Category: Strength Training

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.

    Strength and Conditioning Book

    They say better late than ever, in this case it took few years, but eventually the project is now completed and the book will be out on the 17th of December.
    It all started with a chat at a conference few years ago with my colleagues and friends Rob Newton and Ken Nosaka discussing the need of a comprehensive textbook on strength and conditioning providing information on the biological bases as well as practical applications.
    This book is finally a reality thanks to the help and support of many colleagues who agreed to contribute to this project providing excellent chapters and creating a unique resource which we hope will be well received by anyone interested in Strength and Conditioning.

    This book provides the latest scientific and practical information in the field of strength and conditioning. The text is presented in four sections, the first of which covers the biological aspects of the subject, laying the foundation for a better understanding of the second on the biological responses to strength and conditioning programs. Section three deals with the most effective monitoring strategies for evaluating a training program and establishing guidelines for writing a successful strength and conditioning program. The final section examines the role of strength and conditioning as a rehabilitation tool and as applied to those with disabilities.
    The book is already available on Amazon and other online booksellers in hardcover and paperback editions.
    A big thanks to our production team at Wiley-Blackwell and all the colleagues contributing to the chapters.

    Details of the chapters are available here:
    Foreword (Sir Clive Woodward).
    Preface.
    1.1 Skeletal Muscle Physiology (Valmor Tricoli).
    1.2 Neuromuscular Physiology (Alberto Rainoldi and Marco Gazzoni).
    1.3 Bone Physiology (Jörn Rittweger).
    1.4 Tendon Physiology (Nicola Maffulli, Umile Giuseppe Longo, Filippo Spiezia and Vincenzo Denaro).
    1.5 Bioenergetics of Exercise (R.J. Maughan).
    1.6 Respiratory and Cardiovascular Physiology (Jeremiah J. Peiffer and Chris R. Abbiss).
    1.7 Genetic and Signal Transduction Aspects of Strength Training (Henning Wackerhage, Arimantas Lionikas, Stuart Gray and Aivaras Ratkevicius).
    1.8 Strength and Conditioning Biomechanics (Robert U. Newton).
    2.1 Neural Adaptations to Resistance Exercise (Per Aagaard).
    2.2 Structural and Molecular Adaptations to Training (Jesper L. Andersen).
    2.3 Adaptive Processes in Human Bone and Tendon (Constantinos N. Maganaris, Jörn Rittweger and Marco V. Narici).
    2.4 Biomechanical Markers and Resistance Training (Christian Cook and Blair Crewther).
    2.5 Cardiovascular Adaptations to Strength and Conditioning (Andy Jones and Fred DiMenna).
    2.6 Exercise-induced Muscle Damage and Delayed-onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) (Kazunori Nosaka).
    2.7 Alternative Modalities of Strength and Conditioning: Electrical Stimulation and Vibration (Nicola A. Maffiuletti and Marco Cardinale).
    2.8 The Stretch–Shortening Cycle (SSC) (Anthony Blazevich).
    2.9 Repeated-sprint Ability (RSA) (David Bishop and Olivier Girard).
    2.10 The Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) (Romain Meeusen and Kevin De Pauw).
    3.1 Principles of Athlete Testing (Robert U. Newton and Marco Cardinale).
    3.2 Speed and Agility Assessment (Warren Young and Jeremy Sheppard).
    3.3 Testing Anaerobic Capacity and Repeated-sprint Ability (David Bishop and Matt Spencer).
    3.4 Cardiovascular Assessment and Aerobic Training Prescription (Andy Jones and Fred DiMenna).
    3.5 Biochemical Monitoring in Strength and Conditioning (Michael R. McGuigan and Stuart J. Cormack).
    3.6 Body Composition: Laboratory and Field Methods of Assessment (Arthur Stewart and Tim Ackland).
    3.7 Total Athlete Management (TAM) and Performance Diagnosis (Robert U. Newton and Marco Cardinale).
    4.1 Resistance Training Modes: A Practical Perspective (Michael H. Stone and Margaret E. Stone).
    4.2 Training Agility and Change-of-direction Speed (CODS) (Jeremy Sheppard and Warren Young).
    4.3 Nutrition for Strength Training (Christopher S. Shaw and Kevin D. Tipton).
    4.4 Flexibility (William A. Sands).
    4.5 Sensorimotor Training (Urs Granacher, Thomas Muehlbauer, Wolfgang Taube, Albert Gollhofer and Markus Gruber).
    5.1 Strength and Conditioning as a Rehabilitation Tool (Andreas Schlumberger).
    5.2 Strength Training for Children and Adolescents (Avery D. Faigenbaum).
    5.3 Strength and Conditioning Considerations for the Paralympic Athlete (Mark Jarvis, Matthew Cook and Paul Davies).