“Functional training” is a term that gets tossed around throughout the fitness community quite often. Depending on who you speak with, you’ll get a different definition of what it means to do functional training. To me the concept is simple: I view functional training as any type of program that can directly correlate to real-world activities and alleviate some common problems that can occur as a result of intense training. Every bodybuilder wants to look good, but it’s also important to PEFORM well.
Tip #1 Adequate warm-up/cool-down
Take a look at an average gym-goer as they prepare to train. Here’s a snapshot of what you will typically see.
• 5-minute treadmill walk. Check.
• Few sets of light presses. Check.
Load up that barbell – RIP. You have a torn pectoral muscle. Do the simple things to properly warm up before any training day. Hip, shoulder and ankle mobility exercises should be a part of your warm-up. Quick foam rolling on tight spots before you even touch a weight will also help. Band work for rotator cuff health and wall slides to fix that “slumped shoulder” look. Dynamic stretches BEFORE a heavy leg day to really warm up your muscles and prime your central nervous system. And stretch – yes stretch. Make time for stretching and foam rolling and you will not only feel better, but you will recover much faster.
Tip #2 Core first
A few sets of leg raises and crunches as an afterthought will not cut it. Pick exercises that work your anterior AND posterior core as well as a rotational and stability exercise (weighted decline crunch, “superman,” Pallof press and RKC plank). My training partner (a master trainer) has forced me to start training core first in my workouts; it has helped me gain immense core strength as well as serve as an excellent warm-up before I start my primary compound exercise.
Tip#3 Prioritize explosive/compound movements
Take a look at any Olympic lifter, running back or short-distance sprinter. They all seem to have certain traits in common: dense muscle mass and low body-fat levels. Their training is focused around explosive movements and exercises that target the greatest amount of muscle fibers. Exercises like the clean and press, snatch, front squat, pendlay row, incline bench press, weighted pull-up, deadlift and standing press. The hard exercises – the exercises that most individuals would choose to skip due to diligent execution and difficulty. Take the road less traveled – it will make all the difference. Start your training with an explosive exercise (after a real warm-up) and pick a compound movement as your go-to exercise: power clean into front squat followed by heavy front squats.
The worst thing that you can do is to ignore all of my ideas and sink back into what you like and what is comfortable. Forget about the term “functional” – think “athlete,” or “real-world strength.” I train all of my clients like athletes no matter what background they have – because they are! Any person who wants to become more flexible, mobile, stronger, faster, have a stronger core, a better QUALITY OF LIFE – is an athlete in my eyes. Many “functional” goals also transfer over to “bodybuilding” goals. Sit down, re-evaluate your training, put some thought into your programming and be able to both look the part AND act the part when someone questions your athleticism. Don’t give them a reason.