the arm as the driver, we can give the instruction of reaching “knee height”, chest height”, shoulder height”, or “above head height”.
  • Distance. Refers to how far away from the base the movement is.

How to Identify A Client’s “Real” Movement

During my ealier days as a personal trainer I was so focused on emphasising correct posture, alignment and learned cueing, that I sometimes missed what the “Real” movement was.

Real movements are typically movements that we don’t think about, we just do them. Examples of Real movements could be:

  • Bending down to tie a shoelace
  • Opening a door

So in relating this to your session, the way to identify a client’s Real movement is to do this subconciously.

How to Achieve A Desired Movement Subconsciously

To achieve a desired movement subconciously with a client, we can employ the use of an external objective.

Example 1 – The Lunge

While asking a client to perform a lunge you may notice that the client is showing limited right hip adduction. This may draw you to ‘consciously’ cue more hip adduction.

However beware – this strategy could potentially lead to more compensatory patterns developing. Why? Because the focus of performing a lunge is drawn solely on adducting the hip, the surrounding joints and movement may be affected when intense focus is placed on correcting the imbalance.

Instead, you could invite the client to perform the same anterior lunge however this time – rather than mentioning the adduction of the right hip – instead give them an external objective to focus on.

For example instruct them to drive the right hand, left and laterally over the head to address the right hip imbalance.

Other objectives could also be employed if your client presented a multitude of imbalances.

Example 2 – The Squat

Another example we could look at is the Squat, possibly the most talked about and written about exercise in the industry.

Initially when you ask a client to perform a squat, observation takes place with the client’s range of motion and execution of the exercise.

The client may present limitations in the range of movement in the ankle and hip complex. Commonly these may be represented by a heel lift and excessive forward lean. Naturally “conscious” cueing is considered to address these imbalances by asking the client to “maintain a lift through the chest”, or by reducing the depth of the squat, just to name a couple.

Another option to consider is to employ an external objective for the client to focus on.

For example when the client is performing the squat, ask them to reach with two hands anteriorly at a verticality of chest height with a distance of full range.

The client initiates the squat with their arms in this position, lowering into the squat until their arms come in contact with a dowel rod that will be holding below their outstretched arms. This way you can control the quality, depth and success of the squat executed.

Summary

There are many reasons why a subconcious strategy is of benefit when screening and training your client, but for me I have found that the carry-over from a subconscious level into normal movement has been instant and long lasting.

Clients have shown improvements in decreasing pain, functional limitations and sporting performance. Interestingly enough, it also provides the trainer with a blank canvas on which to become creative with their program design.

So good luck and have fun getting creative!

References

  1. Gary G & Tiberio Fuctional Video Digest
  2. Myers T.(2004) Anatomy Trains Churchill Livingstone

Dean Quirke
Dean is a NLP & Transformational Coach, CHEK Exercise Coach, GRAVITYPost-rehab Trainer and specialises in corrective exercise, injury prevention, weight management and special populations. Based out of Sydney, Dean’s passions lie within Movement and Rehabilitation, which has led him on an incredible journey of self discovery and education. Having sought out some of the foreward thinkers and innovative educators of our time, he has discovered that there is great need and a requirement to be open-minded and adaptable in order to be successful in this field. Dean likes to work with people that want to improve their lives on all levels but are just missing the one thing to make it happen…the tools! Getting results in a structured progressive manner is the key to his success.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw