Functional training is the most effective method of training that strength coaches and personal trainers can employ with all clients, athletes and non-athletes alike.
The most natural – and obvious – way to train for an activity is to perform the activity itself. Using a sport as an example, playing lacrosse is functional training/sports specific training in its purest form. All other methods of functional training as it relates to lacrosse, or any other sport, result from the sport.
Athletes who train in a functional environment will be better able to handle the rigors of their sport.
Distance runners must run long distances; baseball players need to sprint at full effort in different directions and be able to do so from a variety of starting positions and running speeds; basketball players must be able to sprint, jump, recover and repeat, and so on.
Football players should not be going on long jogs and marathon runners don’t need to spend a lot of time running 20-yard sprints, shuttle runs or performing tackling drills. It’s ridiculous to have a marathon runner hit a blocking sled, but it’s just as ridiculous for a football athlete to perform distance runs.
Of course there are times where athletes can cross-train and have fun trying methods of training that aren’t a major component of their competitive lives, but certainly not a lot of time should be spent on this kind of training, and it isn’t done in preparation for competition. Members of the regular gym-going public can benefit from adopting the methods of preparation used by athletes, as well.
While the strength coach/personal trainer should strive to make the training environment as functional as possible – for all clients – the goal should NOT be to try to replicate in the gym the exact conditions encountered during competition. For instance, working rotational movements in the gym using lighter weights is a good idea for baseball and lacrosse players, but trying to recreate the swing of a bat or shooting motion using a heavy implement is bad.
Athletes get enough skill work during their sport – the purest form of functional training – and don’t need to mimic these actions in the gym. Functional training should be a major part of the training programs of athletes and non-athletes alike.
Functional training also allows one to slowly progress and learn movements, where often this is not possible out on playing field. For example, if I want to strengthen a bat swinging motion, I can break it down and learn to control the motion using a cable as resistance. As the controlled movement is achieved, I can progress to swinging with a light medicine ball. The progression form simple (cable rotation) to complex (MB rotation) allows the body to strengthen the possible weakness that would otherwise not be addressed by swinging a baseball bat.