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Old 10-04-2010, 04:48 AM   #1
Izzet Girgin
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From charlespoliquin: The "Functional" Training Delusion

by Erick Minor

Functional training is not superior to traditional strength training for developing usable strength and fitness.

For the last few years, functional training has gained recognition as the gold standard for developing strength and athleticism. Unfortunately, this assumption has more to do with preferences and less to do with results.

In order to be a true disciple of functional training you must:

1. Exclude most single-joint exercise
2. Avoid split routines
3. Avoid the use of machines
4. Have a strong dislike for bodybuilding

The “functional” coaches promote the delusion that single-joint exercise, exercise machines, and split routines are non-functional and only useful for aesthetic purposes. This stance is not supported by research or empirical evidence.

This article will explain why.

The word “functional” is misused and should be eliminated from strength training vocabulary. To understand my stance, let’s define the word.

The Oxford dictionary defines “functional” as:

1. Of or serving a function
2. Designed or intended to be practical rather than attractive

The “Resistance Training Specialist Manual” defines “functional” exercise as:

1. Exercise that improves one’s tolerance or performance of work, daily life or sport.



My definition:

1. Exercise that increases work capacity, strength, muscle mass, sport performance, and improves joint function and integrity.

Depending on how you define the word, many exercises can be described as functional.

What baffles me is the blind belief that multi-joint exercise is somehow more functional than single-joint exercises. The campaign to eliminate single-joint exercise has gained ground due to the incorrect assumption that single-joint or machine exercise will ruin athletic performance. Many successful coaches, including myself, have improved athletes’ performance by using “old school’ (non-functional) methods. The programming and loading parameters behind the training is what really determines the benefit of an exercise.

The purpose of this article is to persuade a few of you to select exercises based on the goal, not on the genre of training you support.

Now, I will challenge some of the primary arguments created by the functional training establishment. Here we go.
Argument 1: Functional exercises are natural and single-joint (isolation) exercises are unnatural.

An exercise is natural if it obeys the laws of joint mechanics, neurophysiology, and the limits of soft tissue. All exercises have risks and benefits, it is imprecise to label any exercise as “good” or “bad”. The risk is determined by how far you stray from optimal joint mechanics, how much load is used, and how often. An exercise is valuable if it contributes to the overall improvement of a desired motor pattern. For example, let’s say you’ve recovered from a hamstrings injury and now you want to strengthen the weak leg. The most efficient way to recover the lost strength and muscle mass on the injured leg is to perform uni-lateral single joint exercises. You will achieve more motor unit activation by isolating the movement pattern. Once the hamstring is at a desired strength level, bilateral exercises (Romanian deadlifts, glute-ham-raises, etc) can be added. Simply, any exercise that meets the needs of the desired goal adds a link in the chain of improvement (Purvis, 2001).

There really is no such thing as isolation exercise because single joint exercise requires isometric stabilization of the support muscles. So, single joint exercise could be called isometric/isokinetic exercise. During a standing biceps curl, the shoulder girdle and core musculature must contract isometrically to maintain body position.
Argument 2: Functional exercises are better than single joint exercise for injury prevention.

Other than acute trauma caused by impact, muscle imbalances and faulty movement patterns are major causes for muscle and joint injury. When an individual has weak muscles within a movement pattern, the body will compensate by avoiding the weakness, especially during complex movements such as running, jumping, squats, Olympic lifts, chin-ups and shoulder presses. Repeated exposure to faulty movement patterns can result in pain and joint dysfunction. It has been said, and I agree that you are only as healthy as your joints. The best way to address faulty movement patterns (not caused by a medical condition) is to pinpoint the weak muscles, strengthen with single-joint exercises, and then reeducate the muscular chain with compound exercise. Greg Roskopf, founder of the soft-tissue therapy called Muscle Activation Technique, states, “Functional Training” (compound exercise) will only reinforce compensatory patterns if the weak links are not first identified and eliminated!”

Functional training can be especially problematic for athletes since most have experienced injury during their careers. With athletes, it is assumed that the function of their musculoskeletal system is normal and the only goal is to improve strength and power. If a strength coach believes his or her athletes’ -just need more strength on the basic lifts- they will limit strength gains and predispose the athlete to future injuries (Janda, 1986). Correcting muscular imbalances and weakness should be the first priorioty when training anyone.
Argument 3: Functional exercise is more sports-specific than single-joint exercise.

Unless you are a weightlifter, powerlifter, or strongman, there are no sports-specific exercises. The only sports-specific training is the actual sport movement, also known as practice. The sports-specific move for shot-putters is shot putting, for a pitcher its pitching; get my point. The real question is whether the strength acquired will transfer to the prime movement of the sport. Transfer of strength is a better indicator of an exercises value. For example, anyone who has completed a training cycle using the reverse hyper extension, which is a single-joint exercise, will agree that this exercise does transfer and will add pounds to your squat and deadlift.

All strength training performed in a gym is “artificial,” but even “artificial” exercise can contribute to improved performance. Wayne Westcott, Ph.D. performed several studies on the effects of machine based strength training on golf driving performance. All 77 participants improved their driving power (average 3.4 mph increase). This reinforces the fact that even machine-based strength can improve performance.

