Stop laughing!!! Let me explain… You see, the word “functional” is a bit of a misnomer in fitness, often used to describe something that is anything but that.
If you asked the average gym-goer what they thought ‘functional training’ consists of, most would list exercises they think have a ‘carry-over’ to movements in other sports and/or in everyday life. In sports science, this ‘carry-over’ is referred to as ‘Transference’.
Free-weight or bodyweight exercises that are unilateral (single-arm or leg) and emphasise balance would most likely be considered very functional. (Picture someone performing pistol squats on a BOSU ball whilst simultaneously doing a kettlebell bottom-up press on the opposite side). Isolated machine exercises i.e. leg extension machine, would be considered less “functional” because of its inherent stability and ease.
On the surface, this sounds logical enough: perform an exercise with a high degree of difficulty and by the time you’ve mastered it, you’ll be ready for whatever physical challenges life throws at you.
Where this logic falls down, however (like the guy on the BOSU ball), is that our neurological skill adaptations are highly specific, meaning transference from these sorts of balancing exercises to other sports or skills is actually minimal.
This is referred to as the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand). In layman’s terms, this means you get really good at the specific things you practice a lot (duh), so the idea that extremely complex movements carry over to everyday life is not necessarily true.
ALTERNATIVELY, you could forgo the difficulty (and potential injury risk) and train to grow muscle.
Since the nervous system is highly movement-specific, MUSCLE SIZE, or more accurately, muscle cross-sectional area, is the main determinant of your body’s functional capacity.
If you make a muscle bigger, it will increase its ability to generate force during EVERY movement that the muscle is involved in. That’s not just when lifting weights, but also when you’re walking up stairs, running, jumping, punching, holding something above your head or standing on one leg.
Whether you’re an intermediate-level lifter looking to deadlift 200kg, or you’re an elderly person just trying to maintain balance, you’re going to be highly dependent on your muscle’s ability to produce force!
So if you’re looking to improve the way you move, cut out the BOSU ball nonsense and learn how to isolate a muscle, put it under tension and make it grow. That is by far the most efficient way you can become a more “functional” human and excel in more physical skills, sports and every day life.
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