Functional Training – Method or Madness? Part Three


All movement is functional; it is just to what degree is it functional. Function is integrated multi-directional movement. Functional movement is meaningful movement that is part of a chain reaction, not an isolated event. Movement occurs on a continuum of function. Some movements are more functional than other based on the end object of the training.

Less Functional>>>>>>Most Functional

Sterile- Artificial       &nbsp Non Sterile – Real Life

Foreign Function      &nbsp Real Function

1  &nbsp2  &nbsp3  &nbsp4  &nbsp5  6  &nbsp7  &nbsp8  &nbsp9  &nbsp10

To determine placement on the continuum of function there are basic evaluative criteria:

Plane(s) of Movement – If the movement involves multiple planes of motion as opposed to movement in one plane then it is more functional.

Joint Involvement– If the movement involves multiple joints as opposed to isolation on one joint then it is more functional.

Speed of Movement– If the speed and tempo of movement is as fast as can be controlled then it is higher on the continuum of function.

Proprioceptive Demand– If the movement is of high proprioceptive demand thane it is higher on the continuum of function.

Mindful– If the movement is mindful, demands attention and concentration then it is higher on the continuum of function, as opposed to being to put the mind on autopilot and not having to concentrate to execute.

Carefully look at he movement that you are trying to enhance. What are the forces involved? What is the dominant plane of motion? Movement occurs in all three planes of motion simultaneously: Sagittal, frontal, and transverse. Therefore it is important to train movement in all three planes. It is imperative to understand the movements and then design the training program accordingly.

Sport performance regardless of the sport is a multidimensional activity. It takes place in a dynamic environment, that forces movement to occur in all planes of motion using multiple joint movements to produce the desired movement mechanics. We move period! Performance involves the whole kinetic chain – Toe Nails to Fingernails- to reduce and produce force. This process ensures optimal neuromuscular control and efficiency of movement.

Movement is a complex event that involves synergists, stabilizers, neutralizers, and antagonists all working together to reproduce efficient triplanar movements. Therefore the basic foundational principle of functional training is to train movements not muscles. Sport scientist Roger Enoka put it best: “The function of a muscle depends on the context in which it is activated.” Different movements use muscles differently. The muscles are slaves of the brain. The brain does not recognize individual isolated muscles; rather it recognizes patterns of movement in response to sensory input. The Central Nervous System is the command station that controls and directs all movement. The CNS calls for patterns of movement that can be modified in countless ways to react appropriately to gravity, ground reaction forces, and momentum. Each activity is subjected to further refinements and adjustments by feedback from the body’s proprioceptors. This process ensures optimal neuromuscular control and efficiency of function.

Functional training is not about measurable strength. How much you can lift or how many foot-pounds of force you can express on a dynamometer are meaningless numbers. Instead quality of movement, rhythm, synchronization and connections are what is important. The goal is always the ability to apply the strength that is developed in the actual sport performance. How is the force expressed? Can you produce and reduce the force? Force production is all about acceleration, but often the key to movement efficiency and staying injury free is the ability to decelerate and stabilize in order to position the body to perform the desired movement. A good functional training program will work on the interplay between force production, force reduction and stabilization. The end result is functional strength

Over the years I have derived basic principles to guide the training. These are the foundational principles of functional sport training. Use these as you guide and you will have consistent results.

Functional Athletic Development Principle One- Train movements not muscles

Functional Athletic Development Principle Two – Dynamic postural alignment and dynamic balance are the foundation for all training

Functional Athletic Development Principle Three – Train fundamental movement skills before sport specific skills

Functional Athletic Development Principle Four – Train core strength before extremity strength

Functional Athletic Development Principle Five – Train bodyweight before external resistance

Functional Athletic Development Principle Six – Train joint integrity before joint mobility

Functional Athletic Development Principle Seven – Train strength before strength endurance, power before power endurance

Functional Athletic Development Principle Eight – Train speed before speed endurance

Functional Athletic Development Principle Nine – Train to build work capacity appropriate for your sport or event

Functional Athletic Development Principle Ten- Train Sport Appropriate – You Are What You Train To Be

The body is incredibly smart, it is highly adaptable and self-organizing which gives it an amazing ability to adapt to radical extremes in terms of environment and all the various stressors that can be placed upon it. Look around and see movement with different eyes. Recognizing that the body is smart will open a whole mew vista in training and rehab. There are no limits beyond your imagination and creativity as a coach, teacher or rehab specialist. Look for possibilities not limitations and dysfunctions; give the body credit for its wisdom and then coach, teach and rehab accordingly. Enjoy the process and marvel at the discoveries.

Understanding and applying a functional approach to training is a challenging process. It is often contrary to conventional wisdom as represented in mainstream sport science research. In order to move forward this should not limit us. We need to use conventional wisdom as a staring point and move forward to think and act outside the box. Follow your instincts and allow your creativity to be expressed through movement. Follow the functional the functional path to improved performance.

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.
RT @GreatestQuotes: Your aspirations are your possibilities. - Samuel Johnson - 2 years ago
Vern Gambetta

Latest posts by Vern Gambetta (see all)