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What Makes For REAL Functional Training

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Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist (Creator DVRT Restoration Certification, DVRT Rx Shoulder, Knees, Pelvic Control, & Gait Courses)

mobility training

It is a good thing, really! The fact that therapists are starting to have a greater appreciation for the role that smart functional strength training can bring to not just building muscle, but improving movement, decreasing chronic aches/pains, and building a higher quality of life. On the other end of the spectrum, it appears fitness professionals are realizing that the key to helping many of their clients reach their fitness goals is to address movement issues, muscle imbalances, and compromised nervous systems.

While we are moving in the right direction, there is still a gap in our overall view of fitness, performance, and rehab. One of the biggest issues is our need to compartmentalize exercises rather than see them in a broader scope of movement.

For example, why is a hip bridge a “corrective” exercise and a deadlift is a “strength” exercise. They are both hip hinge movements, just on different points of the continuum of movement. When we position exercises in such a manner we start to make assumptions that a hip bridge isn’t strength and a deadlift can’t be corrective. Neither one is really true and is the reason we need to bridge the gap from rehab and performance much closer.

DVRT UK Coach, Greg Perlaki shows how what we build on the ground sets us up for more complex movement training.

“I’m A Movement Specialist”

I hear such a statement on a daily basis from all areas of health and fitness coaching. Come on, in reality, we all make people move, so what is a “movement specialist.” While I love the idea of movement, I am fearful it is falling into the abyss of buzz words like “functional” and “core”.

If we use such words as a basis for exercise prescription (yes, when we create workouts or training programs we are basically prescribing exercise) we should be able to clearly define their meaning. While there are many definitions of functional training (many that are not great), the good ones tend to be very similar. We’ve often shared how we tend to like the way spine specialist, Dr. Stuart McGill’s explains functional training.

functional training

He includes the following patterns:

functional strength

Agreeing that these patterns make up the components of movement, then we simply look at each exercise by where they lie on the continuum of each pattern. What determines where an exercise fits on our continuum of movement? That is where our progressive overload variables come into play. Specifically we can think of the following…

How does this impact our ability to bridge rehab and performance? Let’s take a look at one of the more challenging patterns for many to teach; the lunge.

This is where our Dynamic Variable Resistance Training (DVRT™) system can really help us create specific progressions to help anyone improve movement efficiency. Since lunging falls under a “lower body dominant” movement pattern, we are going to address holding position of load before we manipulate body position. Why? In over a decade of working with a wide array of people it appears that changing load position is a less drastic change to complexity than body position when it comes to lower body movements.

Remember, we want incremental changes to the pattern so we can cement good movements rather than rubbish! Therefore, in the case of the lunge we would start different loading positions (in a tall kneeling position at first, if a client isn’t able to lunge). Why? As physical therapist, Gray Cook, states, “The position is just as important as the pattern. The position sets up the posture. The pattern sets up the movement.”

What most coaches and clinicians miss is that the patterns they start with are far too complex for the individual to ingrain good movement engrams. By starting an individual in the right level of the movement we can start to incrementally challenge the pattern. In the video below I demonstrate how different loading positions can help start to cement the pattern. The tools we use will be based upon their unique properties.

After we have worked through several of these loading positions, we can start to build progression off of body position. Each time we move to a new body position we can once again work through the loading positions. Do you have to go through each one, every time? That will be based upon how your client responds to the training. If they show improved movement capabilities and you think you can move to another level, try it! If they show compensations in response to the great stimulus then you know that you have to move back a step.

More importantly than showing you more exercises or variations is that you are building a system. When you have a system in place you can help and work with more people because you understand where you can take them on that continuum. If you just have a toolbox of exercises and tools then you are really using a shotgun approach to prescribing exercises.

Once you see how powerful these simple strategies are to improving movement and strength you will feel much more empowered to help your clients and truly close that gap between rehab and performance training! You can see how we put DVRT principles to work in these hip hinge progressions that work with holding position, body position, and plane of motion. This isn’t just more exercises to perform, but actually makes our training better!

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