Keep It Functional

Functional fitness may be the latest buzzword for gyms, but at Cape Fear Sports Enhancement (CFSE), we’ve been practicing it all along! At CFSE we train athletes and active individuals with all the essential components of a conditioning program, including nutrition. Because today’s topic is functional fitness, I am happy to have director of CFSE, Austin Howlett, CSCS, USAW back as a guest blogger to explain the what, how and whys of functional fitness. Take it away Austin!

Thanks, Diane. At Cape Fear Sports Enhancement, athletes make up the largest part of my clientele. However, working within both an orthopaedic office and a physical therapy practice, brings the challenges of assisting a wide spectrum of individuals seeking better fitness. From the college athlete to the weekend warrior, I use functional fitness to focus on individual goals and/or sport specific demands, while keeping training applicable to the everyday stresses of life and/or sport.

What is functional fitness?

Functional exercise mimics movement patterns in day-to-day activities and movement patterns in sports. Train as you play or work. Does your work or sport have you on two feet, weight always evenly balanced, or does your work / sport put you in positions of unequal weight distribution? If you’re an athlete, you are rarely, if ever, utilizing leg strength/power through all of your extremities simultaneously. During sports participation your center of gravity is constantly being shifted and unevenly allocated.  The photo above exemplifies the fact that athletes often have to perform powerful and explosive maneuvers from awkward positions. Functional exercises prepare you for this. You don’t have to be an athlete to benefit. Many of us perform daily tasks in awkward positions; from a mother putting a child into a car seat to a fireman rescuing a victim while balancing on a ladder. Functional exercises will train your muscles and joints (proprioception) to be proficient in the movements specific to your sport or daily activity.

How does it work?

Functional fitness aims to have the athlete or individual support their own body weight in all anatomical planes of movement in relation to their sport/daily activity and to be able to adapt to constant changes in their surroundings. As an example of how it differs from weight stack machines and free weights, consider the football players who can barbell back squat 400+ pounds. This is an example of tremendous strength. However, these same athletes are often unable to support their own body weight on one leg and perform a single-leg weight squat with their back being supported by a wall or Swiss ball. So although weight stack machines influence muscle hypertrophy and strength, they limit our bodies to a specific pathway and range of motion through pulleys and lever systems. During play and practice athletes are never isolating one specific muscle group or competing in a controlled range of motion. Bottom line: increased strength alone does not correlate to improved athletic performance! Research published by Christou et. al. in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research supports this.  In their case-controlled study, sport-specific testing was use to evaluate performance with soccer training alone, soccer and resistance training combined, and a control group. The study ran for 16 weeks, and the strength component was twice per week. The soccer and resistance training group had significant improvements in strength including: maximum bench press, leg press, squat jump, countermovement jumps and 30 meter speed. However, soccer specific skill testing did not improve significantly with resistance training.  Therefore, resistance strength training alone may be inefficient for most athletes.

In order to enhance proficiency in your sport or in life, you must use multiple muscle groups in a coordinated manner in all aspects including – static and dynamic posture, changing body and joint positions; as well as performing explosive movements in uncontrolled environments. Functional fitness will challenge you with  exercises using your own body weight as resistance first. Once you master proper form and technique you can add  resistance and more complex movements to make your training more challenging. As you become proficient with your form and technique you can increase the intensity or volume to continue to challenge yourself.

Why functional fitness?

 Functional fitness benefits everyone!  It’s about being able to conquer the many obstacles that life or sport throws your way. Functional fitness will  train you to  use your total body and multiple muscle groups together in all aspects, thereby improving sports performance and decreasing the risk  of injury for all!

Please view an example of functional training for elite level surfers.

How does your training stack up to functional fitness?

Disclosure: Austin Howlett is  employeed by Cape Fear Sports Enhancement. Diane Boyd is a nutrition consultant to Cape Fear Sports Enhancement providing services including nutrition counseling, nutrition education and communication. We were not compensated for our time writing this blog post. The opinions are our own.

Austin Howlett, CSCS, USAW

Diane Boyd, MBA, RD, LDN




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