By Jamie Atlas, Hyperwear Master Trainer
“Functional Training” is an often used phrase that unfortunately is even more often misunderstood or mistakenly assigned to certain exercises. At Bonza Bodies Fitness (a small group personal training studio) we use a variety of functionally focused equipment and apparatus to try to tap into a specific variety of functions depending on the clients needs.
To ask about functional training, we must first start to examine the phrase ‘functional training’ and what that means to us:
Upon examination of the functions our client needs to go through to be successful in their movement patterns, it becomes evident that the functions we are having our client produce in the workout should speak to or assist in those functions (or remove the blocks that might stop our client moving through those functions).
In short, the training should replicate, complement or remove blocks relative to the tasks the client needs to be able to successfully complete.
Functional Training can vary from individual to individual, but for general real world movement, we can assign 4 major categories to movements we assign to our clients:
- Three Dimensionality
- Quadruple action movement patterns
- Load to Unload or Unload to Load.
Unpredictability – because lightning never strikes twice
If you’ve ever run on the beach, you’ve felt the sand move beneath your feet, felt the angle of the sand sloping down as you run parallel to the oceans edge. You’ve also felt how intensely exhausting it can be to complete what is normally a regular outing on such an unstable surface. The act of picking up items of varying sizes and shapes, playing with children, taking part in our weekend activities are by their very nature random and unpredictable. The movement patterns are different, the loading is varied and the same movement is rarely done in the same way twice.
Enter the seated chest press machine (or just about 80% of machines you’ll find in a regular commercial fitness facility). The entire purpose of the machine is to give you a predictable and replicable movement pattern.
Because a machine doesn’t care about function.
Well, not to say it doesn’t care… it’s not a bad machine… it’s just built that way. The majority of machines are built to create the same movement over and over again so you can measure your ability to improve or increase of the exercise and track your progress.
Of course, by this logic we can understand that functional movement requires an unpredictable tool.
Enter your friend the Sandbell, by Hyperwear. I’ve used a variety of tools and the sandbell has a unique feel to it that changes simply by virtue of gravity constantly pulling the contents away from your ever activated grip. Add momentum and that ‘dragging’ away of the sandbell becomes even more emphasized, the grip needing to be activated even more to maintain a solid contact with the weighted Sandbell. Releasing and catching require even more creativity from the hands and body to coordinate and integrate muscles together.
Three Dimensional movement – More than just a Rockem-Sockem robot
If you’ve watched the first terminator movie or any 80’s show featuring a robot of some sort, you’ve seen the robotic, slightly staggering pace that robots moved at for that generation of time. This is because robots at their simplest have joints that are strictly hinges. Our body, however hinged it may appear, is in a constant flux of three dimensionality, if not applying forces that move the joint through three planes of motion, then activation muscles to prevent other forces outside of the body from moving the joint into three planes of motion.
Looking at it more simplistically, even joints that shouldn’t go through three planes of motion may have muscles acting upon them to stop that three dimension movement from happening. Simply because a movement isn’t happening doesn’t mean forces aren’t at play.
Don’t believe me? Stand next to a friend and ask them to slowly push you over but try not to move as best you can. You’ll find a world of muscles activating to prevent the movement, but to the outside world it will simply look as if your friend is doing some form of an awkward ‘pat down for weapons’.
As we go through our day to day movements, our whole body moves in three planes of motion.
Frontal – stepping to the side to move around people, a golf swing, dragging a heavy door open or any number of movements are dominant in the frontal or side to side plane.
Saggital – Even when we naturally move in the saggital or front to back plane, there is usually rotation or frontal plane action that happens, the action of walking or running can involve a large amount of rotation just through the swinging of the arms and the counter-rotation of the hips.
Transverse – Ever looked behind you? You’ve experienced a transverse movement. Ever pushed something away from you with one hand? The transverse plane is not only essential to teach your clients, but it’s the way your muscles are wired to move. Take a close look at the muscles of the body and you’ll have a hard time finding many muscles that are in a straight up down or side to side position.
