The Real Functional Training

Functional training is one of the sexy phrases in the business these days when it comes to training basketball players or any athlete from any sport. Functional training should be done in a way that it improves strength as it relates to the activities that the person is trying to perform. Misinformed trainers often try to achieve this through various arrays of circus tricks such as standing on a bosu ball while doing biceps curls. I assure you that, that example serves no function in any sport that I have ever played. Furthermore, traditional exercises that are performed on machines or benches fall on the lower end of functionality as well because they are done in a controlled way that isolates the muscles. That does not mean that you should not do these traditional exercises, they serve great purpose in building up deficiencies in certain muscles, but that is another topic for another article. So, if these types of traditional exercises serve limited purpose in the realm of functionality, which ones do? The answer is quite simple odd-object or strongman training is a great way to gain strength in a way that is applicable to sports, thus making them great functional exercises.

We have all been there, late at night flipping through the channels trying to find anything to watch when we come across the world’s strongest man competition on Espn 2. We sit on the couch enamored to see some guy named Magnus flipping a tractor tire or pulling a bus attached to a rope only to think that this type of “stuff” has little real world application. This could not be less accurate. Strongman training is becoming an increasingly popular method of training athletes and for good reason. Adding strongman exercises like the tire flip, the farmer’s walk, sandbag loading, or the sled drag to an athlete’s workout will increase strength in the posterior chain, explosiveness, and core strength.

The posterior chain includes your calves, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. The posterior chain is often overlooked when it comes to training, but it should be an integral part of any basketball player’s training regimen. Why? Simply stated, these muscles make you faster, and speed is something all basketball players could use more of. Along with being faster, every basketball player wants to be more explosive and strongman training is an excellent way to achieve explosive power. The increase in explosiveness comes from the triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips that is required to perform many of these lifts (for more information on triple extension see my article on “Olympic Weightlifting for Basketball”).

Most importantly, an increase in core strength takes place due to the nature of lifting odd objects. Core training involves many different muscles that stabilize the spine and pelvis and run the entire length of the torso, and provides a solid foundation for movement in the extremities. It is for this reason that core training is vital to being a successful athlete. The body is capable of a diverse range of activities that include walking, jogging, sprinting, jumping, starting, stopping, etc. and each one of these movements begins in the core of the body and radiates outward. The instability of an object like a Sandbag allows the weight to move and an athlete must adjust to this constant motion, consequently activating the core muscles.

So, now that you know why strongman training works, how does a coach or athlete implement this type of training into their workouts? Strongman training can be integrated directly into the workout by using each exercise along with traditional training methods. For example, sandbags can be used to do cleans or presses instead of using a bar. You can also use the tire flip or the sled drag as a maximum effort leg exercise on your leg days. Strongman training can also be used at the end of workouts as finishing circuits. For basketball players, having them do several sprints the length of the basketball court while carrying a sand bag different ways (overhead, bear hug, on your shoulders) is an extremely effective way of getting them in great condition.

Finally, you can also implement a strongman day once a week where you put the players through an assortment of strongman exercises. This type of addition to a weekly workout is not only valuable from a strength and conditioning aspect but it can also be really fun. Divide the team up into smaller groups and organize your own strongman competition that includes the tug-of-war, sled drag races, tire flipping for time or whatever else you can think of. The element of competition is sure to get the players excited about training that day and will carry over into other parts of their training.

Basketball players should always be looking for new, innovative, and effective ways to train our bodies. Their training should be functional or focus on improving strength as it relates to their sport. Strongman training is an increasingly popular form of functional training. This is a direct result of these exercise’s ability to increase speed and explosive power through strength gains in the posterior chain and the core. Aside from all of that, it is a change of pace from traditional training methods that can lose their luster after a while, and it is fun. So next time you are flipping through the channels and see Magnus carrying a 300lb stone, do not change the channel, figure out a way to incorporate it into your training and your success will speak for itself.