Functional Training for Fitness and Sports Preparation
By Andrew Getzin, MD
Many athletes now specialize on a
single sport at an early age. The days of unstructured play at the schoolyard
is being replaced with an increased number of competitions year-round.
Unfortunately, young athletes are often not physically prepared for this
increase in volume and specialization. By concentrating on a single sport,
athletes often develop the sport-specific skills they need but do not develop the required functional strength and fitness to
excel and remain injury free.
Functional training involves whole
body exercises that condition muscles to work together properly in a
coordinated manner. This approach to training emphasizes appropriate body
motions, and goes far beyond simply improving muscular strength. It helps to
strengthen supporting muscles that are often not developed with early sports
specialization. All young athletes and
even older non-competitive adults can reap their benefit.
How does functional training
enhance sports performance?
Functional training is excellent
for sports preparation because it emphasizes multi-planar movement activities
involving strength, power, and stability. It can help athletes improve their running,
jumping, balance, and strength. Proper functional training focuses on quality
body mechanics and the development of core strength.
Why is core strength important?
Core muscles consist of the deep
abdominal, pelvic floor, lower back, shoulder girdle,
and hip muscles. They act to stabilize the body during peripheral movement and
are crucial to generating power, decreasing the risk of injuries, and improving
Does functional training improve
I liken functional training to my
learning how to swim as an adult. Initially what felt correct to me in the pool
was not efficient and certainly wasn’t pretty swimming. Trying to make
corrections and develop proper technique felt very awkward. However, after
practicing proper technique thousands of times the more appropriate muscle
firing patterns felt more comfortable and made me a better swimmer.
In functional training, weight bars
and machines have been replaced with stretch cords, medicine balls, and body
weight exercises. Balance training is done first on a stable surface (the
ground) and then progressed to unstable surfaces (stability balls and
dynadiscs). Plyometrics, where the body coils and uses its stored energy to
recoil, builds power.
How does functional training work?
Exercises in functional training
follow a progression. Once an exercise is done properly it can be modified to
further challenge the individual. It can progress from two-legged activities to
one-legged, from work on stable surfaces to unstable surfaces, from simple
activities to complex movement patterns.
Why do some athletes get injured
more frequently or severely than others?
Studies on the mechanisms of
injuries demonstrate consistent patterns and body positions that increase the
risk of specific injuries. By way of example, young female athletes are more
prone to knee and ankle injuries than their male counterparts. In fact, the
risk of tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee (an injury
that almost always requires surgery and six months of rehabilitation before
returning to sports) is two to five times higher in girls than boys. Many girls tend to buckle their knees inward
on landing from jumps. This inward
position creates a shearing force on the ACL. Evidence shows that participation
in functional training programs can decrease the risk of ACL and other knee and
ankle injuries up to 75 percent by decreasing the amount of buckling in.
Functional training programs have
existed around the country for 10 to 15 years. They have been shown to be
effective with young athletes, older people, and even professional athletes
ranging from soccer stars such as Mia Hamm to major league baseball players to
NFL offensive lineman.
If you want more information about
functional training in general, or how to enroll in a local functional training
program, please call (607) 252-3500.
Dr. Getzin is on the medical staff
of Cayuga Medical Center and is board certified in sports medicine and family
practice. He can be reached at Cayuga Sports Medicine at (607)252-3580.