Category: Strength and Conditioning

Functional nonsense. The new "F" word.

The new buzzword in the sporting domain seems to be “Functional”. Everything these days is has this F word attached to it. I have read and known of Functional Nutritionists, Functional Strength and Conditioning, Functional Medicine, Functional Biomechanics, Functional Psychology etc. etc. (If you don’t believe me, search all of the above terms on google and see how many hits you get for each discipline preceded by the F word).
I am a bit old school you know, when I see this word in front of a scientific discipline or I hear about functional training I get a sudden increase in blood pressure. This makes no sense. To all the young practitioners out there, please do not fall into this nonsensical trap. You don’t need to separate functional training from training. Training is training and is made to improve someone’s performance in the sport of choice.
Let’s first of all understand what the word “Functional” means. Functional is an adjective and it means “designed to have a practical use” or “working properly” according to the Merrian-Webster dictionary. The wiktionary link is here.
So, if you are a strength training coach working in any sport, you should design training which improves performance in that sport. By definition your training should have a practical use and should translate into improvements on the field. So there is no need to add the word functional to everything you do as if it isn’t you should not be there. Functional strength training is no different from strength training. The only difference is in the ability of the coach to design an appropriate training programme to improve performance in the specific activity performed by the athlete/client. However marketeers of course have an interest in making sure it is perceived to be “different”. There is a whole market to books, courses, DVDs, tools, T-shirts to sell. And perception in young coaches is now that if you use Olympic Lifts you are not “functional”. Nonsense.
Every training programme should be tailored to the need of individual athletes and their abilities/shortcomings. It does not need the functional adjective, because by proxy it should be functional. It’s the same with nutrition, isn’t it about getting people healthier/slimmer/bigger? So it is functional per se. What is the difference between a functional nutritionist and a nutritionist? Aren’t they all try to design diets which have a practical use? What about a functional biomechanist? How different is from a biomechanist? And a Psychologist or a Physician? Isn’t medicine supposed to be about having a practical outcome (health)? So why Functional Medicine? Do you know of anybody trying to do non-functional medicine (I might say I could write a thing or two about dysfunctional medicine…)?
The supporters of so called functional training claim that this is the ONLY way to improve sports specific movements. However when I see videos like the ones below, I lose it. Can this really be considered a training session? How many of the exercises/activities could be done in other ways? Is this intensity/activity really going to improve performance?
(Just to make it clear, I am not criticising the manufacturers of the equipment used, I am just trying to understand what the training prescription is supposed to do.)

 

 

Strength training is about improving strength. In order to do this, you do require to lift/push/pull relatively heavy loads (see generic recommendations by various organisations on different groups ACSM, NSCA) in a progressive manner. Performing few sets of 30 repetitions of pulling or shaking a rope will not improve your maximal strength unless you are completely untrained. Also, if I try to use the functionalist approach,can somebody explain me how shaking a rope is “functional”? functional to what exactly  (tug of war has not been in the olympics since 1920)?
So let’s not get polarised between the so called “functional” and the so called “conventional”. There is  nothing to be polarised about. Strength training should be designed using appropriate exercise modalities with appropriate loading with appropriate movement patterns to make sure that the athlete improves in the tasks he/she needs to perform and also reduces the chances of injuries. With that in mind, it is clear that in a well designed programme there is space for various things which might involve free weights, barbells, dumbbells, maybe some isoinertial devices etc etc. What the S&C coach needs to know is what loading each exercise is likely to apply to the body and by assessing progression of the athlete the coach needs to understand if the programme has been effective. Too many times I hear coaches and S&C coaches say “my programme works” but sometimes the evidence (data) is not there.
Anytime a so called “functional” exercise is proposed, it would be worthwhile discussing aspects like:
– What is the loading (force/power/speed of movement)?
– Which muscles are used?
– Can the activity cause injury?
– How does each exercise prescribed fit in the training plan and in trying to accomplish the right outcomes?
– After a period of training did the athlete improve? In what? And how does that affect his/her performance in the chosen sport?
Only after the last question has been answered we will be able to find out if the training prescription has been functional or dysfunctional.