Quadruple action movement patterns – bringing the major players together
Ankle, Knee, Hip and Shoulders. When training for function, it is truly more beneficial to move the joints together. Multiple studies and anecdotal experience from strength coaches discuss the need for ‘application of strength’, meaning it is one thing to train a muscle to be strong, it another to teach it to move in accurate ways.
Given that the majority of clientele may be in need of application of strength not for their next olympic lifting session but for their day to day function, it becomes quickly evident that these 4 joints work together in most movements, whether something is being held or not.
In a quadruple joint training scenario, holding a Sandbell can be a great opportunity to tap into the action of all 4 major joints by adding certain variables and variety of movements you might not do for fear of dropping the weight. Unlike traditional dumbbells and equipment, if a Sandbell falls on your foot or body it is unlikely to injure or even hurt (speaking from personal experience during overly enthusiastic experimentation).
Load to Unload or Unload to Load – Going in empty handed
Gray Cook often speaks to his training reflecting the real world and of his training style having a low rate of injury. It’s not by chance. He favors a style that works you by doing 10 sets of 1 rep rather than 1 set of 10 reps. Between each repetition there is a release and a corresponding ‘unload’ that happens before the next rep/set can begin.
When you need to move something from A to B, you don’t carry that something and touch it lightly to the ground before then picking it up again. If someone saw you in the middle of the street doing 3 sets of 12 of touching your lawn chair lightly to the ground then standing back up again, they’d likely lock you up until your medication kicked in.
When bending over to pick something up, we usually come down empty handed, and return with the load in our hands. Because we need to pick up a load we’ve deliberately made ourselves as light as possible before picking up the weight. The beauty of the Sandbell is that we can actively throw it down, and then from an UNLOADED stance, reach over and pick the Sandbell up off the ground to become LOADED. If the sandbell is then released again on the other side (as seen in the video link) then the body is suddenly UNLOADED. Same principle applies for catching or throwing something – when the body accepts load and attempts to distribute it throughout the body, the training for real world function requires the movement to release and catch the Sandbell, the action of releasing briefly switching off the body before it quickly reactivates again to catch the Sandbell and repeat the squat with through the legs tilt (as seen in the Sandbell Video you tube vid.).
Putting it all together
To think about movements that might require an application, simply think of anything you might DO with your body that would end up with is doing something while getting from A to B or playing some form of sport. To choose tennis as an example, reaction or training for unpredictability is required not only for the feet but for the hand on the racquet to be able to grip and smash upon request. it would also be important that your tennis client be ready to move in three dimensions to volley but also to move around the court. Lastly, the racquet swings and the racquet follows through to achieve contact, essentially loading for a split second as the ball makes contact, then unloading as they return to their neutral stance.
In summary, train the body to follow the above four principles and you’ll have a client that will enjoy the workouts more and see applicable results. They will also be able to enjoy life outside of your gym because they are now able to see the improvements in their real world. The hope alone that your client might be able to participate or excel in their favorite activity of choice again makes the focus on functional training worthwhile – particularly to your client and the longevity of their body.
About Jamie Atlas
Jamie Atlas is an international presenter, owner of Bonza Bodies Fitness and seasoned fitness professional.
Originally from Australia and now located in Denver Colorado, Jamie has presented both locally and internationally on topics such as functional training and athletic performance. Jamie has also worked for and helped build education for a variety of well-recognized club and fitness equipment names in the fitness industry. Jamie has extensive experience serving small and large club chains and vast knowledge base of human movement and functional training. Jamie’s presentations are informative, effective and always entertaining!
Education, Certification, Professional Contributions:
- Certified Personal Trainer since 1991
- BSc, Neuroscience
- Dip Ed, Sports & Recreation
- PTA Global Certified Personal Trainer
- ViPR Master Trainer lvl 4
- PTontheNET.com 2003-2007
- Hyperwear Master Trainer
- GIFT Fellow (Gray Institute) 2010