Understanding and Defining Functional Training


The BOSU® Balance Trainer is a piece of fitness equipment that facilitates functional balance training. Thus, it is important to understand what functional training is and how it fits into a total fitness program. 

functional training defined 

Functional training is purpose driven or intentional training. One can begin to think of functional training (FT) or functional fitness as a methodology and form of movement that is used to expose an individual to integrated movement patterns. These patterns prepare the person for many types of general movement requirements or activity. FT is goal, performance and results oriented training. 

Functional training is not necessarily sport­specific and it is generally not the goal of functional training sessions to mimic movement requirements of sport, such as throwing a baseball, swinging a golf club or shooting a basketball. Instead, the focus is to train general movement patterns that have “purpose” as they relate to a variety of movement challenges a person will encounter in sport or life. FT methodology analyzes commonalities of movement, considers energy system requirements for a given activity at more sophisticated levels of training, and trains these general movement patterns using activity that reinforces the brain/muscle/ energy system interaction that takes place when the body is in motion. 

Functional training encompasses an evolved performance approach that involves the whole body. FT moves away from isolation or single joint training, to whole body, integrated, multi­joint movement that requires muscle groups to work together. Functional training is a process that intentionally introduces balance challenges, controlled instability in measurable doses, and proprioceptive or body awareness training into the three ­key components of fitness. Functional training programs that introduce these aspects of training ultimately teach a participant how to manage his/her own body weight and to re­establish center of gravity, balance or stability when optimal alignment or positioning is lost. This result is critical when highly skilled, efficient and safe movement is a desired training outcome.

mind working with body to create effective movement 

Essentially, functional training represents the ability of the body and mind to work together to link motion at joints with simultaneous stabilization in other joints. The end result of this synergistic and integrated effort is skilled, safe, and efficient movement. If one thinks about it, all advanced movement requires some degree of motion and stabilization. To this end, the movement patterns, skills and drills that have been developed for the BOSU Complete program represent this concept of training. Functional training is all about preparing the body with training that relates to the way people move. Linking motion with stabilization, results in training benefits that are useable or have great carry over to daily performance necessities. 

training for enhanced balance and stability 

Functional training requires a participant to provide stability by using muscles and body awareness or proprioception, both of which are very trainable through proprioceptive training. FT also focuses on center of gravity (COG) training. This type of training teaches a person how to re­establish or maintain overall body stability, body alignment and center of gravity. A goal of functional training is to teach individuals to move and control their bodies in a variety of environments that can be impacted by visibility, contact points, external stimuli and various movement requirements done in a multitude of planes, in addition to “performing” on a variety of surfaces including those that are not consistently stable or perfectly level. See Chapter 3, Balance Challenge Variables.

It's easy to understand why training on the BOSU Balance Trainer is categorized as functional training. This type of training is transferable to daily functional requirements because people move in a 3­D, dynamic world that plays itself out in an unpredictable manner. A body that is strong and flexible and can move in an integrated, coordinated fashion can successfully accomplish daily tasks that include catching one's balance after stumbling, reaching, bending, twisting, tracking an object or diverting one's gaze while moving, as well as maintaining an ability to react to movement challenges in a variety of physical environments.

body control and functional training

Training functionally on the BOSU Balance Trainer improves body control. Body control is a skill that must be developed in a variety of situations. This learning process includes using skill progressions that introduce instability in controlled training environments, which translate to a variety of training surfaces and movement challenges. Many real life examples support an approach that trains muscles for movement, which translates to a training methodology that attempts to develop body control. Body control could be thought of as the culmination of an effective functional training program, and stands side-­by­-side with a goal of training muscles in the same way they are used in life and sport. 

prepare individuals for movement 

The ultimate goal of functional training is to prepare people for movement, activity and sport. Many different functional training activities and drills that have real ­life application exist and justification of the methodology depends largely on the training goal. The message here is that functional training application will continue to be refined and expanded, and should not be narrowly viewed. 

understanding closed and open chain exercise 

Closed and open chain exercise define whether a movement in integrated or isolated. To best understand whether a movement pattern is a closed chain exercise (CCE) or open chain exercise (OCE), it is useful to view the body as a length of chain. Envision the arms and legs as opposite ends of the chain. 
Open chain exercise occurs when an end segment of the chain (arms or legs) is not fixed and does not support the weight of the body. An example of OCE is a seated knee extension or an arm curl. 
Closed chain exercise occurs if either set of limbs (hands or feet) is involved in supporting the weight of the body. A squat or lunge movement is a good illustration of CCE. The legs and feet bear the weight of the body. CCE requires a dynamic response from the whole body to perform the movement correctly, safely and most efficiently.