 

New article published on strength training for the elderly

In 2013 I was kindly invited by my colleague Dr. Urs Granacher in Potsdam to give a talk to his institution about science in sport. During my stay we discussed about many aspects of sports science and spent a lot of time talking about bilateral deficit and the fact that there was not much research on assessing it in various populations and also on the effectiveness of various training interventions on this interesting neuromuscular phenomenon. In particular, I was concerned with the amount of training prescriptions characterised by exercises involving two limbs, while most movements are performed with one limb. Also, we discussed how this was relevant for the elderly, as the risk of falls is large for older people and falls occur normally when most of the weight is supported by one leg.
Discussions moved to actions, and the project has been now published on Plos One. The abstract is below and if you want to read the article you can click on the image.

    Abstract

    The term “bilateral deficit” (BLD) has been used to describe a reduction in performance during bilateral contractions when compared to the sum of identical unilateral contractions. In old age, maximal isometric force production (MIF) decreases and BLD increases indicating the need for training interventions to mitigate this impact in seniors. In a cross-sectional approach, we examined age-related differences in MIF and BLD in young (age: 20–30 years) and old adults (age: >65 years). In addition, a randomized-controlled trial was conducted to investigate training-specific effects of resistance vs. balance training on MIF and BLD of the leg extensors in old adults. Subjects were randomly assigned to resistance training (n = 19), balance training (n = 14), or a control group (n = 20). Bilateral heavy-resistance training for the lower extremities was performed for 13 weeks (3 × / week) at 80% of the one repetition maximum. Balance training was conducted using predominately unilateral exercises on wobble boards, soft mats, and uneven surfaces for the same duration. Pre- and post-tests included uni- and bilateral measurements of maximal isometric leg extension force. At baseline, young subjects outperformed older adults in uni- and bilateral MIF (all p < .001; d = 2.61–3.37) and in measures of BLD (p < .001; d = 2.04). We also found significant increases in uni- and bilateral MIF after resistance training (all p < .001, d = 1.8-5.7) and balance training (all p < .05, d = 1.3-3.2). In addition, BLD decreased following resistance (p < .001, d = 3.4) and balance training (p < .001, d = 2.6). It can be concluded that both training regimens resulted in increased MIF and decreased BLD of the leg extensors (HRT-group more than BAL-group), almost reaching the levels of young adults.

    >Nintendo wii fit can be used as a force plate?

    >

    Apparently it is possible to use the Nintendo Wii Balance Board as a measurement device. In fact, the Nintendo wii balance board is a simple force platform capable to sampling data at 100Hz.

     

    Balance Board Internals

    The Wii Fit offers for a low cost price a simple platform with four measuring sensors and can be used with very little effort as a simple and inexpensive force plate, even without the corresponding game console. A German company has developed a software solution to measure some key parameters;

    Clark et al. (2010) suggested that the Wii Fit balance board could represent a valid cheap solution to measure standing balance. Furthermore they have recently suggested the use of the infrared cameras in the hand controllers as a possible alternative to expensive timing light systems (http://www.jsams.org/article/S1440-2440(10)00913-8/abstract). Recent work from Young et al. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21087865) also suggests the possibility of using this technology for developing bespoke diagnostic or training programmes that exploit real-time visual feedback of current Centre of pressure position.

    The Wii Balance Board is certified for 300 pounds (136 kg) in Japan and 330 pounds (150 kg) in the U.S. The Wii Balance Board has four sensors, so each sensor is certified for up to 136 kg / 4 = 34 kg per sensor in Japan or 150 kg / 4 = 37.5kg per sensor in the United States.The following Wii Balance Board calibration information from WiiBrew will make more sense.

    If you are interested in Linux, you can see here how to extract the force data. I am sure this is not something useful to measure high performance athletes. However it could represent a fun and simple tool for diagnostic measurements in some populations.

    If you have one and are able to use it for this purpose let me know!