Without a doubt one of the most common phrases I hear thrown around by most trainers and gym goers. The idea of functional training.
“I don’t train my arms, they’re not functional.” – Whatever the hell that means?
“Do squats on a bosu ball, it’s more functional.” – I won’t even begin to elaborate. Instead just head over to https://www.strength-forge.com/functional-training-challenging-balance/ to read more.
“Lift a sandbag, or an awkward object, it’s more functional.”
Depending on your experiences so far, you may be on different sides of the fence in terms of what constitutes functional training. Thankfully, people are beginning to acknowledge that heavy, compound exercises are far more beneficial than lifting on unstable surfaces and all manner of fancy, colourful functional exercises you see nowadays. But even then, how can you be sure of optimal transfer from the gym to everyday life?
The answer is simple. As with most things in training…it starts with your movement capability. And more importantly, your approach to movement.
This may sound odd, but ask yourself this question… Is the focus the weight you are lifting? Is the focus the bar or implement you’re lifting?
If so, you may need to change your approach.
I believe the idea of focusing on the exercise specifically is one of the main issues that limits transfer from the gym to life outside.
Particularly when you are new to lifting (or even for the experienced trying to learn a new exercise) more or less all the information you will find will be specific to the EXACT exercise.
This means that you will find a set of coaching/technical cues for the back squat and then if you want to front squat? An entirely separate list for that one.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are obviously differences between exercises with different bar positions, loading methods (e.g. bands etc.) and so on. However, there is one way to not only increase transfer to everyday life, but also speed up how fast you can learn other exercises.
This is the first and most paramount step to improve transfer from your functional training:
Stop learning exercises.
Instead, learn basic movement patterns, then learn how to load them in a variety of ways after the fact.
For example, before focusing on the differences between the conventional and sumo deadlift, learn the principles of performing an effective hip hinge. Once you know this, whether you are picking up a barbell, a boulder or another human being from the floor, you will be able to assume a safe and effective position, rather than panicking because the object isn’t evenly balanced on a barbell.
At the minute, when someone performs a specific exercise in the gym they should hopefully focus on the best technique and holding good, strong form. Then, however, when it comes to helping someone up off the ground or picking up a heavy object, they contort themselves into bizarre positions that are completely the opposite of what they do safely in the gym!
When coaching someone new to lifting (or someone experienced in the wrong ways of lifting), I always find common principles of body position or movement execution across most exercises. A few examples are included below:
Now I’m not for a second suggesting that performing any form of loaded hip hinge as a form of functional training will automatically make you stronger when lifting a heavy boulder off the floor. There is OBVIOUSLY a huge element of muscular development in recruitment patterns that are specific to the exact movement, as I have spoken about before.
I’m simply saying that to improve the transfer of your gym training beyond what it currently is, focusing on factors such as the above, is much better than panicking when there isn’t a calibrated weight lined up in front of you ready to be lifted in a perfectly aligned sumo deadlift.
– Learn the principles of major movements first.
– Identify/look for common principles across exercises.
– Place these as a greater priority than simply the goal of moving the barbell from A to B.
Jon Mallon has spent every waking moment developing his understanding of the body’s capabilities. He has an undying passion for all things strength, with his extensive knowledge from coaching hundreds of clients, to his 1st Class BSc Sports Science and MSc Strength and Conditioning, paving the way to deliver results directly to you. He has been a strength and conditioning coach for a variety of sports from amateur boxing to professional rugby, providing him with the art of coaching required to deliver the science of training. Jon's current areas of focus involve comprehensive postural analysis, neurological strength and evolutionary biology.
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