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Functional Training is Stupid

by Fred Hahn on February 25, 2012

Not smart.

Not smart.

Actually, it’s worse than stupid, it’s really stupid.

Here’s why.

But before I explain, let me say that I didn’t say that trainers who teach functional training are stupid. I also didn’t say that people who engage in functional training are stupid.

I said, functional training is stupid. And it’s dangerous. And needless, worthless, etc.

According to Richard Schmidt, Ph.D, motor learning principles clearly dictates that skill improvement at a task is best achieved by perfect practice of that skill or task. In other words, if you want to excel at your golf drive, don’t hit golf balls standing on a wobble board.

What the...?

What the...?

That makes sense, right?

Says Dr. Schmidt:

A common misconception is that fundamental abilities can be trained through various drills or other activities. The thinking is that, with some stronger ability, the athlete will see gains in performance for tasks with this underlying ability.

For example, athletes are often given various “quickening” exercises, with the hope that these exercises would train some fundamental ability to be quick, allowing quicker response in their particular sports.

Coaches often use various balancing drills to increase general balancing ability, eye movement exercises to improve vision, and many others. Such attempts to train fundamental abilities may sound fine, but usually they simply do not work. Time, and often money, would be better spent practicing the eventual goal skills.

There are two correct ways to think of these principles. First, there is no general ability to be quick, to balance, or to use vision. Rather, quickness, balance, and vision are each based on many diverse abilities, so there is no single quickness or balance ability, for example, that can be trained.

Second, even if there were such general abilities, these are, by definition, genetic and not subject to modification through practice. Therefore, attempts to modify an ability with a nonspecific drill are ineffective. A learner may acquire additional skill at the drill which is, after all, a skill itself, but this learning does not transfer to the main skill of interest.

Our muscles allow us to function. The stronger we make our muscles, the better they will function. If we want to be good at a function, like golf, tennis, arm wrestling, etc., we must practice that function as perfectly as possible. It is not a smart idea, nor will it work in your favor to do things like this:

This will not improve your golf drive. Or anything else for that matter save for doing THAT.

This will not improve your golf drive. Or anything else for that matter save for doing THAT.

Resistance training is designed for one thing and one thing only – getting stronger. Of course, there are a million and one ways to perform resistance training. My suggestion, no matter what your preferred flavor is, do it safely. If you hurt yourself in the weight room, your pet skill or sport will suffer. That said, don’t do it in a manner that simulates a sport or skill.

Keep resistance training and skill practice separate and distinct.

I hope I have saved many of you from hours of wasted effort engaging in these nonsensical practices.

Remember:

Muscles function. The stronger they are, they better they will function.
Practice makes perfect but only if the practice is perfect to begin with.

I've been involved in exercise ever since I became a member of The Charles Atlas Club when I was 10 years old. In 1998, I founded and established Serious Strength on the Upper West Side of NYC. My clients include kids, seniors (and everyone in between), top CEOs, celebrities, bestselling authors, journalists and TV personalities.
my book. my Gym.

in personal training,Science,strength training · 123 comments

{ 23 comments }

Fred Hahn March 12, 2012 at 5:03 PM

Can you or can you not do a one arm pullup? This has nothing to do with me. I’m sure not.

And unlike many others you criticize, there are loads of videos of me lifting using my machines on YT like this one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w77GRTfIYU0&list=UUpnwq6mCZ88m89blxu1R7LA&index=7&feature=plcp

Fred Hahn March 12, 2012 at 5:17 PM

Juan – why do you place the bar halfway down your back and not on the neck/shoulders like normal lifters? If you are going to impress with such squat tonnage, place the bar on your shoulders thusly:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbxxs1PErLQ

Fred Hahn March 12, 2012 at 9:13 PM

Here is my 53 year old, 165 friend Tom, a weakling HITer, squatting 315 without a belt, wraps or safety cage for 4 reps in jeans.

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=391515547525566

Alfie March 13, 2012 at 3:12 PM

Fred you shouldn’t bag on other people’s squats when you can’t even squat yourself. Just like you shouldn’t brag about a 400lb squat “you could have been taught to do” when you never did it.
You went from bragging about lifts you have never done to using videos of other people to brag with while never meeting the challenges you could. It’s a little sad.

fred hahn March 14, 2012 at 11:57 AM

“Fred you shouldn’t bag on other people’s squats when you can’t even squat yourself.”

Ad hominem argument. If I was a quadriplegic Sumo’s squats would still not get the green in an amateur power lifting contest. The bar is too low on his shoulders on most of his lifts.

“Just like you shouldn’t brag about a 400lb squat “you could have been taught to do” when you never did it.”

I wasn’t bragging. That’s your emotional baggage placed on my statement that my friend Doug, a champion power lifter, made. Instead of acting snarky, you should have said “Really? I wonder how?”

“You went from bragging about lifts you have never done…”

Never bragged – that’s your embellishment.

“…to using videos of other people to brag with while never meeting the challenges you could. It’s a little sad.”

