How specific are your clients training program in correlation to the activities they participate in and their daily lives, and what exactly is functional training?

The answer is broad but yet specific for each individual whether they are athletic or not.  The foundation of functional training is going to first stem from an initial musculoskeletal evaluation which should consist of a full body flexibility, posture, body composition, Sub maximal V02, heart rate, blood pressure, metabolic and structural assessments.  Here we will find out what structural and metabolic issues we may need to address and make recommendations for exercises to help correct any conditions found.

For instance, if the individual displays genu valgus of the knees, then this is an indication that this person needs to perform more quadriceps work in relation to the hamstring group.  A good starting recommendation would to prescribe a 2:1 Quad to Ham work ratio, for every one hamstring exercise done, two quadriceps exercises are performed.   Recommended guidelines for functional biomechanics of the quadriceps and hamstring group is a 3:2 strength ratio, so it is around a 60/40 strength differential.

If the client exhibits a forward head rounded shoulder posture (FHRS), then this would be an indication to prescribe a routine that involves more latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, rhomboids, and scapular work.  A 3:2 back to chest work ratio should be recommended.  This will help pull the shoulders back in to anatomically correct position, and stretch out the anterior musculature of the neck.  Having a FHRS posture sets the individual up for a greater risk of shoulder injuries, so this is an important factor to implement into their strength training routine.

One of the most important things in developing a strength and conditioning routine is to address all of the structural and metabolic concerns the client may have, and use this information as the foundation of their routine.  It is very important to keep in mind what the client does outside the gym.  Once they walk out the door after their workout, how you train them will have a reflection on every musculoskeletal movement they make the rest of the day.  Specificity is key to a well-balanced training program.

So it is important to include exercises that are specific to the goals of the individual, and ones that are specific to any activity they do outside of the gym. Remember their routine should be designed to be functional to their daily activities, in other words specific to their needs.  For example, if your client is a downhill and freeride mountain bike rider then performing squats, jump squats, anaerobic sprints on a stationary bike, and lower and upper body plyometrics would be good sport specific activities for them.  The jump squats would help with eccentric loading techniques, and power. This would correlate with landing the bike on a jump, high freefall drops, and preloading the bike right before a jump.  Remember before implementing jump squats they must be tested for plyometric training to see if they possess the speed, strength, and agility to do so (see previous article “The Rules of Gravity”).

If a client is a mother to young children, then her program should incorporate exercises that will help her in her daily routine outside of the gym.  She will spend much of the day picking up her children so teaching her proper squat mechanics, hips first then knees follow, while maintaining normal lordosis of the spine, and chest up, would be tremendously beneficial to her.  Performing postural exercises and how to maintain good scapular stability would be another area to focus on.  Utilizing a non-linear periodization protocol that incorporates, strength, power, and anaerobic endurance could be highly valuable in her training program, as well as cardiovascular activity.

In general the majority of the exercises performed should be compound in nature utilizing a lot of core musculature. Then train the smaller auxiliary muscle groups.  The baseline of all strength comes from the core musculature.  An athlete cannot exhibit any real strength or power by just having strong extremities alone.  They need a solid core to back it up.   If the clients core is weak and unstable then it will be the missing link to all of their potential strength.  A well-designed and balanced program should include all of these important factors, core strength, musculoskeletal and metabolic concerns, functional exercises, proper mechanics, and systematic progression.  Workouts that have no rhyme or reason or specificity are kind of senseless.   You can’t just train someone without first looking at his or her structural needs. You need to develop a stable and biomechanical efficient platform (their body) in order to make structurally sound gains and improvements, otherwise you are just throwing that person together much like Frankenstein was with random parts.

Jon Torerk, CSCS