Functional strength training has become somewhat of a cliché over the past decade, being used to describe a variety of exercises that are performed on unstable surfaces with bands or balls while trying to mimic the exact movements of sport (such as weighting down a bat with elastic resistance then trying to mimic the swing). This is NOT the type of functional strength training we are referring to in this post. Trying to mimic exact sporting movements is only possible by performing those specific movements in their natural setting. Any attempt to specifically mimic a sporting action while adding significant amounts of resistance will alter the motor program in which the athlete performs the sporting action. This alteration can be detrimental to the athlete’s ability to perform this sporting action with the correct center of gravity, inertia, mechanics and neuromuscular skill required to achieve success on the field, court, track or platform.
Our approach to Functional Strength Training is not to mimic sporting action, but rather to prepare the body physically for all sporting actions by laying a foundation of strength, body control and rhythmic synchronization of various movements associated with athletic performance. Movements like:
- Jumping (single and double leg)
- Landing (single and double leg)
- Linear and Lateral Deceleration
- Rotation (hitting, punching, throwing, cutting)
- Acceleration through Hip Extension (vertically, laterally, linearly)
To complete the model for a functional approach to strength training, you must look at the cognitive variables as well as the physiological variables. The athlete must posses the ability to take and apply instruction. The athlete needs to be able to subconsciously transition from loaded to unloaded exercises without distortion or alteration of the complex, sport specific action. This means they must already have the motor program for specific sporting actions perfected before adding new stimulus (velocity, complexity or load). Immaturity whether in movement or capacity for applying instruction, will be detrimental to the overall development of the athlete.
Functional Strength Progression for Athletes:
The progression into Functional Strength Training should occur in the progression we have shown below.<strong>
- Technical and Tactical Sporting Action (perfecting movement and mechanics)
- Speed and Reactive Sporting Action (increasing speed of movement and mechanics)
- Force Production and Force Absorption Strategies (maximizing ability to produce and control force)
- Work Specific Endurance (improve ability to sustain and recover from bouts of exercise)
There are many factors to consider when developing a Functional Strength Training Program and trying to conform to the above progression. To keep the specificity in regards to movement, one must try and maintain an emphasis on movement patterning or outcome (what is your desired result, and does it “feel” like you are working towards that result). Other factors to consider are the velocity of movement and force of contraction. Speed and vertical jump performance cannot be maximized in young athletes unless they are learning to apply the training to the movement itself. To maximize the complex firing patterns of reactive speed and vertical jump performance you need to integrate speed and velocity into the actual movement. Fatigue must also be monitored. Once you become fatigued (inefficient work to rest ratios) you will start to put forth effort with no regard to movement quality. This is the primary reason why endurance is #4 on our progression in functional strength.
By following the progressions in our manuals, Foundations of Speed & Agility, strength and Athletic Strength Foundations you can stay true to your goal to develop young athletes. It all starts with movement and mechanics.
As the players begin to understand the technical game, we need to begin to enhance their athletic expression of their technique. In the video below you can get a glimpse of how we progress through our 4 Plyometric Phases.
In the video below, we show how we can modify classic strength training lifts like the hang clean, into more of a jump based motion like the dumbbell jump clean. This not only helps us progress our technical strength program, but it also helps us bridge the gap between lifting and jumping.
Finally, we begin to add complexity in the form of increased speed, force production, load or dynamic muscle action while never sacrificing the application to specific sporting action. These Functional Strength Training Progressions should be used in a foundation-like role to be used as bridging exercises that allow the athlete to make the connection between a power cleans or back squat and block jumps on the basketball court.