What is Functional?

'Functional' would have to be the most over-used buzzword in the fitness industry over the last 5 years. It has taken over from 'core', and makes me cringe every time I say it, not because it isn't relevant - indeed it is an extremely relevant concept - but because it has been so overused to the point where it almost seems meaningless. Not only that, it has been incorrectly hijacked with poor definitions of what exactly functional is.

There is also the miaussie rules football strength exercises functional squat form improve vertical leapstaken belief that an exercise is either 'functional' or 'not-functional', regardless of what the scenario is. That is, 'a deadlift is a functional exercise, period!' 'A squat is a functional exercise, period!' Regardless of what exactly the end goal is, or how the exercises are programmed, they are just generally considered to fall under the 'functional' umbrella, and that is that. This is a faulty way of looking at exercises. I'm not saying squats and deadlifts aren't functional and shouldn't be included in a footy strength program - and indeed they should be - however there is far more to this discussion than originally meets the eye. We will come back to this point again in a second. but just for the moment, when considering the functional carryover of squats and deadlifts to a game of footy, is football a game involving movements predominantly off 1 leg at a time, or 2?

Function can essentially be looked at as purpose. Functional training in other words, can therefore be looked at as training for a specific purpose. And what exactly is the purpose that we are most concerned with? Well, being better prepared physically to perform better on match days in a game of footy. But even this is a little vague. How exactly are we aiming to perform better physically? What exactly is it that we want to improve?

What are we aiming to improve?

- Is it to be able to jump higher at ruck contests?
- Is it to be better at pushing off your opponent in a 1 on 1 marking contest?
- Is it to accelerate quicker from a standing or walking start?
- Is it to be more agile – being able to decelerate and change directions more efficiently – in order to better lose an opponent?
- Is tackling improvement the priority?

australian rules football strength training improve tacklingThe answer or answers to this question will determine whether or not a particular exercise is ‘functional’ in contributing to the attainment of your goal or multiple goals, as well as just how functional it is. Having said that, the majority of players are aiming at improvement across the board in various areas, with some obvious variations such as vertical leap off 1 or both legs being more important to ruckmen and key-position players, and the speed and agility being more important to the smaller built players. However things like tackling and functional upper body strength and power are important to players in all positions.
australian rules football strength training improve jumping vertical leap
In the brief discussion a little earlier we used squats and deadlifts to outline the erroneous belief that an exercise is either functional or not functional, regardless of the programming of it, or the goal of it. Renowned strength and conditioning coach Vern Gambetta makes a great point about functional training and functional exercises and their relation to training for sports performance, and that is looking at exercises along a ‘functional continuum’, rather than a case of ‘black and white’ and simply being classified as functional or non-functional. I really like this because what it means is that depending on what the individual athletes current position is, combined with what their goals are, everything can be considered functional to a certain extent, and even an exercise that would be instantly considered ‘functional’ like a squat or a deadlift or a lunge, can be improved upon to be even more functional for certain goals. In many instances in football, certain exercises like these will be only mid-range on this continuum, particularly as you get more advanced in your ability and you require a greater challenge for the conditioning of your nervous system.

australian rules football strength training best exercises to do

Below is a very brief example of what we are talking about. Lets just say you were training to improve your vertical leap off two feet (say for a stationary ruck contest.) There are of course other exercise options to those included in the diagram, and indeed certain exercise can be combined. But the purpose of this diagram is to show the order in which these 5 exercises would be ranked in terms of functionality or functional carryover to this particular goal.

functional strength training for australian rules football exercises to improve vertical leap

We are only just scratching the surface here of this key concept, and there is a lot more consideration to what is functional for football than simply, ‘functional’ or ‘not functional’. When it comes to functional exercise selection for a strength training program for footy, there are a few key steps;

Key steps to functional exercise selection and programming

1. Needs analysis in terms of the key demands of footy – especially in your position/s
2. Being clear in what your primary goals are – based around your needs analysis, and where you would like to improve
3. Selecting the appropriate exercises to achieve these goals
4. Programming and periodising these exercises correctly with the rest of your training program (including running and club training, as well as match days, and just the seasons layout in general)

In Functional Strength Training for Australian Rules Football we cover in-depth, exactly what it takes for an exercise to be considered ‘functional’ in terms of preparing as best as possible for the many varying physical demands of footy, as well s take you through the needs analysis, the key exercises themselves and the all important periodisation and programming of these exercises.

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