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Functional Training vs Traditional Strength Training

Posted 2/20/2017 by UHBlog

Need some pointers on incorporating functional training into your workout? Ask us.

Functional Training vs. Traditional Strength Training

Most athletes understand the importance of building muscle strength, but they don’t necessarily know that adding functional training to their workout can enhance performance on the track, links or gridiron.

“If you don’t do functional training as an athlete, you’re missing the boat,” says physical therapist Benjamin Geletka, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, who competes in triathlons. “Most of what we do in the weight room doesn’t translate to your sport because there’s nothing you can do (in the weight room) to mimic the field or court or pool or running in a race. Most people benefit from a combination of strength training and functional training.”

Traditional strength training focuses on building strength in one muscle group at a time, such as performing bicep curls with hand weights to strengthen the upper arms. Functional training, on the other hand, focuses on large-body movements that stabilize specific muscle groups and move others to mimic activities of daily life. In everyday terms, functional training can help a landscaper dig holes or rip out bushes while minimizing the chance of injury. For athletes, however, functional training can enhance the ability to throw a baseball from the outfield to home plate without ending up on the disabled list.

According to Geletka, there are other benefits of functional training for athletes:

  • Several muscle groups are worked simultaneously, so a full-body regimen requires less time than a traditional strength training session.
  • Moves require stabilizing and activating the core, which is necessary across all sports.
  • Dynamic moves combine agility, balance and plyometrics (jumping). Moves may include lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, twisting, turning, standing, starting, stopping, climbing or lunging.
  • Exercises are done on several planes instead of on a single plane.
  • Training can be done with or without equipment, such as kettle bells, cable columns, resistance bands or dumbbells.
  • Workouts can be done at home.

“Repetitive practice of movements increases neuromuscular control and, with that, can increase an athlete’s ability to perform multiple tasks while focusing on something like catching a ball and eluding a defender, making a quick cut on the court or field (while) safely preventing ligamentous injury, transitioning during a triathlon, or decreasing fatigue and improving muscular endurance in a road race,” Geletka says.

When beginning a functional training program, it’s a good idea to schedule a few sessions with a physical therapist or certified athletic trainer to learn proper techniques. Once athletes are comfortable with the movements, Geletka says it’s important to follow these guidelines:

  • Incorporate functional training into your exercise regime two to three times a week for about 30 minutes per session.
  • If doing both functional training and traditional strength training on the same day, perform the functional moves first.
  • Stick to three or four functional exercises that incorporate upper and lower body movement and are done while standing.
  • Ease into functional training. To avoid injury (especially to the back and shoulders), start with lighter weights and perform fewer reps, then progress to heavier weights and more reps in subsequent sessions.
  • Pay attention to form, especially with core (mainly abdomen and hips) and shoulder stability.
  • Remember the same best practices that apply to other exercises pertain to functional training, too. That means doing five minutes of active warm up (jogging, jumping jacks, elliptical, etc.) before training and several minutes of static stretching after. Refuel with a carbohydrate and protein within an hour of finishing the cool down. And be sure to drink plenty of fluids during and after the workout.

Benjamin Geletka, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, is a physical therapist at University Hospitals Rehabilitation Services at University Hospitals Avon Health Center. You can request an appointment with Geletka or any other health care provider online.

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