Take two athletes with equal skill, body structure, size, and experience; make one athlete 25% stronger in the prime movers of their sport. The stronger athlete is now the superior athlete.
Conclusion

My suggestion to anyone who trains people for a living is to utilize the best tools available to achieve the goal. Don’t eliminate an exercise because someone tells you it’s not functional. Evaluate every exercise, piece of equipment, and gadget for its efficacy at achieving the desired result. We all need to be more practical in our approach and recognize the complexity involved in manipulating the human body.

OPINIONS?
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Old 10-04-2010, 07:17 AM   #2
Richard Paul Ham-Williams
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Re: From charlespoliquin: The "Functional" Training Delusion

Functional exercise is an amusing term as is the way it is bandied around.

I love variety in my training, I enjoy compound moves. However, to term them functional to the average Joe is misleading them at best.

The body adapts so specifically that to call an exercise functional just because it may be similar is incorrect. You get good at what you do and any apparent "transfer" of strength/skill is in-spite of the training not because of it.

Functional simply means and implies to be good at something. And that is relevant to what you want to be good at.

I maybe able to deadlift 200k and that makes me functional for that, I can't run for my life so I am not functional for that.

Function is as function does I believe Forest would say.

Richard
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Old 10-04-2010, 07:20 AM   #3
Izzet Girgin
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Re: From charlespoliquin: The "Functional" Training Delusion

do you believe single joint exercises can be deemed "functional" in its purest sense? that being functional for real life movements which is how i think of functional
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Old 10-04-2010, 08:00 AM   #4
Jason Wallis
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Re: From charlespoliquin: The "Functional" Training Delusion

Quote:
Originally Posted by Izzet Girgin View Post
do you believe single joint exercises can be deemed "functional" in its purest sense? that being functional for real life movements which is how i think of functional
Sometimes...
Yesterday i lifted a 5 gallon gas can out of the back of my truck. The beginning of the lift was identical to a preacher curl, traditionally considered a non-functional isolation exercise.
When I began hapkido several years ago, I (and anyone I sparred with) quickly learned that strength can overpower all but the most perfect technique. My strength came from a "traditional" bodybuilding split before I discovered crossfit.
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Old 10-04-2010, 08:27 AM   #5
Chris Everts
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Re: From charlespoliquin: The "Functional" Training Delusion

He's not dismissing compound movements, he's saying its not smart to dismiss single joint exercises for many reasons. It makes sense, the mentality that "functional strength" people get is that isolation movements=bicep curls and pec dec=muscle heads and people who don't know how to train, so they'll dismiss the idea of using single joint exercises.
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Old 10-04-2010, 12:03 PM   #6
Eric A. Brown
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Re: From charlespoliquin: The "Functional" Training Delusion

Many single joint exercises are exceptional exercises to improve compound exercises (example: extensions for triceps to improve lockout on bench, etc.)
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Old 10-04-2010, 12:18 PM   #7
Justin Z. Smith
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Re: From charlespoliquin: The "Functional" Training Delusion

I think bodybuilders know that when they say "isolate", it is shorthand for "isolate as much as possible", and know that other muscles can come into play via high weight/effort and bracing and shaking. The general public, however, thinks that when experienced lifters say "isolate" that these lifters literally mean that they believe only one muscle will be activated, and therefore they are silly muscleheads, wholly ignorant of anatomy.

The 'this movement is sports specific, but this one is not' type of arguments fall flat, especially when groups of people categorize working out as exercise, wink, then any movement can be sports specific, which is OK.

Justin
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Old 10-04-2010, 12:49 PM   #8
Aushion Chatman
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Re: From charlespoliquin: The "Functional" Training Delusion

Quote:
Originally Posted by Izzet Girgin View Post
by Erick Minor


Conclusion

My suggestion to anyone who trains people for a living is to utilize the best tools available to achieve the goal. Don’t eliminate an exercise because someone tells you it’s not functional. Evaluate every exercise, piece of equipment, and gadget for its efficacy at achieving the desired result. We all need to be more practical in our approach and recognize the complexity involved in manipulating the human body.
This is all that needed to be said, everything else was superfluous.
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Old 10-04-2010, 12:53 PM   #9
Ari Sherwood
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Re: From charlespoliquin: The "Functional" Training Delusion

Strange. Does Charles quality control his writers? This seems entirely at odds with:

http://www.charlespoliquin.com/Blog/...ll-Around.aspx {WFS}

"Written by: Charles Poliquin
9/23/2010 7:42 AM

The leg (or knee) extension machine has endured as one of the most popular exercise machines in health clubs, school weightrooms and physical therapy clinics. Here are five reasons for its popularity:

1. Most individuals will avoid squats because they are way more taxing than leg extensions. In other words, our culture teaches us to use the easiest route, not the most rewarding one. However, in life you get out what you put in. No amount of leg extensions will equal a full squat in terms of gains in strength, hypertrophy and power.

2. Most geeks will rationalize (i.e., “rational lies”) that isolation exercises are better than compound exercises – this way they can repress their feelings of guilt for avoiding demanding, gut-wrenching exercises. Many trainees believe leg extensions isolate the quadriceps better. Not so. Even though your quadriceps are actually isolated during leg extensions, this exercise has very little actual transfer capacity to daily activity..."
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Old 10-06-2010, 08:27 AM   #10
Jamie J. Skibicki
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Re: From charlespoliquin: The "Functional" Training Delusion

Ari,

How is saying the squat is superior to the leg extension for any metric and saying that single joint excersizes should not be discarded at odds with each other?
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