Please enjoy an excerpt from my book, Winning the Injury Game, which will be released this summer.
Sports performance is the result of coordinated movements. Casting a fly rod, spiking a volleyball, paddling a boat, skiing moguls, and hiking up a mountain all require multiple muscles working together in a specific sequence to create action. As a general rule, muscles and joints do not work separately, and, therefore, should not be trained in isolation. Rather, they work in a “chain reaction,” as Gray described earlier, using the body as a unit. According to Vern Gambetta and Gary Gray, “Training individual muscles isolates and breaks the kinetic chain. Training movements integrates and improves the function of the kinetic chain.”1
Let’s take an example of strength training for your quadriceps, the muscles on the front of your thighs. One option to build quadriceps strength is the quadriceps extension exercise, where you are seated in a machine lifting a weight (Figure 12-10).
Figure 12-10. The quadriceps extension machine is a single-joint, non-weight bearing exercise..
This exercise isolates the quadriceps by extending the knee joint. There is little to no involvement from the hip above, ankle below, or opposing hamstrings muscles on the back of the leg. But think about this: in sports and life, there are not going to be many instances where you are only using your quadriceps muscles to straighten your knee while seated with your feet off the ground. And worse yet, in many endurance sports, you are not going to be using your quadriceps together in the same motion. Rather, one leg will be going forward while the other is going back, as seen in snowshoeing (Figure 12-11).
Figure 12-11. When snowshoeing up a hill, the quadriceps are being used in a split-stance position, with one leg forward and one leg back.
A more functional resistance exercise for developing quadriceps strength is a lunge on the ground (Figure 12-12).
Figure 12-12. The lunge closely mimics the demands of life and sports.
Unlike the quadriceps extension machine, the lunge incorporates many joints and muscles that work together simultaneously to produce a fluid movement. The lunge is weight bearing, another key aspect of functional training discussed next, and requires proprioception, balance, postural alignment, tri-planar movement, and eccentric contractions. Many variations and additional challenges can be added to the lunge exercise as your strength, balance, and coordination improve. For example, you could place an unstable surface like a Bosu® ball under your front or back foot. Upper body rotation and resistance could also be incorporated. In fact, there are numerous possibilities. I chose this example to demonstrate the fundamental differences between standard strength training and functional strength training, an isolated muscle approach versus an integrated movement approach.
- Gambetta, V. & Gray, G. (2002). Implementing functional training and rehab involves challenging conventional regimens and focusing on the body’s biomechanical movements. (Excerpt from: The Gambetta Method: Common sense training for athletic performance, 1998).