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Functional Training: You’ve Been Duped.

You’ve all been duped.
 Heres’s why: A few weeks ago I spent some time in a typical “big box gym.”

Surrounded by people struggling through wobble boards and 10lb bosu biceps curls,  I nearly ran for cover to avoid being clubbed with a stray, flailing dumbbell.  This is not functional training. Rather it is  inefficient and potentially dangerous training.

Functional training is training for a specific cause, to improve a certain function for better performance. This could be a sprint mechanics session to improve a sport, a high-volume weight training routine to build muscle, or some high intensity intervals to shred fat.

Specifically, training should match the biomechanical (movement), energetic, and coordinative aspects of the sport or activity being trained for. Is there a sport that requires this?

gym fail 2

Functionality Is Goal Dependent

For a Powerlifter it’s completely functional to perform near-maximal lifts and good mornings to strengthen the lower back, but this same function doesn’t apply for someone rehabbing a lower back injury.

If your only goal is to look good naked then functionality will be focused on bringing up body parts that have the greatest visual impact on your physique. In this case, performing curls, triceps extensions, and various shoulder raises are completely functional because they bring you closer to your goal of bigger arms.

What Functional Training Is Not

You know those half balls, small pumped up disks, wobble boards, and stability balls? Ditch em’! Unless you are trying join cirque du soleil using these devices they are pointless and potentially dangerous. Looking to increase stability? You better be stable on one or two feet on solid ground, where sports are being played. The only thing unstable surfaces improve is your ability to use an unstable surface. That’s it.

In athletic populations it’s best to avoid these devices as reduce power output, a vital factor for sporting success. In this research study by Eric Cressey and colleagues at the University of Connecticut unstable training was shown to dilute performance gains in healthy, training, division 1 athletes.


How Unstable Surfaces Limit Athletes

When standing on an unstable surface energy being applied to support the body is being dispersed. This is known as a power leak and leads to decreased power output– a key attribute for nearly all sports. Unstable surfaces used in training are a limiting factor and limit power productive in training, to the detriment of sports performance.

As stated, functionality is goal related. If your goal is to be stronger use progressive overload and multi-joint movements. If your want to excel athletically maximize specific movement patterns for your sport and top it off with specific resistance training protocols.  If you want to be shredded use a combination of a great diet, anaerobic/aerobic training, and heavy resistance training to hold onto muscle in a caloric deficit.

Wrap Up

Define your goals and what you are looking to achieve in your training. Stick to evidence based protocols and if needed, contact a professional who has done it before . Blind-folded Bosu ball sandbag squats are recipe for sub-par gains, not high-performance.    Stick to tried and true methods for rapid results to build a strong, shredded, and athletic body.



Cressey, E.M., C.A. West, D.P. Tibiero, W.J. Kraemer, and C.M. Maresh. The Effect of Ten weeks of Lower-Body Unstable Surface training on Markers of athletic Performance. ” National Center for Biotechnology Information.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research ns 21.2 (2007) :561-567 PubMed.gov.Web 28. June 2012. <http://www.ncbj.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=$20Eric%20Cressey>.

Big 4: Overhead Press

Welcome to the third, and final installment of the Big 4 series.  So far, the deadlift has been covered here , and the bench press here.This series is comprised of four major barbell lifts, the bench, squat, overhead press, and deadlift. These four exercises are the most efficient exercises for building strength, power, confidence, and an impressive physique.


This installment will cover the overhead press, also known as the military press or barbell press. Unlike the bench press, squat, and deadlift, the overhead press has unfortunately been removed from powerlifting and Olympic lifting competition, which has led to a decrease in popularity. The overhead press is performed by standing (yes standing, not seated on a bench “Bucko”) and pressing a weighted barbell overhead. The overhead press is exceptional in that it not only builds ridiculously strong shoulders and triceps; it also challenges the core, upper back, and lats to maintain posture while pushing the bar directly overhead.

As with the bench press there are many critics of the overhead press because of shoulder injuries; however, this is due to poor form and a lack of balance in training. Chances are if your joints are giving you pain on an exercise it’s because your form is incorrect or you have muscle imbalances, get those fixed before throwing an exercise in the trash. The overhead press is a safer upper body press than the bench press because it forces the back muscles, core muscles (abs, obliques, glutes, errectors, serratus anterior and everything in-between) and shoulder muscles to stabilize a load overhead while allowing the scapula to actively move through a full range of motion. The overhead press will build stronger, healthier shoulders while also providing much-needed stability for the shoulder joint due to the synergy required among the bodies muscles to properly perform the exercise.

Here is how to perform overhead press:

Set Up

  • Either power clean the weight into position or un-rack the weight from a squat rack set at sternum level.
  • Grip the Bar with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip and squeeze until your knuckles are white.

-Play with using a false grip (thumbs not wrapped around the bar), it works better for some people, but is not as safe.

  • Breath in the air you can to stabilize your torso and squat the bar out of the rack, keeping your lats and upper back tight.
  • Keep the bar and chest high, this will create a larger base from which to push from as the bar sits higher on the anterior deltoids.
  • Find a fixed object and stare at it, no need to look up or down, tuck your chin and pack your neck.


  • Squeeze those cheeks! Squeezing your glutes will help to stabilize your torso. This will prevent you from excessively arching your lower back.
  • Push the bar overhead without extending the knees, this is not a push press.
  • When the bar clears you head, shift your head and body underneath the bar.
  • Squeeze your shoulders down and together, as if you were putting them into your back pocket.
  • Fully lockout the elbows and stabilize the weight overhead on each rep, this builds a powerful lockout and will make for a healthier, stronger shoulder.


  • Lower the weight back to collarbone level if possible, otherwise as low as your chin will suffice.
  • Keep the bar racked high on your chest as your start each rep.

