Sunday, April 17, 2011

Because I want to make sense of functionality

It has to be the most annoying adjective posted to training out there, sure to roll eyeballs and ignite flame wars about how stupid the users of such a foolish description of a noun ever applied to strength training: F-U-C-T-I-O-N-A-L. There's a standard line parroted in response to such insolence and it goes something like this: There's no such thing as un-functional training. All training serve a function because it helps you reach a goal.

func·tion·al adj \ˈfəŋ(k)-shnəl, -shə-nəl\ Definition of FUNCTIONAL 1a : of, connected with, or being a function b : affecting physiological or psychological functions but not organic structure 2: used to contribute to the development or maintenance of a larger whole ; also : designed or developed chiefly from the point of view of use 3: performing or able to perform a regular function

It's spelled out right there. Functional is doing something towards a goal. If you're functional training, and you're training to do something, then the training is functional. Fabricated solution to a problem that didn't exist, right? I'M FUNCTIONAL, MOTHERFUCKER!
Or is this a case of bad wording? Is it kind of like calling skin cancer a blemish? Or, more to the point, is the outcome of the training, the goal of the training, good for anything other than the goal itself? I think that most of us can agree that too much of the training going on out there is too narrowly focused on achieving one facet of strength that it cuts into the body's ability to perform other tasks of differing strengths. It's all for the game that it's practiced for. It's been said before: strength is ability. The more able you are, the stronger you are. Heavily-myopic focus eventually makes a weaker person.

So, what is, um, functional training, so-to-say? Okay, I'll start using another term... when I think of something else to use. Just bear with me in the meantime. Back to training talk...

First of all, since I've supplemented BW training with lifting objects a year or so ago, I've lifted strange stuff, lifted stuff strange, and done strange lifts. I could give you a list of lifts that I use in real life but honestly, not a huge amount of what I do really imitates any lift by the numbers. Sure, I do a lot of deadlifting-like movement but it's usually odd-shaped object with an uneven-stance on uneven ground, sometimes back-rounded (I know, I know...) and nothing remotely nice to grab as a bar made for me to grip in the first place. Actually, since I spend a lot of time in water (of various stages of not-sewer-anymore) up to my knees, I lift stuff in a manner that looks more like a Goodmorning than it does a deadlift. I don't want to get my ass wet or water in my waders after all.

I've lost count of how many time's I've lifted stuff (sort of) like this!

If you're one of those that gets a little hairy about that round-back lift thing, sorry, sometimes there really isn't any other way. The other reason why some stuff in real life isn't duplicated in the gym is because it shouldn't be. Manual labor and sports alike have one thing in common: a lot of the shit that's done will, to varying degrees of speed, destroy the body. Training should focus on strengthening the body to withstand the abuse. It shouldn't be trained to do abusive stuff even more abusively.

I got a chuckle a while back when I first came in contact with the concept of eccentric lifting. That's yet another example of bad wording because that doesn't exist. Lifting is a concentric movement. eccentric movement puts something down under control. THAT'S NOT LIFTING! This is one of those training concepts that exists without a little bit of good sense. As far as I'm concerned, had most people been as concerned with putting whatever they're lifting down as they were about getting it up in the first place (and not dropping it), there would be no issue with eccentric training. In real life, the chances that you have to carefully put down whatever you lift are pretty high. If you pick up two or three bags of concrete (doesn't everybody?) you carefully place them on the ground! Nobody appreciates you dropping their boxes when you help them move either!

Oh, and about the max strength thing: it's nice but it's not always where it's at. More often than not, it's far more important to be strong over a long period of time than it is to be insanely strong for only 15-20 seconds. That doesn't get the snow shoveled faster any more than it gets all 10 bags of that concrete I mentioned above out of the pick-up truck that you're going to put down nicely. Hey, what about those 20 boxes of tiles?

That brings me to another point that I should have reiterated earlier: Most stuff gets picked up off the ground. Get good at doing that!

What I'm probably getting at is getting a body strong for doing more manual labor. Those of us who do a lot of it get a chuckle at watching those who train for strength games fail at being able to sustain any kind of any kind of serious, physical job for any longer than a few, fleeting moments. It seems wrong because it is wrong. We know imbalanced strength when we see it and once seen, it's hard to deny that it's a method of training that's flat-out wrong.

Then again, with the proliferation of desk work and people who hire others do to their dirty jobs for them, most people will never realize any of what I'm talking about. They'll probably be perfectly happy fractionalizing their strength, treating it like a game or a hobby with little or no bearing or carry-over into a physical life. As far as they're concerned, "functonality" will just be a marketing pitch with no other meaning beyond that. Yes, it's horribly mislabeled but I'd like to think that what people are taking about when they misuse the word is that they're trying to be as physically capable for anything as possible.


Anonymous said...

Great blog! I fully agree with you that max strength thing is nice but it's often not the most important factor. How do you train to instead become strong over a long period of time?

Anonymous said...

justin... this might be a bit off topic, but.. what's the best way to increase pullups without getting tendinits.. and what did you do to get rid off tendinitis if you ever got it

Justin_PS said...

Anonymous #1: a lot of what I do is strength training that where the sets can last only 30-60 seconds. Yes, I do some where the sets last 15 or so seconds. I have been doing sets I

Anonymous #2: I've never in my life gotten anything resembling tendinitis when I'm doing pullups, even when I'm trying to push the numbers upwards. What I will say is that

I think its incredibly important to maintain control of the movement, never letting the body drop too fast downwards or pull up too sharply. I think that's why I've never had any problems with pull-ups. Never sacrifice control of the movement. NEVER

Anonymous said...

I'm the #2
Ok, thanks man. What you just told me not to do is what I've been doing

Anonymous said...

justin, if i understand you correctly your working sets often last only 30-60 seconds, but does that improve your ability to work hard over a long period of time?

Andrew said...

This is a great blog man. Thanks for the useful information. Bodyweight exercises are the real deal.

Anonymous said...

Most exercises and method/protocols are functional for a particular purpose, and therefore specific. If you want to get better at pullups, you do pullups. Function, and specificity.

I wholeheartedly agree that the word, and the concept for which it stands, have been transmogrified into something else for the purpose of someone's profit.