In his book “The Complete Guide to Functional Training” (2012), Allan Collins has given a great overview of Functional Training, its basic movements, and the (training) philosophy behind it. I would like to give a summary of the most important aspects that can also work to clarify some of the most common misconceptions about functional training. And this article will also try to give a good account on strength, something that many of us try to gain and increase with our training, but only a few really know how to measure it.
1. Adaptation is the goal and the optimal stimulus is the key
70% of the maximal strength has to be applied to cause an adaptation of strength (cf. Collins 2012, p.18). There need to be significant supra-threshold stimuli to cause the desired adaptation.
2. Train movements instead of muscles
This is one of the key principles. The training program should be based on basic movements and focus on movement quality. Other functional coaches have already advocated this, such as Arthur Saxon (cf. Collins 2012, p.19).
3. Identify limiting factors for all basic movements and improve them
In order to achieve the highest possible performance level you should especially train your weaknesses, following the motto: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link (cf. Collins 2012,p.19).
4. Establish a balance between agonist and antagonist
The strength ability between agonist and antagonist should be in balance. This will result in a more stable joint, reducing risk of injury during sports or daily life activities. If there is no balance between agonist and antagonist the joint may not be stable enough for the resistance and disallow the body to handle a higher resistance. Thus, the potential of the strength ability cannot be fully used (cf. Collins 2012, p.19).
5. Establish an optimal balance between the strength of the agonist and the strength of the synergists
The synergist assists the agonist in the desired joint movement or fixates a joint to produce the necessary stability in order for the agonist to develop its full strength. For example, deadlifts demand a high core tension otherwise the strength cannot be optimally transferred and is deflected to some degree. Thus, hindering the optimal deadlift performance (cf. Collins 2012, p.20).
6. Perform all basic movements in full range of motion
The athlete should always execute the whole movement amplitude as long as there are no technical errors or pain is experienced. The only exception exists in plyometric training if the elastic energy sinks (cf. Collins 2012, p.20). Plyometric training is a training method that provokes a stretching-shortening cycle of the musculature. With sprints, jumps, or similar exercises the reactive strength is trained and the athlete tries to release strength as fast as possible in the concentric phase which he/she stored in the eccentric phase.
7. Only develop a higher range of motion if your daily life, sport, or other daily tasks require it
More is not always better. Hyperkinesia can harm your performance and easily lead to injuries of the joint because the joint stability is reduced (cf. Collins 2012, p.21)
8. Can you develop motoric abilities of fitness during execution of the tasks or during the sport itself?
Movements just have to be similar enough to the sportive movement in order to produce a positive effect. However, this does not mean that a high strength improvement through fitness training automatically results in an improvement in sport. Transferring the strength to the specific sport has to be learned as well (cf. Collins 2012, p.21).
9. Not every facet of the sport will improve the performance
A sprinter should do little to no endurance training because it can lower their speed when their musculature transforms morphologically into endurance musculature. There should be a base of every motoric ability but improving one ability could corrupt another (cf. Collins 2012, p.21).
10. Not all basic movements are treated the same
Every basic movement is important, but still, not every movement is treated the same. Basic movements of daily life and sport of the individual should be taken into consideration (cf. Collins 2012, p.22). Train in relation to everyday life and sport specific.
11. Functional capacity is the product of range of motion and strength
The plane of the functional triangle is the functional capacity. The width of the triangle represents the range of motion and the height represents the functional strength of the basic movement. The functional strength can best be trained with increasing resistance. Repetitions of 1 to 6 or 6 to 8 are desirable. The range of motion can be trained with low resistance and many repetitions (cf. Collins 2012, p.22).
12. Improving the functional capacity improves performance and lowers risk of injury
(cf. Collins 2012, p.22) Especially in the area of stabilization and coordination it results in a huge additional value for the prevention of falls or injuries.
13. Every sport or job requires a high functional capacity in certain basic movements but probably not in all movements
Some sports require many basic movements, other may require only a few. The sport has to be examined for its required basic movements and the training program should be optimized accordingly. The focus should be on the exercises of the necessary basic movements that have a high relation to reality in order to allow for a good transfer (cf. Collins 2012, p.23).
14. Non-functional exercises can have a functional transfer
Exercises that come as close as possible to true-to-life movements have the best possible transfer. A pull up for example is a functional exercise. However, if an athlete does not possess the necessary strength to perform a certain exercise an assisting exercise, e.g. the biceps curl, is needed. Non-functional exercises are effective insofar as they promote functional movement or enable the athlete to perform a functional movement in the first place (cf. Collins 2012, p.23).
15. Incorporate the full range of motion of a basic movement into the exercises
You should always perform a basic movement in its full range of motion to innervate different muscles or motor units and to train a full spectrum of movement. Examples here are not only horizontal pressing movements like bench presses but also diagonal upward pressing movements like inclined bench presses or diagonal downward pressing movements like negative bench presses (cf. Collins 2012, p.24).
16. Additional exercises should enable the individual to perform basic movements or should be done complementarily
The number of additional exercises is huge. Almost every isolated exercise can be seen as additional since most of the basic movements are multiple joint movements. Isolated exercises should preferably be combined with exercises that produce a stimulus on the whole body because that stimulus causes great hormonal effects (cf. Collins 2012, p.25).
17. Grip strength is a limiting factor for many basic movements
Grip strength is required during pull and lift movements. No matter how strong the biceps (flexor) or the pectoralis major may be if an individual is not capable of holding their bodyweight they can’t do a pull up. The grip strength is a part of the kinetic chain that is just as important as every other part of the kinetic chain (cf. Collins 2012, p.26).
18. Develop a foundation in all basic movements before training functional strength and range of motion
Strength has to be build on a solid foundation. Basic training is based upon strengthening, stability, and technique exercises. Otherwise the full potential is restricted by limiting factors (cf. Collins 2012, p.27, see 17 above). It is especially important to train the center of the body. Only with a strong core as a base movements of all kinds can be trained effectively.
19. Fitness is basic movement-specific
Basically, the principle of specialization is meant here. If we know that the basic movements form the base for all tasks that we face in everyday life then we should train accordingly. In order to train the cardiovascular system the typical locomotion training is no in order. If the daily tasks require uncountable lifts of objects then it is necessary to train exactly that: lifting movements (cf. Collins 2012, p.27).
20. Developing strength ability is trainable and has a high degree of transfer
Strength training has a positive effect on the following motor skills: – maximum strength – strength endurance – performance – anaerobic strength – agility (cf. Collins 2012, p.25)
Source: Collins, Allan. The Complete Guide to Functional Training. London: Bloomsbury. 2012