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Added On October 28, 2011
The Functional Training Myth

by Rusi
The functional training concept has become so popular than even the fake ass personal trainers you see selling bullshit products like the perfect push-up or another ab machine on the TV are using it. The idea itself is not bad but its usage today is quite misunderstood.
“Don't train like bodybuilders. They are not functional.”

Bodybuilders are usually used as an example of non-functional training and criticized by many famous gurus. This is true and wrong. Mostly wrong. Bodybuilders are not less functional than any athlete out there. Why? Because function is the only thing that dictates functional and what's useful for improving in one direction will usually be useless for another sport, activity or whatever.

Bodybuilders may not be as strong as powerlifter or Olympic weightlifters but that's not the goal of the sport in the first place. The main goal of the sport of bodybuilding is to develop muscle tissue. It's as simple as that. The training is based around that very same goal and is obviously quite functional for that. Developing a good looking body is not less functional than perfecting your basketball skills and definitely not easier. The problem is how the society looks at it.

Many coaches, especially from the kettlebell circles, are bashing bodybuilders by saying that they are nothing but useless statues on stage. Really? If I follow the same logic soccer players are only monkeys running after a ball...Obviously if it was so easy to look like a bodybuilder everybody would look like them.

Not the case. Hitting yourself to the ground day after day in order to gain weight, looking for different ways to improve your physique is the equivalent of perfecting your dunk or golf swing. Also I'm yet to see a muscular individual who has developed his physique through hard work over the years who is not "functional". Of course there are those who use steroids and other drugs but they usually don't stick around for long if the abuse of drugs is their main "quality" due to the fact that:

Easy doesn't cut it.

“But what about isolation exercises?  They suck.”

Isolation exercises obviously are less beneficial than multi-joint movements because they hit less muscles and don't develop that much coordination and skills. However they can be a very useful tool which has received more hate over the last years than Lady Gaga.

The role of the isolation exercises is to focus on a certain part of your body by improving the main function of that particular muscle group. For example the biceps curl - one of the most hated movements by the functional crowd - will improve the integrity of the elbow and shoulder joint since the muscle crosses both. The movement also has a great carry-over to "real" life activities such as lifting and moving heavy boxes and stuff you can't transport with straight arms - a TV for example.

I remember one time when I had to move an enormous amount of books from my college library to the trash zone. Damn. Were my weak biceps sore as hell the day after. Why? They spend most of the day in a semi-curled position. That's how I learnt that the biceps curl is pretty damn functional
The only non-functional thing about this exercise is the stupid ball.
“When I do squats on the ball I really feel it in my core. U MAD BRO?"

Yes, I'm mad.
People have started to think that if you are doing something on unstable surface it becomes functional right away. Most of the ridiculous exercises you see on those balls are a perfect example. I've seen people do everything on the ball - overhead triceps extensions, squats, bench presses and so on.

While the ball can be useful for some exercises it completely diminishes the benefit of the movements it's used for. For example when you do squats on a ball you are not really as functional as you may think. What's happening is that you are testing your balance skills and preparing for standing on a water bed. I'm ok with balance training but it makes more sense to make it more sport specific and part of your regular practice rather than your conditioning routine. Also a single-leg squat on a stable surface will test your stabalizers just as much while also stressing the lower body muscles much harder than a pathetic 2kg squat.

Not to mention that some exercises are just plain dangerous. For example dumbbell bench presses done on a ball suck. The instability added by the ball does not really make the primary movers - chest, triceps, front delts - work harder during the exercise. Yes, it makes your abs tense harder put it takes away from the main goal of the movement - develop pushing musculature. On top of that you are looking at a hurt shoulder or face if that stupid ball slips away. Handling heavy dumbbells is plenty hard don't make it even harder. I would feel extremely mad at myself if I hurt a joint because I decided to work my core "just a little more". You wouldn't try to eat while sitting on that ball because it will make the whole thing harder without providing that much of a benefit. Why use it on every exercise?

Doesn't make sense.

On the other hand ring training and dumbbells are a perfect example of efficient way to add instability to your upper body workouts and develop your shoulder stabilizers. Balls are useful for balance and stability training but you have to choose the right exercises - not just put a ball under your ass for everything.

Conclusion: The main idea behind functional training is great:

Train according to your PERSONAL needs if you want to improve at your sport or activity. However don't consider yourself superior to others not so interested in joining the local circus.
Of course a routine made solely from isolation exercise won't do much good but removing them entirely is just as stupid. It's not the exercise it's the abuse or should I say misuse that creates those misconceptions.
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