Functional Training/ Biomechanics Myth Part 1

Twitter has been interesting in the last few days. I had a Tweet sent to me, that asked me if the industry truly knew what is meant by Functional Biomechanics, as apparently what is done in the name of Functional Biomechanics is neither functional nor biomechanics.

@justjohnhardy why is so called functional biomechanics in fact not even functional and not even biomechanics?

This was then jumped on by one of our competitors, who run a course/ company on biomechanics, called Intelligent Fitness. I have not sat their course, so I cannot comment on what they teach or how. I did get interested though, when I got this reply from the guy who runs IF:

@justjohnhardy i suggest neither the fitness, medical nor science industries really know what it is or how to prepare for it

Which is a random statement in my opinion, but something that made me look further into the question. I remember having a conversation with one of my best mates about this. He is infinitely more intelligent and better researched than me, and I recall him saying that the term functional training came from the Physiotherapy world, and is something used to describe a certain type or style of training. As it turns out, my ability to recall is poor and what he actually meant was:

“There is no medically agreed definition of functional training – it’s a term invented by PTs for PTs”

So I thought I would research a little more, as the term functional training seems to be used in respected journals. This meant a quick call to the FASTER head of research and general life saver, Sally Pears. She said this:

“Generally you don’t come across the term ‘functional training’ in the scientific literature, and when you do it usually refers to older people (stroke or no stroke) and ‘activities of daily living’ etc. (see attached articles for examples) ‘Functional capacity’ and ‘functional performance’ are also used similarly.”

Here are the two references that Sally found, with examples of the use of the word function –

(1) Short-term resistance training and the older adult: the effect of varied programmes for the enhancement of muscle strength and functional performance.

Tim R. Henwood and Dennis R. Taaffe School of Human Movement Studies, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld, Australia

(2) Reliability and Responsiveness of Two Physical Performance Measures Examined in the Context of a Functional Training Intervention Mary B King, James O Judge, Robert Whipple and Leslie Wolfson
PHYS THER. 2000; 80:8-16.

Function in the fitness industry is something that Gary Gray popularised, and in the UK he made it popular via Paul Chek, who was the original voice of functional training. Gray Cook followed with Functional Movement Screens, which was created for Reebok to replace the previous course, RMT and the 32 Movement Screens. I was lucky enough to sit both courses in early 2000.

Gary Gray focused his courses on Physical Therapists and Osteopaths in the US, but started to make it in to the fitness industry, partly due to Paul Chek, partly due to PTontheNet and Fit Pro in the mid 2000’s. Again I was lucky enough to do several of the Chain Reaction Seminars, the first year of GIFT (his internship) which I also got to teach on, and then a spin-off course called Functional Orthotic Reaction.

It was the goal of Paul Chek, and then Gray Cook, to come up with screening that would make personal trainers more aware of the structural integrity of their clients before trainers threw them into exercises. They both advocated better and more free movement, however neither do this as freely as Gary Gray. The use of more therapeutic techniques came from Paul and Gray and the techniques were coming from the industry that Gary was rebelling from. This is where the problems started. From the GIFT programme, we started to see things such as TRX and ViPR, where both of the lead educators have a background of working with Gary. Also the year before GIFT, FASTER was born. The result, as I see it, is a mixture of people using the term functional: to mean either alternative where traditional would be machine based exercises, or a mixture of unstable training and Olympic lifting, or training to be great at 5 to 7 tests, whereas to FASTER it would not really exist.

Function has just replaced the term goal. Training is what we do to get our clients to their goal. Function is what they do, or need to do. In the research I have read this is clear: the word function is used with regards to the outcome of the therapist. Lung Function, Muscle Function, Organ Function…the list goes on.

For the client below, their goal is to increase the amount of Kettlebell clean they would like to complete. It is not our place to argue with this, it is our place to design ideas of how to help. That is functional training, if it exists. Probably in this case it should be called “Improving Human Kettlebell Clean Function”. Not so snappy though eh?

Kettlebell Clean

Double Arm Clean

So maybe the best way of “training improving human kettlebell clean function” would be to do something that requires the body to be challenged through different angles of lift.

Kettlebell Lunge and Clean Complex

I am not saying this is functional, but I am saying I think the movement is close enough to a kettlebell clean for training transfer.

Now on to Biomechanics!!!

Functional Training/ Biomechanics Myth Part 2

Biomechanists in my opinion, are like the accountants of the industry. They are great at measuring stuff. They can tell you the before and after, and some of them do this using force plates, videos, EMGs etc. Using biomechanical feedback to track performance and build solutions is a great idea. Needing a biomechanist to do this is more debatable, depending on the level of client and budget you have available to you.

Recently, as you will have seen in my last blog post, I was pushed on what is Functional Biomechanics: does our industry know that what it deems to be Functional Biomechanics, is neither Function or Biomechanics? I looked at this, as when I challenged the guy (partly on what he meant, and partly to see if he was just trying to use my twitter to promote his blog) I discovered that Function is just a descriptive term that only comes to life when you associate it with an outcome. Similar, I suppose, to strong or fast: the terms only come to life when you associate them with a specific movement.

For the majority of trainers, it is important to know that what they have done has had an effect, and it is not practical to have the amount of measuring equipment available in a professional sports facility. I would suggest an iPad 3 and KinesioCapture would be the first place to start.

Answering the question about Functional Biomechanics is really what this blog is about. My answer must be, that depending on your definition of function (and if you read the article, it would depend on what you associated function with), then your choice of measuring the mechanics of movement would then be determined. Functional Biomechanics would be using biomechanics for a reason. It is not really saying anything. If you want to know the ball speed as it leaves the golf club, then the KCap would not be ‘functional’ for that task as it does not measure that aspect of the movement. However if you were using video analysis that measures ball speed, it would then become functional.

In a great session, I think you need to have the abiltity to predict motion, affect motion and then see the differences from the original motion to the final motion. Functional Biomechanics would be the way you could see motion, and so assess the original motion and the effects of your techniques.

To summarise, thank you Twitter and people on Twitter for allowing me to explore a subject which, as with many techniques and specialists, the level of the individual who is talking about the technique they use, the more important they seem to make it. I would say be good at all areas of what you need to do, and know your limitations, and be ready to refer out when the client needs more a skilful technician. I think you need to be a –
Researchbiomechnictechnicianskillstrengthpowerspeedcoachist.