Miscellaneous Tips

  • Consider investing in a pair of wraps, I use these Wrist Wraps and they work just fine.
  • Push the bar overhead not out in front of the body. If you push out in front you will lose upper back tightness and total body stability.
  • Learn to bail on the lift correctly or perform the presses in a power rack with supports underneath you. Don’t crush your noggin’ junior!

The Overhead press is a great lift that hopefully will gain popularity and yet again become a mainstay in fitness programming. It not only builds strength, but stability and power in the upper body. Press on!

Please leave your comments below,

Eric Bach, CSCS

Copyright 2012 by Eric R Bach.  All rights reserved.  This material may not be duplicated or distributed without written consent from the author.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/elcamino73/7223394614/”>elcamino73</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

Big 4: Bench Press

Welcome to the second installment of the Big 4 lift series. This series is comprised of four major barbell lifts that are extremely efficient at building strength, power, confidence, and an impressive physique. The big four are the deadlift, squat, overhead press, and the bench press. This second installment of the series will cover the most glorified lift of them all, the bench press.


While the bench press is commonly deemed not” functional” ( whatever the fuck that means) as the other exercises included in this series, it’s a proven to be an awesome strength builder. When performed correctly, the bench press is be a great exercise that significantly challenges the lats, deltoids, pecs, and triceps. In addition, for those who train for a big bench, building a massive yoke (upper back for the newbs) for a better base of support is vital to success and long term shoulder health.

Every Monday I observe the esteemed bench press takes center stage in the gym.  Flocks of meatheads head to the gym to perform endless sets of bench presses in a futile attempt to fill out their affliction T-shirts. Oddly enough, this same ritual is performed Wednesday, and Friday by this same group, in between sets of preacher curls.

Unfortunately, this huge emphasis placed on bench press has led to an epidemic of shoulder dysfunction and injury. For this reason many professionals to have a negative view of the bench press both from a functional standpoint as well as an injury standpoint. The bench press is a vital cog in well rounded strength training program for athletes looking to get significantly stronger; however, care and intelligent programming must be used to avoid shoulder dysfunction.

First, from a functional view point, I agree that the bench press is not the most functional exercise. No matter how good an athlete the lifter is, it is impossible to come close to replicating what they bench press in a push from a standing position. Second, the scapula (shoulder blades) are locked in place against the bench and which does not allow a full, healthy range of motion about the shoulder. This removes the serratus anterior from receiving stimuli and further devalues the bench press in terms of functionality. This lack of range of motion in conjunction with a disproportionate volume of pushing versus pulling that most lifters perform has led to numerous dysfunctional shoulders. To preserve function, health, and symmetry of the upper body exercises focusing on the scapula retractors and external rotators should receive extra focus. Sample exercises include all row variations, Y-T-W raises, face pulls, band pull-aparts, and rear delt raises. Perform these before workouts and/or between sets on non-maximal pressing days.

Functional jargon aside, the bench press is a mainstay in fitness and has proven time and time again to be a cornerstone of countless successful lifting programs. Like any other exercise proper programming and technique are vital in remaining injury free.

Below are vital tips to performing the Bench press safely and successfully.

The Set Up:

  • Tuck your feet underneath you and drive you heels into the ground.
  • Tighten up your traps. The shoulders should be pulled down and squeezed together to form a base of support from which to press from.
  • Squeeze the bar as hard as possible as this will increase muscle activation in the entire body. For a test squeeze your hands as hard as you possible (YES RIGHT NOW), you will feel your arms, lats, traps, pecs, and delts all fire at once.
  • When un-racking the bar, pull it out rather than pressing it out to keep your tightness and maintain your lockout position for 1-2 seconds before the descent. This lockout tightens the back further, giving you a better base to push from.
  • Look dead ahead at something stationary, not your weak arm or anything else.

Eccentric Phase:

  • Begin the lift negative portion of the lift by descending first with the elbows.
  • Keep the chest high (back tight, thoracic extension) and pull the bar apart (row the bar to your chest).
  • Touch the bar on the same spot of your chest each time! Elitefts CEO and Westside Barbell legend Dave Tate recommends chalking the middle of an empty bar and performing weight-less presses. If the chalk forms a straight, even line you are set to go and add weight.

Concentric Phase:

  • Push yourself into the bench, trying to get as far away from the bar as possible.
  • isometrically squeeze the glutes, back, and legs while driving the heels into the ground
  • Keep the elbows and wrists in line with the bar, you need to push up in a straight line to most efficiently move the weight and lock out the elbows without losing the arch or upper back tightness

Miscellaneous Tips

  • Imagine the bar will crush you if you do not press it up, explode on each rep.
  • Each rep should feel the same regarding bar trajectory and bar speed, practice every rep as if it is a maximum attempt.
  • Consider investing in a pair of wrist wraps. Once you put significant time under the bar and press significant weight your wrists will thank you.

The bench press will always have its naysayers and pundits, but fact is that it is a proven power lift and remains a mainstay in gyms worldwide, especially in the US.

The key to successfully integrating the bench press into a workout routine revolve around performing the exercise with proper technique, appropriate loading, and an abundance of back work to remain injury free and proportionally built.

Save the shoulders and boost bragging rights by sharing this with friends and family!


Eric Bach, CSCS


Baechle, Thomas, and Roger Earle. Essentials of Strength and Conditioning. 3rd. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2008. 358. Print.

Green, Nate, “Dave Tate’s Six-Week Bench Press Cure.” T-Nation.com. T-Nation LLC, 5/19/2009. Web.  27 Feb 2012. http://www.tnation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/dave_tates_sixweek_bench_press_cure

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/ablight/4411752843/”>A. Blight</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

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