Traditional or Functional training – What’s the difference?


I was sent an article written by Ken Mannie, Strength and Conditioning coach at Michigan State entitled Traditional vs. Functional: Balancing the Scales. What is the difference between traditional training and functional training or traditional strength training and functional strength training? Is there a difference? What scales are we trying to balance? Let start with a definition – Functional training incorporates a full spectrum of training methods, designed to elicit optimum adaptive response appropriate for the sport or activity being trained for. It is not a choice between traditional and functional, nor is it a balance. For some reason people love to categorize and pigeonhole ideas and concepts to either justify of refute certain ideas.

All training is functional; it is just a matter of how functional in relation to preparation for the sport or activity trained for. There are very simple steps to follow 1) Determine the demands of the sport you are preparing for 2) Determine the demands of the position or event in the sport 3) Determine the qualities of the individual athlete 4) Address injury prevention by understanding the pattern of injuries that occur in that sport. Using this simple algorithm as a starting point not much is left to chance. Then apply these criteria to your strength training in selecting the exercises and movements: 1) Multiple joint, 2) multiple plane, 3) proprioceptively demanding. Then make sure that within a seven day training cycle that you have a distribution of pulling, pushing, squatting (and squat derivatives) and rotational movements. All training is based on principles, if those basic principles are observed the mode of strength training can be adapted to prepare the athletes for the demands of the sport. If you have to move someone or move a heavy object then heavier external resistance is necessary and you must add mass. (Photo at right is a quarterback, if he were an offensive lineman then the movement would probably be with a bar and significantly heavier) A program like that should look and feel different from a program for volleyball or baseball.

Mannie suggest that “functional movements” have a place as fillers during a workout or finishers to end a workout. As far as I am concerned that shows a lack of understanding of the big picture of training. I want my athletes to focus; good training does not have “fillers” or “enders.” Each exercise has a specific goal and purpose to prepare the athlete for competition. You must carefully choose the exercises, the sequence and order. Each workout has a specific theme that fits into the theme of the week. I want the athlete to connect the movements in the strength training to their performance on the field, court or the pool. This makes it mindful with the athlete fully engaged in the process. I have seen this work in all sports including American football. Perhaps the best example of this approach was the training of the Brisbane Broncos Rugby League team. I observed their training for two weeks. It met all the criteria I outline while lifting heavy and moving fast. Their strength coach Dan Baker and their performance director Dean Benton get it. I know football programs that are using this approach with outstanding success. It demands a tremendous amount of planning and supervision, but what good training program does not? There are amny roads to Rome, some are more direct than others.
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Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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Vern Gambetta

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