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Functional Training and Its Benefits

  • By Vishwanthar on Training

  • May 6, 2009

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) which is one of the leading associations in certifying individuals in fitness science briefly states functional training as, “In many respects, functional strength training should be thought of in terms of a movement continuum. As humans, we perform a wide range of movement activities, such as walking, jogging, running, sprinting, jumping, lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, twisting, turning, standing, starting, stopping, climbing, and lunging. All of these activities involve smooth, rhythmic motions in the three cardinal planes of movement-saggital, frontal, and transverse.” ACE further adds, “Functional strength training involves performing work against resistance in such a manner that the improvements in strength directly enhance the performance of movements so that an individual’s activities of daily living are easier to perform.” Since the efficient performance of any movement improves the activities of daily living, it would thus result in a better quality of life. It is not only physical health which we attain by performing functional training, for the rejuvenated energy surely has a carryover effect in all walks of life of the individual by performing these activities.

In addition, as discussed in the forum in a topic titled MORE REPS WITH HEAVY WEIGHTS, there are two kinds of hypertrophy. Hypertrophy refers to increase in the size of the tissue and is of two kinds: Sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy. Typical bodybuilders are concerned only about increasing their muscle mass not their strength. Vladimir Zatsiorsky, renowned sport biomechanist explains the difference between both these types of hypertrophy. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is distinguished by the growth of sarcoplasm and noncontractile proteins. Sarcoplasm is essentially the cytoplasm of a striated muscle fiber. Cytoplasm is a fluid like substance, consisting primarily of water. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy brings about an increase in the cross-sectional areas of the muscle fiber, with a decrease in filament area density. The result is a muscle that is larger, with no increase in strength. This form of hypertrophy is a byproduct of a bodybuilding strength program.

Myofibrillar hypertrophy is characterized by an enlargement of the muscle fiber, and an increase in filament density. Myofibrillar hypertrophy leads to increased muscle force production. A bodybuilder who has experienced sarcoplasmic hypertrophy will not possess the strength of an individual who has experienced myofibrillar hypertrophy. Furthermore, research indicates that functional training causes myofibrillar hypertrophy. An individual with myofibrillar hypertrophy is better equipped to perform daily activities easily, as his/her training is centered more towards strength than aesthetic looks.

Carrying more muscle which perhaps is nonfunctional is detrimental to one’s health. You mean to say that all steroid users for bodybuilding purposes and individuals who train for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy are both presumably at risk. To qualify my views let me state Dr Mel Siff views on this topic. He states, “Research has found that hypertrophied muscle fibres need a significantly larger tissue volume to perform a given quantity of work. With the development of non-functional hypertrophy, the increase in muscle mass outstrips the development of the vascular system. This results in diminished nutrition and oxygenation of the muscle, slowing down of metabolic processes in the muscle and less efficient disposal of metabolic waste products from the musculoskeletal system (Zalessky and Burkhanov, 1981).”

What do we have to fathom from the above views of Dr Mel Siff? The vascular system also called the circulatory system is made up of vessels which carry blood and lymph through the body. The arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood away from the heart to the body. The veins are blood vessels that carry blood from the body back into the heart. Capillaries are tiny blood vessels between arteries and veins that distribute oxygen rich blood to the body. The lymph vessels carry lymphatic fluid (a colorless fluid containing water and blood cells). The lymphatic system helps to maintain and protect the fluid environment of the body by filtering and draining lymph away from each region of the body. Since non-functional hypertrophy effects the vascular system let’s ponder on the question and ask what is a vascular disease? Vascular disease is a condition that affects the arteries and veins. Vascular disease affects the blood flow either by blocking or weakening blood vessels, or by damaging the valves that are found in veins. Organs and other body structures may be damaged by vascular disease as a result of decreased or completely blocked blood flow. What maybe the effects of vascular diseases? I will mention the well known effects which are heart attack, angina, stroke, erectile dysfunction, etc.

Dr Mel Siff further states, “The importance of prescribing resistance training regimes which produce the optimal balance between hypertrophy and specific strength then becomes obvious. Thus, it is not only prolonged cardiovascular training which can be detrimental to the acquisition of strength, but multiple fairly high repetition sets of heavy bodybuilding or circuit training routines to the point of failure may also inhibit the formation of contractile muscle fibres.” It invariably states that bodybuilding style of training is detrimental in the formation of myofibrillar hypertrophy.

In addition, adaptation occurs more slowly in connective tissue (such as tendon and ligaments) than in muscle. An increase in non-functional hypertrophy (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy) can overstress these structures and damage them. Thus, excessive hypertrophy usually leads to slower muscle recovery after exercise, deterioration in speed and speed-strength as well as an increased incidence of injury.

Going by the above explanation, considerable emphasis should be provided to functional training . As stated before, this would involve a variety of movement. If we examine our lives as grown-ups, we realize that we lose the ability to do those activities which a child can do with ease. How do we improve on this? Not by performing some movements on a machine, but by performing movements which are natural to the body.

One should involve a variety of movement which includes lifting free weights such as dumbbell, barbell, and sandbag and also pushing and pulling movements. We are fortunate to have different training modalities at Ironcult such as prowler, sledge, yokewalk, tyre etc which all serve the above purpose. Last but not least, lifting heavy will serve us better as it increases REAL strength. Allow me to state what John Grimek had to affirm about heavy lifting. John Grimek(1910 June 17th-1998 November 20th) was one of the greatest bodybuilder with immense strength. He was able to squat over 400 pounds for reps in his late 60’s. He had said, “I feel if a man is going to spend some time developing his body he should do it the right way so whatever gains he makes will last him a lifetime.” ??? Grimek made the statement in a conversation in 1975 about training methods. He noted that muscles built by heavy training stay with you your entire life — whereas muscles that are merely “inflated” by pumping methods tend to “disappear” if you stop training for even a short period of time. The above statement by one of the greats of Irondom should provide us some food for thought.

3 thoughts on “Functional Training and Its Benefits

  1. Mel Siff still is the man – I only wish we still had Mel around to help us interpret some of the latest research. Although Mel Siff’s book Supertraining was ahead of its time, it could be so much better with 5 years of the latest research!

    1. I definitely agree with you. I am amazed to know the amount of energy Dr Mel Siff has spend to write these great books. Simply marvelous.

  2. I like your quoting Dr. Mel Siff: “The importance of prescribing resistance training regimes which produce the optimal balance between hypertrophy and specific strength then becomes obvious”.
    This points out that hypertrophy is also important isnt it? Functional training in my opinion makes the mistake of relying to much on Myofibrillar hypertrophy, and again such hypertrophy is slow.
    Another thing, while carrying 100 lbs of excessive muscle is nowhere close to healthy, would you still knock the indivudual’s choice if his cardiovascular ability and other blood work comes back fine? People have their choices in choosing to carry excessive muscle and its no more unhealthy than the things most people indulge in on a daily basis in the name of fun.

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