By Jon Stiffler, PTA, CPT, PES
What is Traditional Thought with Strengthening?
When it comes to athletes, functional strengthening is important. Traditionally it is thought to be strong and perform sport-specific activities optimally. You must regularly go to the gym and lift heavy weights. And continue to progress your strength through things such as bench pressing or bicep curls week after week. Some of the aforementioned statement is correct, such as the fact you must train regularly, and lifting weight does strengthen you to an extent.
However, simply lifting heavy weights in the gym will not prepare an individual to perform optimally with sport-specific activities or reduce the risk of injury with a sport. Most gym exercises people perform that they think are helping in these areas are in a single plane of motion and only typically require two kinds of contractions. The first type of contraction is a concentric contraction, which is the muscle’s activation while shortening under load. The second type of contraction is an eccentric contraction, which is the muscle’s activation while shortening under load.
This type of training is not beneficial for an individual to perform optimally or reduce injury with sport-specific activities. Most functional movement patterns with sport-specific activities are multi-planar in nature and require several muscles or muscle groups working together to perform the movement pattern of the activity. These functional movement patterns also require not only concentric and eccentric contractions simultaneously but isometric contractions as well. An isometric contraction is an activation of the muscle without shortening or lengthening under/no under load.
What is Functional Strengthening? And Why is it Important?
Functional strengthening consists of exercises focused on these types of contractions and simultaneously working together through multiple planes of motion with movement patterns. A good example of why functional strengthening is important is a pitcher with the sport of baseball. When a baseball pitcher is pitching a baseball, it requires stabilization of the pelvis and lower extremities through isometric contractions of the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus muscles during knee hike in the sagittal plane, concentric and eccentric contractions of the hip flexors, quadriceps, hip abductors, and hip extensors with knee hike to stride in the sagittal, transverse, and frontal plane, and concentric and eccentric contractions of the biceps, triceps, and rotator cuff muscles from stride throughout the follow-through in the sagittal, transverse, and frontal planes.
These are only some examples of contractions occurring during this movement pattern or kinematic sequence of pitching. As one can see, many muscles work together simultaneously through different planes to perform one movement. Again, this is where functional strengthening comes in and why it is important. Since this sport-specific activity requires all these different muscles to simultaneously work together through different planes and with different types of contractions, simply lifting weights with only two types of contractions in one plane will not result in optimal performance and injury risk reduction in this movement pattern. Therefore, it is important to train with functional strengthening exercises that require all these types of contractions through multiple planes to prepare better an athlete to perform optimally with their sport while reducing the risk of injury.
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