Functional Training For Sports

Functional Training For Sports
Boyle, M. 2004
Human Kinetics, P.O. Box 5076 Champaign, IL 61825 – 5076
Andrew Charniga, Jr.
Sportivny Press©

The superiority of functional training.

Since most of the exercises in the text involve bodyweight or very light resistance, the assumption is that movements which are challenging for the athlete to achieve balance are superior to traditional barbell exercises.

The table presented on page 23 indicates (without scientific support) that the single leg squat on some sort of pad is by “two steps superior” to the traditional barbell squat. Presumably, this is because the former involves more difficulty to maintain balance. This, of course, makes it inferior for sport training and confirms as false the book’s fundamental assumption of the “superiority of functional training for sport.” The reason why is because more attention and effort are wasted on balance in these types of exercises and too little is left to adequately train an athlete to develop force.

Physical therapists and functional training

Another underlying assumption in the book is that somehow physical therapists are leading the “wave of the future” in strength training for sport. This theme occurs repeatedly throughout the book. If there is one profoundly ridiculous statement which effectively illustrates this idea, it is the following: “The key to the squat is to combine the therapist’s desire to limit the athlete’s knee range of motion with the coach’s desire to get the athlete’s thigh parallel to the floor.” You could call this “ blind and blinder.”
There is really no need for a strength coach if physical therapists (or even athletic trainers) are the experts in exercise technique and strength training. Were this true, universities could save a great deal of money on salaries and facilities. They could just move the weight room to the clinic.

The idea that therapists know exercise technique and training is an insult to the strength coaching profession in particular and athletic coaching in general.

For one to educate an athlete in sport from childhood to a highly skilled adult is an art, not a science. Four or five years of memorizing textbook knowledge designed to prepare one to rehab post surgical or other injuries in no way shape or form prepares anyone to become an artist of coaching in sport. Therapeutic exercise and strength training for sport are not synonymous. One cannot possibly grasp the human body’s possibilities in sport or the intricacies of how it works at the highest competitive levels in a classroom or from a textbook.

Biomechanics of the exercises and false assumptions

Squatting with artificially restricted amplitude of movement in the lower extremities:
For some unknown reason most of the exercises illustrated and recommended in the text for the lower extremities artificially restrict the amplitude of motion in these joints, even though the resistance applied is low or just bodyweight.

A case in point is the squat technique (pages 54-58). “The athlete must be taught to bodyweight squat in a manner that minimizes range of motion at the ankle and maximizes range of motion at the knee.”

Why? This advice is illogical for two reasons: one, you have to lean forward to do this and this increases the force arm of gravity relative to the lumbar spine (this is illustrated nicely on pages 54 – 58); two, you do not “maximize the range of motion” at all; the athlete will lean over excessively and, presumably, stop at “parallel.” Squats are meant to strengthen the muscles of the legs. Consequently, a proper squat should effectively place the stress on these muscles.

“The full squat is defined as one in which the top of the thigh is parallel to the floor.” By whom? And why? Does anyone observe baseball catchers squatting (bodyweight) in the manner illustrated in the text? Does it occur to proponents of these misguided, artificial “mechanizations” of the human body that the natural movement of the ankle joint, in general, and the shin, in particular, has a useful function, especially in sports.
Furthermore, teaching one to be ever cognizant of restricting the movement of the shin (and, of course, the ankle joint) can have a negative carry over in athletics, especially power sports which involve exercises with a high degree of inter muscular coordination, performed at high speed, and often including a quick change of direction.
The only “event” that the illustrations of squatting in the text (especially that in figure 6.5) would prepare one for would be that unfortunate instance when one has to use public facilities in a third world country; and, to your dismay find not a commode, but a hole in the floor.
Other exercises for the lower extremities (pages 64-65,67-69) also feature artificially restricted movement amplitude.

The exercises for the hamstrings are either of the therapy room variety (pages 75, 77, 81, 82, 83) or unnecessary modifications of the straight leg deadlift (Pages 78-79). The hamstring group consists of four heads, three of which cross two joints. Two joint muscles perform a complex of functions, especially in sport.

Consequently, the hyperextension and one leg hyperextension without the foot plate to push off (simulating a connection with the support) with the feet in these exercises are not very useful (The Hyperextension Extension Exercise, Andrew Charniga, Jr. 1982; unpublished).
Another example of an artificial modification is an exercise such as the “one leg straight leg deadlift.” One really cannot say with any certainty this exercise is a better alternative to the straight leg deadlift (standing on both feet), performed correctly with a barbell.

One does not have to make up an exercise where the positioning of it resembles a dog urinating on a flower bed (tinkle exercise #1, page 79) for the hamstrings, or for hip extension (tinkle exercise #2, page 107).

Torso training

The section on torso training features a great deal of therapy room exercises, the shear number of which is rather excessive; especially when you consider that the ordinary sit up is excluded. Taking that into account, one has to wonder why modifications of sit ups and hanging knee ups are excluded, but a so called exercise where one is standing and vibrating a piece of plastic is included? Are we to believe that an athlete is going to derive more benefit from vibrating his or her own personal “twanger” than performing standard abdominal or trunk exercises.
Olympic Lifting Exercises

The author makes some very positive remarks about Olympic weightlifting exercises. However, some advice is misguided. For instance, “Remember to perform all your Olympic lifts from the hang position” and, “Do not listen to so called experts who tell you that you must clean from the floor.” The principle benefit of Olympic lifting exercises is derived from the large amplitudes of movement involved. The muscles of the lower extremities, the main lifting muscles, are involved in lifting the barbell from the floor, briefly go silent, then are reintroduced two more times in a clean or power snatch. Lifting only from the hang restricts the range of motion of the muscles involved, diminishes significantly the complexity of the inter muscular coordination, i.e., the skill, and, ultimately, a good bit of training effect.

Presumably, the main reason most coaches do not teach the clean from the floor is due to the fact that the typical high school or college athlete lacks ankle, knee, and hip joint mobility; this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to assume the basic starting position with the feet flat on the floor. Lifting only from the hang does not solve the problem. Good joint mobility in the lower extremities should be considered the norm not the exception. One should not simply ignore it and do something else to avoid what is in actuality a problem. Any athlete who does not have this basic mobility should be instructed to achieve it whether he or she intends to do the Olympic lifts or not.

Another commonly held misconception is that weightlifting is like jumping with a barbell and that jump squats are an “alternative to Olympic lifting” (page 165). In point of fact, at the instant of “freeing up from the barbell,” as the Russians say, weightlifters jump down, not up (at least the good ones do). Similar to doing the lifts from the hang, jump squats are a far cry from cleans, snatches, jerks with respect to inter muscular coordination, skill acquisition, and the anticipated training effect.