Functional Training 101

by Dan Staton



Functional Training
Compound exercises are large-scale movements like squats and deadlifts, and they're the bread and butter of most exercise training programs. It’s no wonder why ... these compound moves elicit the fastest adaptations and the fastest results. Simply put, compound exercises are multi-joint movements, and they're “functional” because they're found in nature.

The bulk of human action is composed of a limited number of irreducible, fundamental compound movements. These fundamental movements are the most pure in functionality and should be toward the top of your exercise hierarchy. They include - but are not limited to - pressing, cleaning, lunging, running, jumping, throwing, climbing, and squatting. Such functional exercises will enable you to be a better archer, to pull and hold more poundage on your draw, and to perform better in the outdoors.
Many fitness professionals mistakenly use the term “functional” exercise when discussing items such as physioballs and bosu balls. This is likely because these items require some stability and there's a bit of buzz about them right now. In fact, a Google search returned over 1,000,000 hits for “functional exercise”. Most of these sites support the notion that “functional exercise” is something done on or with Swiss balls and rubber bands.

This misuse of the term “functional” needs to be addressed. It's our contention at CrossFit Spokane Valley that functional exercises should be organic and passed down from generation to generation. This means that our ancestors picked things off the ground (i.e., deadlifts), pushed/pulled objects (i.e., pull-ups), and placed items overhead (i.e., presses). They didn't stand with one leg on a bosu ball with their eyes closed while juggling resistance bands. You probably won’t be able to find a band or bosu ball outside the four walls of your local gym, so we encourage our athletes and clients to stick with true “functional” exercises.

Here's the lowdown on three essential functional exercises - the squat, the deadlift and the shoulder press:

The Squat
Squat Cues
- Stance is shoulder width
- Head neutral / gaze forward
- Chest up / shoulders back
- Back arched
- Tight belly
- Butt travels back and down
- Pull yourself down
- Knees track over the feet
- Below parallel
- Rise to full extension
- Your entire kinetic chain is firing

Squat Faults
- Losing the lumbar curve
- Weight on the toes
- Knees adduct
- Top of thigh does not reach at or below parallel
- Dropping, winking, lazy squat
- Not rising to full extension
- Chest inclination

The Deadlift
Deadlift Cues
- Stance is hip width
- Grip doesn’t interfere with knees
- Weight on heels
- Back arched
- Shoulders pinned
- Shoulders over or in front of the hands
- Arms straight
- Bar in contact with the legs (maintained throughout)
- Stand, hips and knees press back as the chest rises
- Rise to full extension

Deadlift Faults
- Loss of lumbar curve
- Bars goes around the knees
- Bar loses contact with the legs
- Hips rise without chest
- No extension

The Shoulder Press
Shoulder Press Cues
- Stance is hip width
- Root through heels
- Tight belly
- Grip slightly outside shoulders
- Load sits on shoulders
- Elbows in front of the bar
- Press to overhead
- Line of action is straight up and straight down
- Active shoulders
- Elbows locked

Shoulder Press Faults
- Not overhead
- Leaning back elbows too low / high
- Improper rack
- Chin tucked at full extension

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