Wednesday, September 16, 2009

more on functional training

If you have followed this blog for a while you'll have seen the discussions of "functional training". The High Intensity Training position more or less is that there is no such thing. Everything is specific. You can develop strength and fitness, but the sports specific skills must be developed separately by practising those skills - i.e. bench presses will make you stronger but to be a better puncher you must punch well.

Luke went through all this in the interview here.

Vern Gambetta had a good piece on his blog today on this area:

General or Specific

Jay Johnson asked me to comment on balancing specificity and generality in training. Jay is a middle distance and distance coach, but I will broaden this to include all events and all sports.

Obviously the highest degree of specificity of training and the most direct transfer occurs when you do the activity itself. Frankly this is where training has advanced significantly over the last sixty years. We realized that staying highly specific would result in diminishing returns. We need to balance the actual activity with other training tasks that would improve the actual activity. This is where a fundamental disconnect began. As time progressed, especially in the last twenty years we have progressed down a path of just doing work, doing exercises that looking like the sport or event, but that we overloaded and slowed down to the point where they had no transfer. I think the distortion and misuse of the Mach drills is a good example. They are not technique drills. They are drills that break the stride cycle into its component parts in order to strengthen through a full range of motion and improve dynamic flexibility. If done correctly they have a high degree of specificity in terms of special strength development and flexibility. Certainly better transfer that riding a bike or using a stair stepper for a runner.

To me it comes down to similar or same.

Similar is OK, but you need to understand what you are trying to accomplish. I like to think of it this way

1) The actual activity

2) First Derivative – similar or big component parts, no compromise on speed of movement
2) Second Derivative – Similar not attempting to replicate the speed of the movement, probably with some resistance
3) Third Derivative – very far removed, any similarities are coincidental.

In laying out a training program I try to balance all three. They all need to be there during all phases of the training year, just with a different emphasis. I think a good example of this is what I read of Roger Federer’s training. They always touch on fundamental movements and they always play tennis.

What I think has happened especially in the last twenty years is that there has arisen an emphasis on general work to get them fit. Fit for what?

Just making them tired does not make them better. This is alarming trend in middle distance and distance training where too much mindless circuit work is justified as “general strength.” I maintain that that is just work, work that could be better planned and sequenced to specifically strength the movements that would make them better runners.

As usual I am quite outside the norm on this, but I have seen it done better. Look at Coe’s training. The high school runner Peter Callahan who ran 4:05.2 in the mile this year used the “general work” very wisely. We need to wake up and realize that it is not about exercises and making them sore and tired it is about preparing for their race or sport.


Bryce said...

Great Post Chris. I always enjoy reading things that will change my mind about this (as has happened a few times). Each time it changes, I end up closer to the middle though.

I wonder if this progression is what Vern is talking about:

1) The actual activity - Vertical Jump
2) First Derivative - Power Clean - similar components, with no compromise on speed (as fast as possible)
3) Second Derivative - Deadlift/Squat - similar but not attempting to replicate speed.
4) Third Derivative - Leg press - very far removed with coincidental similarities.

I have come to think that a program of powercleaning and vertical jump practice would make you better at vertical jumping than a program of deadlifting and vertical jumping (even though I mostly just deadlift right now).

Rannoch Donald said...

Good stuff as always Chris. The danger here is we are entering into high performance territory. For those looking to shave milliseconds or ad millimeters, the devil really is in the details.

The sports scholarship culture in the US has created an entire industry round perfromance measurement. As a result everyone is under the microscope. In turn these measures become an industry standard of sorts.

But for the other 99% looking to improve their pick up basket ball game,hit the pads a little harder or simply be fit for purpose we will always come back to the general stuff. If for no other reason than it leaves us time to do the specific activity we choose.

Chris said...

Rannoch - very true.

I think for most people as you've pointed out a couple of times the key is the basics and consistency on the basics.

Most of us are not int he 1% or even the 5% yet a lot of what is written out there is is there for the elite. The basic all round stuff is what we need generally coupled with some specific skill practice.

Eugene Thong said...

Chris -

I think you hit the nail on the head there. There's a lot of splitting hairs on the Internet about training considerations that don't even warrant consideration by the person. Why debate the effectiveness of wobbly board training vs cables vs battling ropes when you can't squat or deadlift your bodyweight? Better to develop a foundation of strength and work from there.

Basics are boring, but they are fundamental and necessary.

Thanks for the great posts.

Rannoch Donald said...

Basics are only boring if you can't do them. Otherwise they are the key so sophisticated perfromance. That is the irony.

People sweat bullets trying to do a one arm push up when they don't have the physical control to do 30 crisp regular push ups. Master the later and the the former becomes possible.

Martial arts is another tgreat example. People get bored so they look for novelty. then they wonder why a guy with nothing more than a solid jab can run rings around them.

There is nothing without foundation.

If you are not getting results, chances are you just aren't training the basics consistently and hard enough.


Marc said...

that is SO TRUE.
Our teacher always told people that what you saw him do is just the basics/foundation executed very very well. He would then say in his broken english, all of you stink because your basics still stink ;-)

Thanks for spelling that out to everyone very clearly!


pieter d said...

Functional training means training for a specific function, I guess?

So if you're a office worker with a family and no specific sporting needs, is a Nautilus machine functional? I guess not... But is oly lifting functional? Probably not? And doing push-ups, burpees and pullups? Probably neither.

So why bother? Because of the fun? Because of the variation? Because of the hype?

Is one method better? Probably depends of your goal. But if your goal is general fitness and health? Probably doesn't matter very much?

Intensity and recuperation are probably the key to good results.

And indeed: proper technique is fundamental.

Afraid of injuries: use proper technique and take care of intensity and recuperation and you don't need to have Nautilus machines with special cams and wathever


pieter d said...

PS: I do like the more compound movements because I think the intensity/threat is bigger and therefore the response could be better.

Eugene Thong said...

Rannoch -

Absolutely. The elite are those who can perform the basics the best. You never see a snowboarder who has a great 540 but a terrible 180.

One of my martial arts instructors was teaching us about knife-fighting and he said, "Forget all the complicated stuff. Just get good at one solid technique; make it so strong nobody can stop you - that's enough."

Rannoch Donald said...

We're on the same page here for sure. The Snowboarder analogy is a good one.

Fun is crucial. But once again, a mastery of the basics opens up doors to all sorts of fun. Chris himself wound up doing Krav as a result of coming to a Kettlebell workshop that led to a conditioning class etcetc.

I take my cues from the guys out there who are still doing what they love irrespective of age.

Man, I am such a bore with this but I'll say it again, my ability to perfrom the simple stuff well has been the spring board to so much else. And if in doubt, I will always revert to the fundamentals.

Our manta's are...

Simple Practice Leads to Superior Perfromance.

Training is trauma - mobility is medicine.