Functional Training for New Strength Training Athletes

Functional training is taking the strength and conditioning world by storm for three very important reasons. First off, it’s fun. If you have never dragged a sled or flipped a tire, you don’t know what you are missing. It may sound kind of silly but the first time you get under a tire, drive your hips forward and heave it over you’ll know that you’ve found something that you’ll want to do again and again.

Next, there is less muscle soreness in the days following a functional workout vs. a traditional strength training workout using barbells, dumbbells and bands. The reason for this is that there is little or no eccentric contraction to most functional movements. The eccentric phase is the lengthening phase for a muscle – with a squat, it is the movement from the top to the bottom and this tends to be the phase that causes the most damage and subsequent pain. With functional movements, this phase is all but eliminated. For example, when dragging a sled, the load wants to stay still. No matter how much weight you put on it, it is never going to pull you backwards.  The same applies to tire flipping, sledgehammer swings and battle ropes – basically you are breaking inertia and that is it.

Finally, functional training gets you results that are useful in sport. Traditional BB and DB work makes an athlete stronger and they can then use this strength in their sport, but there isn’t a direct relationship between BB strength and skating for example –performing a dead lift will make someone much stronger but the strength they gain is general and needs to be assimilated in order for it to be put to use. Functional movements however more closely resemble the movements one performs during athletic competition. Sled drag crossovers, for example, will increase the strength of the muscles responsible for the crossover movement which will help to increase the power of this movement. Another great example would be Russian Boxes – two 35 degree ramps that slope towards each other. The action of jumping off of the outside leg from one box to the other is very similar to the skating motion. This functional movement is excellent for improving ones skating power.

Given these facts, I recommend functional training for everyone – from the young athlete to the older adult who is looking to keep their mobility into their later years, and everyone in between. In fact, I believe that functional training is particularly useful for those athletes who have never done any formal strength training before because they already have some experience with the movements – most sports have the athletes run, twist and jump and these are all facets of functional training – the learning curve for functional training is much shorter making these types of workouts production very quickly.

When functional workouts are paired with proper nutrition the results are fantastic! Body composition will improve dramatically as decreases in body fat are coupled with increases in lean body mass. On-field or on-ice performance will also improve dramatically as stronger leaner athletes are able to produce more relative force – this translates into harder hitting, higher jumping, and faster running or skating. Proper nutritional habits will fuel the body correctly meaning it can function optimally – higher sustained energy, higher force generation and quicker recovery from intense efforts.

If you have never done a functional workout before, you have no idea what you are missing!