What the functional are we doing?I hate to go all middle school essay on you good folks but I have to start this blog with a definition.
Functional– of or having a special activity, purpose, or task; relating to the way in which something works or operates.
Functionality is such a broad and all encompassing term that it really could mean anything based off of whatever is required of that athlete. It goes in line with another concept I have touched on before- the SAID principle.
Both are tremendous ideas that can benefit parents and athletes in their quest to perform at higher levels.
However, while the SAID principle has remained shrouded in mystery, reserved for coaches and people that are really into training- the term functional is everywhere. And that CAN be cool, but it can also be a problem.
Where it’s cool is when people understand that functional can mean anything and is context specific to the task at hand (great example of that here). A rotational med ball throw is functional for a baseball athlete but might not be so much for a distance runner. Nice, got it. What isn’t cool and can trend toward dishonest and dangerous is when people label certain training implements or modalities as inherently functional and everything else is crapped on as dated and barbaric.
Take the kettlebell for example. Initially developed in Russia in the 18th century, this apparatus was utilized by old school strongmen for feats of hoisting, twisting and bending in circus tents all across Europe and Asia.
Fast forward a couple hundred of years and now this hunk of iron has been marketed and branded as a more functional piece of equipment than a barbell or dumbbell. It’s a piece of metal. It isn’t good or bad. It isn’t functional or dysfunctional. It just is. HOW you use it could be functional for a sport or task. For instance, if you are involved in kettlebell sport, and need to do 1 arm snatches for time- a kettlebell is as functional as it gets!
Take that same movement and try to sell that as a functional must for a basketball player and I’m calling BS. It’s a cool exercise and it might have some degree of transfer but is it a necessity for a kid on the hardwood?…I’d say no. The same can be said of balance training sold under the functional blanket. Yes, balance is an important feature for many athletes but balance without any general strength is missing the forest for the trees. If you or your kid is spending all their time on a bosu ball and has the general strength of a newborn mouse it is going to be tough to move explosively or dynamically. Louie Simmons once said you can’t shoot a cannon ball out of a canoe. If an athletes frame isn’t stable or robust it doesn’t make a difference how many “functional balance exercises” they try. They lack the horsepower to put something into the ground, opponent or a ball they will be doing a functional move many Americans do for most of their day-sitting on a bench or chair.
Anatoliy Bondarchuk is credited as being the best strength coach of all time. He himself was an Olympic champion and trained other gold medal winning hammer throwers as well. Some of the functional exercises he developed for his sport included throwing different weighted rocks and sticks. Again, a rock or stick isn’t innately functional itself, but how you use it could be.
To sum it up. Anything can be functional. See if the exercise you are using has value to you as an athlete. If it does, then tremendous, continue with what you are doing. If not you might have to re-evaluate what it is you are trying to do. Don’t get caught up in what something is sold as, or what it looks like. Focus more on what it actually is and does. Train smart, have fun and don’t get pulled into the fitness marketing machine.