Every few years a new program for trainers comes along. The name is a collection of initials and the marketing copy always hits the same targeted clinical words, sometimes mashing them together in new ways, like each of these programs is learning from, and adding to, a Guru Terminology Handbook that is secretly passed around among industry leaders.
Enter the word "Functional," the grandaddy of titillating trainer terms that instantly implied a divide between good and bad, useful and useless, functional versus flexing. The common gym culture of lifting for looks now had an institutional antagonist. Trainers ate it up. Personal trainers felt important again. For too long, they were the musclebound butt of a long running cultural joke, which chaffed even harder when they saw the growing importance (and coolness) of athletic trainers and coaches. There were two worlds teaching the same basics, but they differed drastically in ideology. What happened in the gym and health club and what happened in competitive sports training facilities may have looked pretty similar, but there was purpose in one and frivolity in the other. One built abs, the other developed your Core. "'Functional Training" changed all that. Personal trainers now had the chance at the one thing most of them craved: To feel important!
Unfortunately this often manifested as it does in other slices of culture. Power comes from telling people what they can't do as much as what they can. Another big word that made trainer's hormones frothy was Contraindicative. With every new certification and program came a new list of stuff that was now bad for you. A trainer earned their stripes by knowing all the things you shouldn't do. Meanwhile the list of way you should do, so called "functional" exercises, would be argued constantly, with opposing camps being divided sometimes by tiny details, like the centimeters of distance between the angle of body positioning for a. particular movement.
I was there. I had over a dozen certifications and logged in many hours working in the clinics with the folks perpetuating these ideas. Everytime a new program hit the scene with newly arranged initials, I was a giddy little boy. I learned what the Core was, and then I learned that wasn't it but it was more than that. And the I learned all the things NOT to do for this Core. Then I learned what you should do for it, and then, after learning all of that wasn't quite right because it needed to be slightly different, I learned there were more important things to do anyway, so don't worry so much about it. These were exciting times. Confusing, but exciting. I witnessed, and eventually participated in, debates and discussions about the Hows and Whats of every body part. The exact angle of the torso for best recruitment of rear delts during reverse flys could be picked apart for hours, with nary a decisive victory for anyone. Closed chain exercises were better than open chain, until they weren't. TVA recruitment, which was crucial for that Core development stuff, meant sucking in, but it also didn't mean that at all. At one point the multifidus were the most important muscle of the spine... or were they?
Since the 90s, there has been a small history of nerding out on whatever happens to be considered "functional' at the moment. Then the movement geek squad, of which I was a card carrying member, began straying so far from basics that, at some point, we all forgot how to just lift stuff. Instead we were focused on unilateral this and biophysio that and proprioceptive neuroabdominal functionalization. There was a point where 'functional" meant anything BUT the basics. We literally didn't know squat, since squats were bad for [pick your favorite body part].
Things have changed... sorta. The functional world has so many facets and offshoots that it is hard to keep track of what is trending at the moment. Thankfully, the focus has often been redirected at the basics. Picking heavy stuff up in simple ways is cool again, but the debate on What and How continues.
The discussion of Why still falls short, though. The functional philosophies delve deep into accurate observations of modern human structure. The body, as a physical movement machine, seems to be giving up some of its mysteries to the scrutiny of inquisition from the functional training monks.. But as brain interprets brawn, there is often a growing disconnection between the two. As a functional-world backslider, I've witnessed the clinical attack on movement often as antithetical for our relationships with our bodies, especially with the majority of our society who aren't moving purposely. So as someone who is trying to understand how to bring movement to everyone, not just the 15% of our culture that already has gym memberships, or the 10% of that 15% who are actual competitive athletes, it occured to me ages ago that the antiseptic approach of the clinician, which is where a large chunk of the world of Functional Training seems to fall, doesn't appeal to the general population. No one likes going to see a doctor. As a trainer, stop acting like one.
The challenge that I've extended to many trainers in my workshops and apprentice programs has been to take the valuable info that is embedded in the clinical approach and present it in a welcoming way. In other words, how can we geek out on the stuff, but teach it to everyone? How can the book smarts of functionalism manifest as connection for the new mover?
How can we make the science playful? That's been my mission for over 2 decades.
All those lettered systems out there have a ton of useful info, at least for trainers. But it is absolutely the opposite of how I'd teach the info as a trainer to any of my clients. I discuss a bit of my process in my new book. It begins with movement and dialog, not testing and exercising. And yes, I'll expand on this quite a bit very soon. (Website members could watch Vlog #8 for some big ideas about changing the way trainers introduce movement to people). As trainers, we should be movement experts. As movement experts we should teach movement. As we teach movement, we can assess a client. No testing involved, no clipboards, or scores, or anything in place that equates to a judgment. We're not doctors or therapists. That's not why people come to a trainer. We're there to teach movement and strength, and be guides towards a continuing journey of flux and joy. How can we put the "fun" in functional? Does it have to begin with F.U.? __________________ Some recents journeys and workouts...