Though not classically defined as CCE, any exercise that partially supports the body weight and requires an integrated response from the body's musculature can be characterized as CCE. A push­up position that is held with the feet placed on the dome of the Balance Trainer is a good example. The arms and hands partially bear the weight of the body and an end segment of the chain (the hands) is “closed,” “fixed” or weight bearing. 
OCE is best characterized by isolation, whereas CCE is best referred to as dynamic, functional, and working in concert with the body as a whole, integrated unit. Both types of training, depending on application and participant needs, are considered excellent ways to condition the body. The best results will be realized when one uses both approaches.

ten characteristics of functional training 

The following characteristics of functional training help to define what a functional activity is comprised of, as well as providing a framework from which to teach in a safe, logical manner (adapted from Brooks and Brooks 2002, BOSU Integrated Balance Training Manual). 
For activity or training to be considered functional and related to daily or sport movement requirements it should:

1. Focus on integrated movement, not isolated action at a joint. Though it is important to strengthen specific muscles in isolation, functional training focuses on practicing parts of a movement, combining the parts into movement patterns, and practicing the whole skill in an integrated fashion. This rehearsal continues with the introduction of instability as is appropriate to the skill progression and goal of training. This type of movement practice is not necessarily sport specific, but recognizes that many of the movement patterns and specific energy system usage are common to many sports. Functional movement integrates multiple joint movements – linking movement together in the kinetic chain – and moves away from muscle isolation. Also, when movement is linked via joint action in the kinetic chain, note that during dynamic movement, simultaneous stabilization is occurring in some joints of the body.

2. Present an unpredictable movement challenge. Sport participation, by its nature represents, 1) imbalance or an effort to maintain balance, and 2) an uncontrolled, dynamic environment. All movement exhibits a degree of randomness and chaos, but it is from a position of optimal alignment and balance that peak performance expression is developed. A common expression describes sport as “organized chaos.” On the other hand, some elements of “play” are fixed. For example, a diver or gymnast contends with fixed challenges that are presented by height of a diving board, spring of a vaulting board or the challenge of quieting the movement of still rings. A tennis player or downhill ski racer interact with fixed elements that include using a familiar racquet with a specific string tension, or skiing a familiar race course on a favorite pair of well ­tuned skis. But, athletes also contend with changing elements that can include wind, snow conditions, terrain uncertainties or in the case of a tennis player, an opponent who counters with unpredictable strategies, of which all can impact performance. Functional movement is dynamic and requires the participant to speed up, slow down, stop, change directions, move in a variety of planes, react to ground forces, contend with gravitational forces, alter the amount of force production, stabilize, change body angles, modify line of sight and constantly adjust and react.

3. Introduce multi­joint movement that occurs in multiple planes. The body, which is the organic representation of the kinetic chain principle, moves in multi­planar fashion whether performing a sport at a world ­class level or lifting a bag of groceries. Functional movement occurs in a three ­dimensional environment at any level of physical movement and involves moving in multiple planes. To challenge movement functionally, exercise must be provided that occurs in the sagittal plane (divides the body into right and left halves as it passes front ­to ­back), frontal plane (divides the body into front and back halves as it passes side­ to­ side) and transverse plane (divides the body into top and bottom halves). Within these basic planes of movement are infinite movement variation possibilities. In other words, the body must be trained to bend, reach, stretch and simultaneously maintain balance while moving at a variety of speeds. This represents applied ­power or the ability to use reactionary strength quickly, precisely and as needed. Linked force production via the kinetic chain provides movement that is useful.

4. Build complexity in a progressive manner. 
Foundational fitness (primary components of fitness) must be established and basic movement skills learned before advanced training and balance skills are attempted, especially when introducing instability. Once these elements are established, stability is trained before mobility. Stability training can progress from static to controlled ­dynamic. A progression like this prepares the participant for advanced neuromuscular (motor learning) skill development that focuses on improvement of many of the secondary components of fitness and will ensure success, safety and skill advancement that builds on a logical foundation of movement ability.

5. Build intensity in a progressive manner. As was true for the previous characteristic, baseline cardiorespiratory, strength and muscular endurance fitness, along with adequate stability and mobility must first be established. Initial loading during functional training should be accomplished by using body weight only. If appropriate, consider using external resistance (i.e., elastic resistance, weighted ball) as training progresses and specificity of training dictates. However, many people hurt themselves or their performance in the name of “specificity.” For example, it is arguable that excessively “loading” a golf swing or baseball pitcher's arm motion while the skill is performed at full speed is dangerous, not specific and could negatively affect the complex neuromuscular patterns that make up many sport skills. (Refer to number 8 for additional information.)

6. Develothbody'abilittstabilizangeneratpowefrothcorotrun“powecenter. A variety of movements and types of training must be used to ensure a balanced approach to core training, as well as total development of the trunk region. Core movements should be trained in isolation (mover­type activity that includes spinal flexion, extension, lateral flexion and rotation), as well as using functional exercises that require the trunk muscles to synchronize their activation, resulting in a stabilized pelvic and spinal position. Stabilization training of the abdominal region represents a synergistic response that demands an integrated, interdependent action of the trunk musculature – which means muscles working together to stabilize spinal position. Functional training of the abdominal and back muscles involves training them in a manner in which they are required to work on a daily basis. The key function of the abdominal and back musculature is not to create movement at the spine, but to exert isometric or stabilizing muscular force production in order to maintain spinal and pelvic position. (Note: These comments are not intended to infer that mover­type or isolation trunk exercises are poor choices. The intention is to recognize that stabilization training is different than active­isolation exercise, which utilizes movement at the spine, and that both should be used to optimally develop and challenge the trunk.) This ability to generate power from the core can be trained using static and dynamic exercises. See the previous chapter, Neutral Spinal Posture and Core Stabilization.

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