Training Movements vs Training Muscles

We get a lot of questions about what people describe as functional training. Is it better to train big global movements? Are isolation exercises bad / waste of time? Most things have some value. The problems arise when people do them but don’t know why they are doing them, don’t know what they are for, don’t know how to sequence them. Everything should have some sort of function. The problem is people get hazy on what the function is. Put simply, if a movement is important for your sport, life or to protect you from injury, you should train it. Where that move has limiting factors, whether they are postural, neurological, vestibular etc., you need to use isolation work to focus on that limiting factor. Then, if you want to really ensure that the isolation work carries over into the movement, you might need to do some integration work, combining the two. Sometimes, you don’t actually need to. The isolation work carries over nicely, provided the crucial movement is getting plenty of stimulus / practice. If you are giving your body plenty of reminders by practicing the two, the system has context for what it is supposed to get good at. It will naturally make use of the improved muscle you have given it. If you don’t balance the two, one can interfere or impinge on the other. If you want a postural muscle to provide a protective function during a sporting movement, you can’t train it to the point where it interferes unduly with that movement. You have to work on the endurance quality while still being able to perform the key activity in question with quality practice. If you want to make a muscle bigger, so that you have a bigger contractile unit to contribute to a competition lift, you need to give it stimulus that leads to improvement but not to the point where it interferes with the lift. The lift was the goal in the first place. You don’t want that to suffer. Besides, you need to be practicing it, or a suitable variant, for your sport and to provide the context for the tissue you have been training. If you are trying to improve the ability for a muscle to deal with eccentric load to help in a power activity, there is no better way to overload it than by targeting it in isolation. However, you need to be recovered enough to practice the sprint, jump or throw at intensity. You want to do both, you just have to sequence / manage them in a way where they complement each other without interfering. If you have suboptimal positioning in an athletic task, isolation can help too. Whether you can’t get to a position, or lose it under fatigue, isolation is the best way to fix it. We do this with both lifters and teamsport athletes. By isolating the tissue that fatigues or improving what happens at the joint that causes the restriction, they can get to a better position. Just practicing the position over and over usually aggravates the issue. Just practicing the isolation exercise over and over might provide a local improvement but it doesn’t provide a global solution. Deal with the problem in isolation, but practice the movement to provide the context that the local improvement can be incorporated into.

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