Functional Training & Running

Functional Strength Training is a Workout Option on the Apple Watch

“The goal of training is not to change how the body looks, but to improve how the body moves. Therefore, sport training should focus on movement patterns rather than individual muscles.” Gray Cook, physical therapist & certified strength coach and author of Athletic Body in Balance
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Like many readers my smartwatch has different workout options. As pictured above, one of the options is “Functional Strength Training” which I came upon by chance one day. I began using it to describe some of my workouts. Amazing to me, doing this opened up a Pandora’s box of questions about functional training and running!

-I do a morning exercise routine to prepare me for a day of movement ahead. Does this count as functional training?

-I do strides during some of my runs. Does this count?

-After some runs I do different movements that exaggerate my running stride like high knee skipping and bounding. Does this count?

-During the training week I do core strengthening. Does this count?

-During the training week I do strength training to help prevent injury. Does this count?

What is Functional Training, Anyway?
The quote above - training with the goal of improving how the body moves - gets to the heart of defining functional training.

Movement aimed at improving mobility and stability (core stability) is part of functional training. Additionally, this type of functional training focuses on fundamental movements: squatting, hurdle stepping (shown above), lunging, straight leg raise, and rotation of the trunk. All athletes can be compared on these fundamental movements. So the ability to do a mobile and stable hurdle step among a runner, basketball player, and kayaker can be compared in functional training.

For running, all these fundamental movements are emphasized to some degree, with emphasis on hurdle stepping and lighter emphasis on rotation of the trunk. Getting back to my Pandora’s box of run training questions, my morning movement and core strengthening routines targeting mobility and stability should be considered functional training. In addition, attention should be given to fundamental movement patterns like using hurdle stepping in the mountain climber move below (trying to move knees up to arms / a pair of hand towels assist with this movement).

The same fundamental movements can be trained for power and strength development in functional training. For instance, while the mountain climber move helps train mobility, dumbbell step-ups (demonstrated below) can be used to strength train the hurdle stepping move. Getting back to my Pandora’s box of training questions, strength training that involves these fundamental movement patterns should be considered functional training.

Also, like other training programs, functional training deals with specific skills needed to do a sport. With a sport like running, specific skills include how quickly one can sprint, how much endurance does a runner have to complete their event, how much lactate can be tolerated before slowing pace. For my Pandora’s box of training questions, strides where I am tapping into my fast twitch muscle fibers is a sport specific functional skill for running.

Finally, achieving balance is a key idea in functional training. Coaches mention the need for balance and giving adequate time for mobility, strength, and specific skill training work. Also balancing mobility and strength differences is key in training. For example, if an athlete has a difference in mobility between right and left sides of the body, extra training for the less mobile side takes place to achieve balance.

In sum, while it may not fit neatly in a smartwatch app, functional training gives athletes and coaches a framework for examining training to decide whether or not changes are needed.

Thanks for reading!

Readers may be interested in - A Core Strength Program for Runners - that I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. Check out this routine to see if you can spot fundamental movements, I know I’ll be doing this!

Speaking of fundamental movements, check out this - Lunge Matrix Video - in which a fundamental movement, lunging, is carried out in different directions or movement planes.

Readers wanting more information about strides can check out - Intervals are for All Runners.

I’ve written about running and the use of a smartwatch before. Readers may be interested in these articles: 

Experiment of One Coaching covers topics ranging from running, strength training, health & wellness, sports nutrition to travel at .