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Functional training consists of performing exercises that involve sport-specific movements in terms of mechanics, coordination and energy systems.
We have been observing the evolution of functional training through countless interviews with the nation’s top professional and collegiate athletes and coaches. To understand the value of functional training, we spoke with Jon Jungwirth, program coordinator at Dickinson County Healthcare System (Iron Mountain, Mich.) and strength and conditioning coach for several high schools. In this interview, Jungwirth explains the benefits of functional training and how he incorporates it into his athletes’ training regimen.
STACK: Why is functional training important for athletes?
Jon Jungwirth: I find that a lot of high school athletes are concerned with the mirror or beach muscles, and waste time building those. I try to teach them the importance of being functionally strong, because that’s the way sports are played.
STACK: How do you incorporate functional training into workouts?
JJ: We train in multiple planes, because that will help [players] in game situations that occur in sports like football, basketball, baseball and wrestling. [My] theory [is based on] training movements instead of muscles. If you’re training the movement, the muscle will follow, and that’s sometimes hard for young athletes to understand. You also have to make sure you’re implementing movements that are specific to your sport.
STACK: Explain what you mean by multiple planes.
JJ: When training for any explosive sport, we’ll work various planes of motion, because the body never uses just one muscle group. This usually consists of performing movements side-to-side, front-to-back and at angles. Basically, we’re performing functional, multi-joint exercises that mimic the type of body movement you experience in sports. We typically avoid training straight linear and backward movements, because that’s not the way sports are played.
STACK: How can an athlete make an exercise more functional?
JJ: Take a basic Lunge, for example. Perform a Side Lunge and add an upper body twist at the bottom of the lunge. By doing this, you’re incorporating and training more than one muscle group, which will enhance your athletic ability overall.
STACK: Can you share other functional exercises?
JJ: Other examples of functional training include whole body activities requiring balance and coordination such as squats, lunges, pulling, pushing and rotation exercises. Any exercise that incorporates the use of all planes of movement, instability or gravity as resistance can be very functional. You want to train and condition your body in an unstable environment.
STACK: How often do you incorporate functional exercises?
JJ: We will train functionally two to three times per week, working on speed, agility, quickness and power. High school athletes are very busy, and we don’t want them to overtrain and get burned out; we want them peaking at the right time.
STACK: What results can an athlete expect to see by incorporating functional training?
JJ: The goal of functional training is to develop athleticism. You will enhance athletic movements like running, jumping, throwing and lifting. You will also develop sound technique and optimum speed with movements that are within the context of your sport.