Nope. It’s showing others who are HITers who are as strong or stronger than Juan so that Juan can wake up and smell the reality beyond his basement.

sumoman March 14, 2012 at 2:49 PM

Fred, your argument always follows the same ‘logic’.

Thus when I note that HITers are very weak you will then find the most genetically gifted athlete and then ask why I can’t duplicate that feat.

Yet when I ask you why you can do a very modest feat such as squat 300 lbs you will then evade the question and ask me if I can do some other feat, you will keep asking different feats until you inevitably come across a feat I can do and then ask why I possibly can’t do such a feat. This despite the fact that I am always the one that has to present numerous videos of my strength feats whilst you are strangely devoid of such evidence.

Fred, can you deadlift double bodyweight – you don’t weigh much so it is not an unreasonable request. Do you have a video of such a feat, or will you now claim a bad back?

Fred Hahn March 14, 2012 at 3:57 PM

“Fred, your argument always follows the same ‘logic’. Thus when I note that HITers are very weak you will then find the most genetically gifted athlete and then ask why I can’t duplicate that feat.”

The most genetically gifted athlete? Paleezze. His 15 year old, 163 pound son was doing more than your single lift (340 pounds) for reps as a teenager without a belt or cage.

“Yet when I ask you why you can do a very modest feat such as squat 300 lbs you will then evade the question and ask me if I can do some other feat, you will keep asking different feats until you inevitably come across a feat I can do and then ask why I possibly can’t do such a feat. This despite the fact that I am always the one that has to present numerous videos of my strength feats whilst you are strangely devoid of such evidence.”

Sure.

“Fred, can you deadlift double bodyweight – you don’t weigh much so it is not an unreasonable request. Do you have a video of such a feat, or will you now claim a bad back?”

I weigh 171 – lift it how?

sumoman March 14, 2012 at 4:18 PM

Fred, the facebook link does not go anywhere, it says the link is unavailable.

“His 15 year old, 163 pound son was doing more than your single lift (340 pounds) for reps as a teenager without a belt or cage.”

In other words with little to no training a 15 year old could squat more than 340 lbs. I assume you mean that HIT training only appears to work if one is genetically advantaged from a young age. Unfortunately I had no such luxury and was squatting 80 lbs at that age.

“I weigh 171 – lift it how?”

Fred, you were telling me my squat was wrong earlier are you now saying you don’t know what a deadlift is? Here are 4 styles of deadlift; http://vimeo.com/7837145

Will March 17, 2012 at 7:43 PM

Sumo,

Why are you so obsessed with Mr. Fred Hahn and his style of fitness training? Some therapy might be in order.

What shortcomings are you trying to compensate for?

I have several bags of groceries to carry in.

sumoman March 18, 2012 at 9:31 AM

“I have several bags of groceries to carry in.”

Will, if you are an advanced HITer you may be able to manage this.

Alfie March 19, 2012 at 5:03 PM

Said Fred: “Sumo – Sure – and I suppose if you came to my gym and I put you on my cervical extension/flexion machine using the weights I use, you’re pencil-sized neck would shatter like a stick of a school teachers chalk.”

Fred you should offer challenges that he could actually fulfill, like he does to you.
Personally, I stay away from all internet boasting. But if you are going to challenge, you should honor them.

Fred Hahn March 19, 2012 at 6:25 PM

Alfie – I was joking with Juan. Chill out.

Alfie March 20, 2012 at 9:23 AM

I think you were joking when you asked him “lift it how” b/c you have no intention to try to lift such a moderate weight (~340lb).

Fred Hahn March 20, 2012 at 10:52 AM

Well Alfie, I suppose you wouldn’t want to show us a video of you squatting 340?

As you know, I had a right knee replacement and my left knee is going to need one soon. Trying to squat this sort of resistance does me no good.

And 340 pounds in the full squat is certainly not moderate for sumo. It appears to be close to his max if the bar is placed in a legal position on his shoulders for power lifting competition.

Alfie March 20, 2012 at 12:56 PM

Fred, please re read and see he was asking for a deadlift not a squat.
He first asked:
“Fred, can you deadlift double bodyweight – you don’t weigh much so it is not an unreasonable request. Do you have a video of such a feat, or will you now claim a bad back?”
You replied by asking ““I weigh 171 – lift it how?”
Now you are talking about a squat. Your reading comprehension seems to be selective.
I am not challenging you to do a lift since I see it is pointless. Sumo asked if you could do this lift. You sometimes challenge others to do things on machines they do not have access to which is safe b/c you know they cannot attempt it. The barbell is something you could access.
So if you say your knees prevent you from deadlifting I would understand that. But it is not clear to me why you would not have said that right away and instead try misdirection in your replies.

Fred Hahn March 20, 2012 at 1:23 PM

“Fred, please re read and see he was asking for a deadlift not a squat.
He first asked: “Fred, can you deadlift double bodyweight – you don’t weigh much so it is not an unreasonable request. Do you have a video of such a feat, or will you now claim a bad back?””

Actually I can deadlift that and yes I actually do have a bad back and he knows it. I have had back problems my whole life due to having an extra fused vertabra under L5. I do not do deadlifts because of this.

