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What does “functional training” mean in endurance sports?

Following the triumph of “functional training” in the fitness scene, the term has once again become a topic of conversation, not least due to the Corona pandemic. But what does “functional training” mean – and what can endurance athletes learn from it?

CrossFit, power yoga, freeletics, or even functional training: the fitness industry is constantly calling for new forms of training and new words to keep its customers happy. What all of the above training offers have in common is that the names are protected and prescribe a defined program. Providers of such forms of training pay license fees to the rights holders.

“Functional Training” is also a protected name, at least when it is offered in a fitness center. It stands for a cross-sport form of training that is characterized by complex movement sequences that use several joints and muscle groups at the same time.

Functional training, on the other hand, is not a protected term, but rather a way of thinking that has increasingly come to the attention of athletes and coaches in the wake of Corona and home fitness. There, however, in the most diverse facets and not with predetermined definitions.

What does functional mean?

Functional training means nothing more than that athletes gear their training specifically to their sport and mainly do things that help them progress in that sport. Translated quite banally, functional simply means purpose-oriented. A cyclist rides a bike or strengthens and stretches muscle groups that he needs for cycling, a swimmer and runner likewise. A sprinter trains speed, explosiveness and technique, a marathon runner endurance, his foot muscles and long runs. Although a marathon requires an efficient cardiovascular system, it would never occur to anyone to train this exclusively on the bike in the run-up to a competition. The musculoskeletal system needs specific training in the target sport.

The trendy term has probably become the focus of training providers again, not least because of an oversight. Because in the course of the endurance sports boom and simultaneous individualization, many athletes are on the move in a frighteningly one-sided way. Most of them like to run, swim or cycle regularly and train their cardiovascular system, but the other condition factors such as strength, flexibility, coordination and also speed are often criminally neglected. These are all things that used to be integrated into a varied training program by coaches in clubs, but are rarely practiced by individual athletes on their own.

When is an exercise functional?

However, this is usually too short-sighted. Especially in popular sports, the primary goal should not necessarily be a new best time, but the promotion of versatility, which is the foundation of a good performance and at the same time ensures a long-term active life with as few complaints as possible.

Functional can therefore also simply mean that forms of movement are practiced that are appropriate for the individual’s everyday life and requirements. Functional training for fall prevention for senior citizens, functional training for a javelin thrower or functional training for a marathon runner are completely different matters. And a craftsman may need to specifically take care of his core and back muscles, while an office worker should activate his cardiovascular system to be able to withstand the stresses of everyday life and stay healthy.

Versatility is the name of the game

Applied to amateur sports, functional training focuses on the basic patterns of human movement. These are not new, but have been lost over the years and the longer the more they need to be specifically reactivated and maintained. Rolling, crawling, supporting, pulling, pushing, jumping, bending, lifting, shimmying, squatting, standing up as well as twisting movements – these are all forms of movement that shape people or shaped them as children.

Anyone who moves more like a child on a playground again (when was the last time you did a somersault or a headstand?) or performs the prescribed exercises on a Vitaparcours automatically completes a functional workout in many respects. Because he or she is doing things that have been forgotten.

Fine-tuning weaknesses

Ambitious amateur athletes are of course primarily interested in exercises that specifically help them progress in their sport and/or make them faster. Runners should therefore strengthen their foot and core muscles, cross-country skiers should improve their core and shoulder flexibility, and cyclists should stretch their hamstrings and strengthen their back, neck and shoulder muscles. And do it before anything starts to hurt.

The magic word is not functional training, but versatility. The deceptive thing about this is that more long-term training in a sport for quite a while automatically also ensures better performance, and that versatility primarily plays out its strength in the background as injury prevention and only to a limited extent directly ensures an increase in performance.

And unfortunately, when you practice a sport, you do not automatically promote all the joints, muscles and tendons involved when they are challenged. This is especially true for runners and cyclists. The ability to withstand stress must first be made possible with a well-thought-out and precisely “functional” training. Amateur athletes should therefore not only consider in their daily exercise routine what they like to do and therefore automatically do regularly, but above all what they neglect but would actually be good for their sport and health.

With this in mind, here is a personal challenge to you, dear reader. For the next two months, replace one of your weekly workouts with a varied strength, coordination and gymnastics program of equal length to your usual endurance training. And if that’s too much for you, strengthening exercises can now in spring also be perfectly integrated into an endurance session with a workout on the Vitaparcours or some specific exercises (running ABC, foot strengthening, barefoot running on the fin track) before, during or after the training run. Of course, an appropriate group offer in the fitness center is also well suited for this, if you don’t want to think about it yourself.

The timing is important now in spring, because experience shows that many endurance athletes increase their training volumes quite rapidly during the spring peak. And the more the increase in volume, the more accompanying measures should be integrated. So, stick to your resolutions for two months and then take stock of how the change has affected the way you feel. Bet that the positive aspects outweigh the negative?

This Blog Article was made available to us by Fit for Life. Fit for Life is the Swiss magazine for fitness, running and endurance sports. Would you like to read such articles regularly? Then Click here.

If you want to add functional training to your training schedule but are not sure how it should impact your primary training, 2PEAK has multisport features that allow you to consider the recovery and everything to correctly incorporate functional training into your schedule.