“I know of no better example of functional training than a 600-pound deadlift. Except a 700-pound deadlift.” – Mark Rippetoe
One of the highlights of my weekly schedule includes a trip to the adjacent library. I realize this statement will get me labeled a nerd – albeit a very good-looking nerd – by all the internet tough guys out there frequenting online training forums, powered by delivery pizza and cans of Red Bull in their parents’ basement. Alas, I’ve never been one to particularly care about what people think of me, hence I choose not to give a shit this time around either.
Between flipping through Max Brooks’ zombie tales and a less-than-stellar Baldacci novel, my gaze fell upon a book on training. I have a terrible habit of digesting any and all works related to training and nutrition, even the ones aimed at gen pop. I say terrible because many of them are not worth the paper they’ve been printed on, which implies a waste of my time and yet another chopped down forest somewhere in Amazon. Yes, the treehugger in me is weeping.
This one was no different. A book on functional training contained everything I had imagined it would contain. Cutesy pictures, self-professed gurus showcasing their “expertise”, very little substance for the price. I counted about 100 different movements or exercises and in the end my head was spinning like a b-boy on the dancefloor.
Why is it that athletes generally get far better results with a fraction of that and have striking bodies as well?
Why are the most reputable strength & conditioning coaches – those whose clients include Olympic athletes, NFL/NHL/NBA players, sprinters – sticking to the basics of basics in strength training?
If certain compound, multi-joint movements have been proven to produce results for the athletic elite, then why is there a need for hucksters to be marketing completely dissimilar methods to the masses?
Why is every functional training guru obsessed with the notion that no basic exercise is perfect without adding some twist, crunch, turn, hippety-hop, kung-fu kick or other gimmicky modification to it?
Since when is the pull-up – possibly the king of all upper body exercises – not sufficient enough performed on its own? How come you need to attach a cable pulley around your left ankle for “increased carryover”?
And if a bodyweight pull-up is too easy, then certainly adding more weight or progressing towards a one-arm version of the exercise will provide enough challenge for a long, long time.
Since when were squats performed on a Bosu ball more effective than on a stable surface?
I’d also like to ask the authors of the aforementioned book whether they truly are of the opinion that pressing 10kg dumbbells while sitting on a fitball – merely one of the nearly infinite number of exercises depicted in the book – will make a trainee stronger than, say, progressing to overhead pressing their own bodyweight for reps.
Almost 80 years ago, in 1936, Dr. Hans Selye proposed what is now known as the General Adaptation Syndrome, which describes how our bodies go through a specific set of responses to a certain stress (in our case lifting weights). In short, the body will increase muscular size and strength if a proper exercise stimulus has been provided (“adaptation through supercompensation”).
Moreover, if the stimulus is not sufficient enough, no new adaptation will take place. On the other hand, a stimulus of too great a magnitude will over-exhaust the system and lead to overtraining (which is not really a concern for most people).
Herein lies my beef with the advocates of functional training and other cluttered hokey-pokey bullshit.
I don’t care if these methods are supposed to “really engage the core”. Systematic, progressive training has never been about that and never will be.
Balancing on a Swiss ball, uttering the alphabets in reverse order while sticking two fingers up the butt as your other arm is doing hammer curls is neither adequate stimuli for causing adaptation in the long term nor very “functional” indeed. The only place where these kinds of feats are regarded as anything else but retarded is in circus school.
It ain’t strength training unless you’re getting strong(er).
Not too long ago, I remember reading an article by Matt Kroc where he stated he had been using the back strength he’d gained in the gym to haul engine blocks, furniture, washers, and even a fully loaded refrigerator all by himself. Somehow he managed to build all that functional strength without rolling around on an inflated rubber ball. Oh the irony!!!
Legendary strongmen – ranging from old school freaks like Saxon, Sandow and Hackenschmidt, all the way to Ahola, Koklyaev, Sigmarsson or Pudzianowski of more contemporary times – based their training on getting stronger on the basics and doing those lifts frequently in order to fully master them.
Throughout history, none of the really strong guys or girls utilized training methods which involved balancing on unstable surfaces while handling weights a bulimic teenager uses for warming up between fantasizing about Zach Efron and throwing up her school lunch. I doubt they feel they’ve missed much.
This nonsense has to stop. We will stop it now.
If your goal was to gain size and strength (or lose fat/become more athletic/whatever you deem most important in your training), don’t you think you’d have a better chance of finding answers from guys who’ve already done it? Applying their methods would surely work for you as well, right?
If you wanted to become the next Federer, wouldn’t you be best served playing against guys who are better than you as opposed to someone who you can easily defeat? Wouldn’t it make more sense to get tennis lessons from a knowledgeable coach than relying solely on the powers of a brand new training DVD teaching you how to hit backhand whilst wobbling on a balance board, serve curve balls while blindfolded and attack the net hopping on one leg, resembling a fucking flamingo?
I’ve said it countless times before. There are no secrets. Nobody’s hiding anything from you.
Get a lot stronger. Eat ample amounts of quality foods. Hard work and dedication. Consistency over months and years.
Your body doesn’t give a fuck about “functional” training. Neither does the barbell you’re trying to lift for a new 1RM.
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