Functional Training for the Weekend Athlete

Many of us have busy schedules that keep us inside all day. When the weekend comes, we race outside to enjoy all the sports and activities we love. Unfortunately, weekend warriors are one of the groups most commonly seen in the emergency room. All that activity in a short time span leads to a large number of injuries.

Functional training is one of the best ways to build balance, stability, flexibility and coordination. These qualities can help any weekend athlete stay on the field and off the disabled list. Try adding functional training to your workouts and you might also be surprised what it can do for your athletic performance.

Functional Training

Here are a few basic functional training concepts that you can incorporate into your routine

Start from the Core

Most athletic movements start from your core. Your back and abs connect your upper and lower body and transfer energy between the two. A weak core means weak movement and a much higher risk for injury.

Functional training takes a unique approach to the core that may not be what you’re used to. You need to get your back up off the floor and stop doing crunches. The core was designed to stabilize you in full body movements and transfer power. Some great training techniques that follow that design are medicine ball throws, kettle bells and stability balls.
Both the medicine ball and kettle bell require your core to engage and transfer power from your legs up through your arms. This allows you to build core strength at the same time as power and strength in the rest of your body.

A great, functional use of the stability ball is to put your feet on the ball and your hands on the floor in a push up position. This keeps your chain open and forces your core to stay engaged. From this position, you can do push-ups, or bring your knees toward your chest in a jack-knife motion.

Unbalance Your Life

One of the best ways to improve balance and stability is to challenge them. If you always train in a setting that requires no balance, you won’t develop it. Unilateral movements are a great way to challenge your balance. Try squats with a light weight held overhead in only one hand. If that’s too easy, try free squats or Romanian deadlifts on one foot. Your body will have to stabilize to make up for the imbalance and you’ll reap the benefits.
Make sure that you don’t mix instability with impact or heavy loads. Running on an unstable surface or doing heavy squats on a wobble board are just bad ideas. While the unstable environment can help you improve your balance, the drill shouldn’t be booby trapped with an accident or injury.

Get on Your Feet

Almost any exercise can be made more functional by performing it standing rather than seated or on a bench. This is because closed chain exercises require the body to work together and stabilize. Closed chain movements link the resistance (be it your body or a weight) all the way through your body to the ground. Open chain movements, on the other hand, break the chain with something like a bench.
A bench press, for instance, isolates the arms and chest. Since the resistance only goes from the weight to your back, (which is against the bench) most of your body never gets involved. If you flip over into a push up, your entire body becomes one chain. From your hands to your feet, you are forcing your body to stabilize in order to handle the resistance. Other examples of closed chain movement include squats, chin ups, deadlifts, and almost any standing exercise.

Mix It Up

Even functional training can get in a rut. One of the most important concepts of developing functional fitness is to always challenge your body with new movements. You need to keep things fresh and build the kind of athleticism that can move in any way required. That means trying new things and adding new activities to your training plan on a regular basis.
You might try using drills from your favorite sport as a way of mixing up your normal gym workout or cross training in a different sport to change up the muscle groups you’re using. Trying something you’ve never done is a great way to challenge your coordination. Just make sure you start slowly. Getting competitive before you have the hang of a new movement can be dangerous. Try adding a new movement or activity at least once a month and always mix up your workouts with fresh combinations.