Functional training: The implications to athletes and coaches

There is a constant buzz about ‘Functional Training’ in the conditioning and strength world nowadays. The words mean a whole raft of things to professional trainers and just as likely each meaning is different to each one. The following definition forms the basis of all functional training discussions.

“Functional training mimics the stresses, demands, intensity, and skills of the sport and advances an athlete toward safe and effective participation in the chosen sports activity.”

A close examination of the sport will reveal the movement patterns associated with the activity as well as the duration and intensity necessary to compete at the desired level. Functional testing is the beginning step in assessing ones abilities to become a better athlete.

Control of the body, at speed, is a vital component to playing at the higher levels of competition. However, it is not just enough to be able to control the body; the body must have the correct strength, power, agility, balance, and coordination all at the precise times needed to excel.

One of the ways an athlete may determine if they have the necessary tools to reach their goals is by testing for basic movement patterns. The Functional Movement Screen process best accomplishes this. It is a testing protocol “comprised of seven tests, which categorize and rank functional movement patterns. These movement patterns are specific to human growth and development and are extremely important in athletics because they are fundamental to complex activities. This screen attempts to pinpoint a weak area in these movement patterns, which will then allow for improved exercise prescription and performance. This can be the first line of defense in injury prevention.

This screen is the starting point for a system of evaluation and exercise prescription that attempts to improve communication and collaboration between the sports medicine and exercise science professions. The common goal is to create an objective assessment in order to improve human functional movement.” (Athletic Body in Balance, Cook, G. Human Kinetics 2003) Try them and see for yourself how you do.

The self-movement tests:

1. Deep squat
2. Hurdle step
3. In-line lunge
4. Shoulder mobility
5. Straight leg raise
6. Stability Push-up
7. Rotational stability

The deep squat is the ABSOLUTE BEST EXERCISE there is for the body, and this is why it is the KING of all exercises! The deep squat “examines the symmetrical movement of squatting-the left and right sides of the body do the same movement. To pass this screen, you need optimal mobility at the ankles, knees, hips and shoulders and optimal stability throughout the spine.” (Ibid)

The deep squat assesses bilateral, symmetrical, and functional mobility of the hips, knees and ankles. The dowel held overhead assesses bilateral, symmetrical functional mobility of the shoulders as well as the thoracic spine. (High Performance Sports Conditioning, Foran, Bill, editor Human Kinetics 2001)

Description of the exercise:

1. The athlete places the feet slightly farther than shoulder width apart and places the hands on the dowel so as to form a 90° angle at the elbows with the hands overhead. (Athletic Body in Balance, Cook, G. Human Kinetics 2003)

2. The athlete presses the dowel overhead with the shoulders flexed and abducted and with the elbows extended, then descends slowly into a squat position with the heels on the floor, the head and chest facing forward, and the dowel maximally pressed overhead.

3. The athlete is allowed up to three chances to perform the test.

4. If the athlete does not achieve the criteria for a score of three, he or she then performs the test with a 2x6 under the heels.

Three points or the best score would be the result of the following: · Upper torso is parallel with the tibia (lower leg) or toward vertical.
· Femur (Thighbone) is below horizontal-the hip joint is BELOW the knee joint.
· Knees aligned over the feet
· Dowel is aligned over the feet

Two points result from:

· Upper torso is parallel with eh tibia or toward the vertical
· Femur is below horizontal
· Knees are not aligned over the feet
· Dowel is aligned over the feet

One point:

· Tibia and upper torso are not parallel
· Femur is not below horizontal
· Knees are not aligned over the feet
· Lumbar flexion is noted

A score of zero is given if pain is associated with any part of the test. Have your health care provider check over the painful area before proceeding further into the testing procedure.

A score of less than three indicates a limiting factor or factors, and should be resolved during the program planning process. Limitations are direct contributors to impaired functioning and lead to injuries if not corrected.

Implications for the deep squat.

“The ability to perform the deep squat requires closed chain-kinetic dorsi flexion of the ankles, flexion of the knees and hips and extension of the thoracic spine as well as flexion and abduction of the shoulders.” (High Performance Sports Conditioning, Foran, Bill, editor Human Kinetics 2001)

This means if you cannot do it then you have a limited Range of Motion also known as flexibility. Poor performance on this test can mean you have limited mobility in the upper torso, which may be indicative of glenohumeral (shoulder) thoracic-spine (upper back) mobility. It can also mean your lower body has poor closed chain (feet or hands solidly positioned on the floor and non-moving during the exercise). Dorsi flexion (toes pushed to the ground and heels raised, i.e. a calf raise motion) ankle limitations or poor flexion of the hip joint.

If you decide to try this at home, have someone watch as you perform the movement. If your body tilts excessively forward with your arms out front as you bend down or your heels raise in the low position or you are not able to get into the low position then begin working on these areas of flexibility and mobility before you move forward. The body is meant to function in an efficient manner. It cannot be as effective or efficient with these types of built in limitations to movement. It will only compensate with recruitment of other muscles to achieve the motions, thus overburdening and creating further misalignments of the body and its movement patterns.

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