August 8, 2015 Damon Hayhow

The Dysfunctional Outcome of Functional Training

I used to think that the “functional training” I see so many PT’s doing was a senseless, worthless waste of time and money for their clients. I thought it was just the latest in a long history of disgusting con job’s being run by the Fitness industry. But since opening Recomp HQ I’ve discovered its actually much, MUCH worse! Its not as innocuously ineffective as you might think. Its very effective at rendering people extraordinarily dysfunctional; incapable of doing normal things an untrained person could easily do. Functional Training is training to be handicapped!

Originally, functional training was loosely based on physiotherapist rehabilitation exercises. But, because it was applied to people who did not need rehabilitating, there were no measurable outcomes to limit what could be considered beneficial or useful. So functional training has been bastardised by the fitness industry to mean every possible combination of pointless pushing or pulling on cables and/or bands and/or light kettle bells, while squatting, lunging or balancing on bosu or swiss balls, while superficially flexing the ‘core’ and holding various joints at weird angles while moving slowly. Functional training has become, ironically, training dysfunctionally.

Functional Trainers brag about how difficult they can make stupid, pointless exercises. They brag about how much they can make an able-bodied person struggle with weights they could easily lift otherwise. They mistake slow-motion lifting for ‘strict form’ regardless of how unnatural, inefficient and inherently damaging the movement would be under any greater load. Their achievements are akin to deliberately losing money on bad investments or writing computer programs that don’t work and crash the OS…. and then teaching others to do the same!

In my quarter century in gyms I have literally never seen people so handicapped and dysfunctional as I now regularly see in people who have done a few months of ‘functional’ training! It is actually serious problem!

A trainer’s job should be to teach clients the easiest, most efficient and most effective way of performing an exercise, thereby allowing them to develop their ability with increased resistance or speed. Instead, functional Trainers have taken to complicating exercises for the sake of complication, with the the least possible resistance at artificially slow speed. Their idea of “Functional Training” is the antithesis of functional training. It is training to make everyday movement inordinately complicated and difficult.

In over 20 years of training people from all walks of life I’ve never, ever coached a person who I needed to get to think about their ‘core’ to do any exercise properly! Never! I’ve never, ever met a person whose muscles did not ‘activate’ when they were forced to move the right way! Never! And I’ve never met an uninjured, healthy person whose ‘mobility’ prevented me being able to get them squatting and deadlifting well in the first session. Never!

So is it that trainers are now working with more challenging clients than I’ve experienced? No! I’ve worked with a wide range of people over the years. From younger than 12 to older than 80. Some have had extremely complicated dysfunctions and/or deformities. Yet every single one I could get training effectively from day one and enjoy good strength and body composition progress. I’ve seen the clients functional trainers take on. None of them are more physically challenged than clients I’ve worked with. None of them are geriatric cripples with rickets. All of them are capable of effective training without any consideration of their core, activation or mobility. If they are so bad they truly need rehabilitation then they should not be seeing a personal trainer in the first place!

Teaching people to practice struggling to perform basic squatting and bending movements using unnecessarily difficult, completely unnatural, functionally useless movement patterns, leaves people worse off than they would be had they not done it at all. In time, it often makes them incapable of squatting  or deadlifting normally at all. And this is what I am seeing at an increasing rate. Functional training is making people incapable of physically lifting the weights they are muscularly capable of lifting! It slows or eliminates any possibility of reasonable training progress using otherwise effective training programs; even with effective coaching. It moves them backwards from physical ‘zero’. It trains them unfit!

In the last 3 months I have seen new clients break records for the worst initial strength test performances I have ever seen! At Recomp HQ we pride ourselves on clients squatting and deadlifting 20-40kg more in their first strength test than they’ve ever lifted in their lives! That’s normal for us, even in experienced lifters. Yet in the past few months we’ve been forced, for the first time ever, to actually turn people away because they had been trained so dysfunctional by their previous functional training. It has been deeply shocking!

[Functional Training] is not as innocuously ineffective as you might think. Its very effective at rendering people extraordinarily dysfunctional; incapable of doing normal things an untrained person could easily do

I’ve seen functionally trained clients literally fall down and drop weights on themselves in ways no normal person could let themselves even if they wanted! I’ve seen functionally trained clients struggle to figure out how to bend over to pick up a bar! No, not struggle to pick up the bar; struggle to bend over to the bar before they even got to the picking-up part! I’ve seen functionally trained clients struggle so much to move into normal body positions that they cause themselves pain moving incorrectly. And, mostly, I’ve seen most functionally trained clients struggle to lift ridiculously light weights that any untrained person with their muscle mass would lift easily. In my quarter century in gyms I have literally never seen people so handicapped and dysfunctional as I now regularly see in people who have done a few months of ‘functional’ training! It is actually serious problem!

A lot of this starts with Functional Movement Assessment which, from a client’s point of view, is a process of paying to have a problem invented. And that is exactly what is achieved. Through a series of hypercritical tests, Functional Movement Assessment (FMA) is able to invent apparent high-risk inadequacies preventing any effective training and requiring focused rehabilitation in able-bodied people with absolutely nothing wrong with them.

I have personally coached several people who were told by an FMA coach that they needed months of work to achieve the necessary “mobility” to safely perform squats and deadlifts. Within 2 minutes I had them executing superb, deep squats and perfect deadlifts which they built up to extraordinary weights with good form, all in their very first session. There was nothing wrong with them. Not even remotely! They just needed competent coaching.

If you, or anybody you know is using a Trainer who promotes, slow, difficult movement with light weights, strange combination exercises (e.g. lunge, curl, press combos), cable-pulling while balancing on a bosu-ball or any other rehabilitation-based exercise for people not needing rehabilitation, please leave them as soon as possible! You do not want to achieve the ‘function’ of every movement being difficult, complicated and weak. So do not pay someone to train you for it!

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Damon Hayhow

Damon Hayhow has been in the body recomposition (Recomp) and bodybuilding industry for 30 years as a coach, competitor, gym owner, teacher, sponsor, show promoter, judge and MC. He has won National competitions in both powerlifting and bodybuilding, set world records, and coached others to the same success in strength sport and physique competition.

Body recomposition diet and training concepts based on logic and reason; not scientism