Are you all HORSEPOWER or all HANDLING?
Your body should do both…
If you’ve been a client of mine in the last year or so, you’ve heard me talk about strength training and functional training in a distinct way. The two concepts have a symbiotic relationship in fitness with one feeding and enhancing the other. In fact, one can’t exist (well) without the other.
I like to explain classic strength training as HORSEPOWER building. With this goal in mind, you are training your muscle to contract with other muscles to create max force. In general, I have clients in stable environments conducive to lifting max weight. The idea is to challenge the body in a place where you can see its full potential in force production, thus challenging it to adapt to the heavy load you are imposing upon it. This is building horsepower. Training this way gets you stronger,quicker. However, this is potential force production that may (or may not) be available to you in the real world. Whether or not you are able to use this strength gain functionally depends on your ability to train in many planes of motion simultaneously in a less than stable environment.
I call this LEARNING HOW TO DRIVE. This is the concept of taking all of your available horsepower and training your body to harness this force production and use it functionally. I often use the analogy that if you have a Corvette engine and you place it in the body of a Ford Escort, you are going to have some serious problems (it probably just wouldn’t go, and if it did, you’d blow the tires right off). This is akin to building massive horsepower in the gym with no time spent on stabilization and multiple movement patterns. Dr. Stu McGill (one of my mentors) tells stories of huge Olympic lifters who are strong and stable in the sagittal plane (straight ahead and directly backwards), but if you give a tug on their sleeve from the side, they topple over easily. This is an example of all horsepower and no function.
So, which one should YOU focus on?
It depends on how long you’ve been doing either of these. I almost always start a client off with a period of time where we work on absolute strength alone. We are building the horsepower necessary to move with max force. After that, I teach them how to drive with this newfound horsepower in more complicated, multi planar and unbalanced exercise patterns.
Identify what you’re lacking. Do you move very well, in a balanced and comfortable way but lack the power behind your movement? Spend some more time strength training, then back to functional training to learn to deal with your newly acquired strength.
Can you lift huge loads in the gym but it isn’t translating to athletic performance on the field? Spend more time learning how to manage your strength, directing it towards the activity you are trying to improve. Training functionally in the patterns that match your activity would help this.
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It’s Your Turn. Emerge.
Matt Pirtle MA CSCS