Functional Training Is Not a Fad

The fitness industry is a breeding ground for weird fads.  Some come and go (usually the ones that suck, thank goodness) but some stay around and change the way we look at exercise.

Functional training is one of those “fads” that isn’t in fact a fad at all.  It is my belief that the rise of functional training has created a paradigm shift that will continue to benefit those seeking a life of health and hotness.  Unfortunately, functional training has often been misinterpreted and this is partly because it’s kind of hard to nail down an exact definition.

I personally like the definition given by one of the fathers of the functional training philosophy, Coach Mike Boyle: functional training is the application of functional anatomy to training.

(Yes, gentle reader, I know I talk about Coach Boyle a lot.  But trust me, the dude’s kind of a big deal and if you have found value in what I share, it’s in large part due to his influence on me.)

Coach Boyle:

Pretty fly for a white guy.

So we now have a definition of functional training.  Sweet!

“Mark… what does functional anatomy mean?”

Oh.  Sorry.  Functional anatomy is a way of looking at the muscles of the body that considers the way the muscles actually work in real life.  This is different than what I would call “cadaver anatomy”.

For instance, one of the things your quadriceps (the muscle on top of your thighs) can do is straighten your knee.  This is why you can use the leg extension to train your quads.  But in real life, you generally don’t have to straighten your legs against weight on your shins.  That’s why the leg extension is not “functional.”

Again, I don’t think any movement is “wrong” and I think all tools have their place.  I bag on machines a lot, but if you’re a bodybuilder and your body is working well (for now) and you just want to get swol’ bro, have at thee. Furthermore, there can be some limited use in the rehab setting for leg extension work.  But the fact is, in the real world, the quads don’t work like that. They work in concert with your hamstrings (and most of the rest of your body) to create movement.

And just to be clear, another tenet of functional training is that it is fundamentally about the training effect is produces, and not what it looks like.  Namby pamby one leg on the bosu ball single arm lateral raises with the pink 2lb dumbell with your eyes closed while you recite the alphabet backwards is NOT functional.

Are you fucking kidding me?

PS: Brian Patrick Murphy, is this the gym in Little Rock?!?!

I think there’s wisdom in training the body the way it works in life.  It is my belief that training which reflects functional anatomy maintains quality of movement and therefore reduces the chance of injury, increases your longevity, and allows you to actually perform should you want to dive in to a pick up basketball game.  Again, I think a lot of bodybuilders look awesome.  And I understand they are training for a certain look.  But there are lot of guys that “look like Tarzan and play like Jane” (not my line).  If you’re cool with being big and muscular and moving like shit in a pickup basketball game, cool.  That’s just not reflective of my personal training philosophy nor is it my recommendation for those of you that want to live the health and hotness dream.

Train your body the way it’s actually designed to function and you’ll not only look great, you’ll feel and move great.  Booyah.


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