“You replied by asking ““I weigh 171 – lift it how?” Now you are talking about a squat. Your reading comprehension seems to be selective.”

I missed that he said deadlift.

“I am not challenging you to do a lift since I see it is pointless. Sumo asked if you could do this lift. You sometimes challenge others to do things on machines they do not have access to which is safe b/c you know they cannot attempt it. The barbell is something you could access.”

That is not why I make the challenge and Nautilus machines are everywhere. And I don’t challenge anyone except for Juan.

But can you squat 340? Can you deadlift 340? Do you have ANY videos of yourself lifting anything?
So if you say your knees prevent you from deadlifting I would understand that. But it is not clear to me why you would not have said that right away and instead try misdirection in your replies.

Fred Hahn March 20, 2012 at 1:24 PM

“Fred, please re read and see he was asking for a deadlift not a squat.
He first asked: “Fred, can you deadlift double bodyweight – you don’t weigh much so it is not an unreasonable request. Do you have a video of such a feat, or will you now claim a bad back?””

Actually I can deadlift that and yes I actually do have a bad back and he knows it. I have had back problems my whole life due to having an extra fused vertabra under L5. I do not do deadlifts because of this.

“You replied by asking ““I weigh 171 – lift it how?” Now you are talking about a squat. Your reading comprehension seems to be selective.”

I missed that he said deadlift.

“I am not challenging you to do a lift since I see it is pointless. Sumo asked if you could do this lift. You sometimes challenge others to do things on machines they do not have access to which is safe b/c you know they cannot attempt it. The barbell is something you could access.”

That is not why I make the challenge and Nautilus machines are everywhere. And I don’t challenge anyone except for Juan.

But can you squat 340? Can you deadlift 340? Do you have ANY videos of yourself lifting anything?

Alfie March 20, 2012 at 2:37 PM

I do have videos of myself doing lifts over 340lb. But I don’t think you mean to say I need to share them for my point to be valid, do you? That’d be the ad hominem style you accused me of earlier.
Anyway, you say you can do the lift. Have you done it and just not videoed it, or are you just assuming you could, like the 400lb squat?

Fred Hahn March 20, 2012 at 3:11 PM

“I do have videos of myself doing lifts over 340lb. But I don’t think you mean to say I need to share them for my point to be valid, do you? That’d be the ad hominem style you accused me of earlier.”

That’s not what ad hominem means. Ad hominem would be if I said you didn’t know anything about strength because you’re not certified or a published author like me. IOW, an ad hominem argument is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by using a negative characteristic of the person supporting it. By sharing the videos, you prove your claim. Right now it’s just a claim. I have yet to make a claim that I cannot prove save for your 340 pound deadlift. But I do not have a video of this so I can’t prove it. You do and can.

“Anyway, you say you can do the lift. Have you done it and just not videoed it, or are you just assuming you could, like the 400lb squat?”

See above. I never claimed I could squat 400 pounds Alfie. I SAID my friend Doug, a champion power lifter, said that he could get me to squat that in a bunch of weeks by teaching me proper form.

Alfie March 20, 2012 at 5:14 PM

You brought up my ability to produce a video of me making a 340 lift – it was an attempt to discredit my points about your dodgy replies to sumo.
I have not challenged you. I do not do internet challenges like this b/c it is not coming out of good spirit.
Anyway I am still not 100% sure if you are saying actually have deadlifted 200%bw already in the past.

Fred Hahn March 20, 2012 at 6:07 PM

“You brought up my ability to produce a video of me making a 340 lift – it was an attempt to discredit my points about your dodgy replies to sumo.”

That’s not ad hominem. You were the one who was telling me off. My response was more along the lines of “why don’t you put up or shut up.” I was not saying you couldn’t do it.

“I have not challenged you. I do not do internet challenges like this b/c it is not coming out of good spirit.”

You did challenge me on Sumo’s behalf – without him knowing of course.

“Anyway I am still not 100% sure if you are saying actually have deadlifted 200%bw already in the past.”

I have dead lifted in the mid 300’s at a body weight of 165 or so for reps. I have no idea if I could do that now. Wouldn’t even try because why risk it.

morrisonjojo April 21, 2012 at 2:12 PM

Hi Fred ,
I hope I am not hijacking this threads as I do not know where to ask this question?
I wanted to know in your book(I have) what exercises strengthen the rotator cuff muscles.
I aggravated mine from stirring no knead spelt sourdough bread for DH with a sort of circular type wand spatula, so it caused me to tilt my one shoulder higher as the handle was longer than the normal spoon…..I know that was dumb on my part!

Thanks,
Jo-Anne
From canda

fred hahn April 22, 2012 at 8:45 AM

Jo-Anne –

Almost all major back strengthening exercises involve and thus strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. Pullover, pull down, row, dips, etc. To directly strengthen them, you could do internal and external rotation with the elbow fixed to your ribs using a band:

http://www.physioadvisor.com.au/assets/256/images/13846256(300×300).jpg

and with the elbow parallel to the ground using a band or a dumbbell:

http://www.betterfitnessproducts.com/images/rotator-cuff-muscles.jpg

Hope that helps!

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