Forging Function and Performance: A Master Trainer’s Approach to Changing the World with Training

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The fitness industry is cluttered with programs and professionals positioning to be the most absolute authority in their niche or genre. In the race to be noticed, trainers and coaches are developing brand statements that place them at one edge of the spectrum or the other.

On one side of the equation, you will find trainers focused only on improving the performance and fitness metrics of their client. Little concern is given to pain, mobility, segmental stability, or enhancing total movement capacity. Success is measured by the pounds you lose, the muscle you build, the increased lifting totals, or the faster racing times – and little else.

Then, you will find the functional gurus at the other end of the spectrum. Obsessed with symmetry, balance, and forging movement with the finest edges – trainers with absolute functional focuses are less concerned if the scale shifts, if you look better in the mirror, or if you are happy with your physical abilities. They are talking about “function” only.

Each avenue is advertised as the superior option for a fitness consumer with dogmatic marketing and eager rebuttal of the methodology practiced by anyone outside their camp. It is as if the two cannot go together.

And yet, they are meant for one another…

As most coaches in the industry would attest – function and performance are synergistic areas of emphasis in any successful training program. In fact, it is necessary to feature both if you want to design a program that delivers results in the short-term and long-term.

A client should experience a life without nagging pains and injuries, enjoy optimal joint mobility and segmental stability, as well experience a wide variety of movement possibilities. That very same client should also be challenged to develop their metabolic pathways, increase their muscle mass, and experience a life complete with strength, power, and agility.

Unfortunately, acknowledging how they go together is much easier than knowing how to merge the two practices together into a single program. For decades coaches have been trying to address functional concerns while simultaneously pushing their clients to achieve performance and fitness-based success. Some have succeeded, but most have come up short.

To many coaches, trying to improve a client’s function and performance ability is like trying to put out two separate fires in the same kitchen – possible, but stressful, scary, and deeply challenging. Without a deeper understanding of the anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, and program design principles – coaches are left with a myriad of questions and no answers:

  • How can you possibly focus upon someone’s shoulder mobility and scapulohumeral rhythm while also increasing their pull-up repetition total and adding 2-3 pounds of muscle to their upper limbs?
  • How does a coach finally get a client to understand how to hip hinge, eliminate low-back-pain, and deadlift 100 pounds higher than their previous best?
  • How do I help someone build muscle in their legs and burn fat around their midsection when their hips are tight, and their knees hurt during squats and lunges?

These questions are very real – just as real the problems clients face daily; the very same problems that have brought them to us, the fitness professional, in the first place. The answers to these questions and the solutions to these problems are typically as unique and specific as the client’s themselves.

But with a deeper dive into the sciences, program design, and exercise selection – every fitness professional can make better decisions that benefit their clients in all matters function and performance.

Your Client’s Problems Require Smarter Solutions…

Every successful fitness professional has invested time, energy and money into opportunities that help them better understand the foundational sciences that are always a factor. Some have college degrees, others have advanced certifications, and some have made learning a personal adventure that will never provide credentials on a piece of paper.

Regardless of how they achieved their mastery, all exceptional coaches understand the “order of operations” as it applies to learning about the human body, training, function, and performance. Much like an expensive piece of technology there is hardware, software, input language and programming language – an analogy credited to Pete McCall of the All About Fitness Podcast.

This is the master’s playbook to forging function and fitness:

The Hardware:

  1. Anatomy and Physiology
  2. Kinesiology and Biomechanics

The Software:

  1. Human Adaptation Principles
  2. Foundational Movement Patterns

The Programming Language:

  1. Periodized Program Design
  2. Functional Warmup and Cooldown Design

The Input Language:

  1. Coaching
  2. Goal Setting and Communication

The Hardware:

Every coach who has gone deeper on the anatomical design and physiological function of the human body has emerged more capable. Knowing how muscles function, where they attach, what motions they are responsible for, and how the body translates forces through the skeletal structure is imperative to ensuring that all performance and fitness efforts in a training session (or class) honor the “laws” of functionality.

For example, each of the scapula’s 6 dynamic functions are related to at least one motion at the glenohumeral joint. This relationship, known as scapulohumeral rhythm is the critical functional component that underlies excellence in all actions at the shoulder complex (including pull-ups, overhead pressing, handstands, and bench press).

Furthermore, diving deeper into the fields of physiology, kinesiology, and biomechanics provide context-specific insight into how the body reacts to exercise. Understanding metabolic pathways, muscle fiber recruitment principles, and how the body produces, reduces, and transduces forces provides the framework to challenging sessions that deliver performance and fitness results.

For example, how the body interacts with solid objects directly influences the vector forces – the line of force that runs through the body. This is why elevating your hands in a push-up makes them easier or using a sumo stance in a deadlift seems to target your glutes more intensely. This principle, known as ground reaction force, is also a measure of efficiency and force production in jumping, running, and other athletic patterns.

The Software:

The foundational movement patterns (hinge, squat, unilateral lower limb, pushing, pulling, rotation, core stability, and gait) are at the center of all exercise. Studying them provides us insight into the critical elements that make an exercise, or that training pattern, effective and safe. There are levels of motor control and skill required to progress these patterns into the higher tiers.

For example, many people begin by doing squats with a barbell on their backs because they have seen it done that way in magazines, by other trainers, and even their friends. It has become the norm. Yet, the barbell back squat is the pinnacle expression of squatting – and should only be done those who have mastered the previous tiers of the pattern to ensure optimal performance and functional return on their investment of time and energy. Those tiers are specific and refined.

The Programming Language:

Every device you own has a programming language – a way it talks to itself and other devices – as well how it functions in your possession. For a fitness professional, the programming language is the ability to prescribe long-term exercise programs that consider all a client’s needs, wants and abilities. It is the sets, reps, exercise selections, load prescriptions and microcycle construction tactics.

For example, the best training programs for weight loss should not begin with calorie-expensive cardio efforts. Instead, there should be a muscle and strength building phase that increases muscle mass and neurological efficiency – two adaptations that directly improve weight loss. Increased muscle mass increases the basal metabolic rate (muscle burns more calories than fat) and increased neurological efficiency makes them feel more comfortable exercising , which is less self-conscious around you.

The input Language:

Every device can have its input language changed to match the consumer. On a TV it is the language that you see on the screen. In fitness – it is the language you use with your clients – something unique to you and them.

A busy coach might change their input language multiple times per day – each time to meet their client where they are on their journey. Just the same, that coach might have a quite different input language than her peer standing next to her, because language is also unique between the coaches.

A great example of this is how you would coach a hip hinge to an older client with some hip pain when compared to a football player. You might say “imagine closing a car door with your butt as you carry the groceries inside” to the older client and “imagine you are about to get a handoff and run forward” to the football player. The message is the same – hips back – but the presentation, or input language, is radically different.

You can Go Deeper.

SCW is proud to launch the new Functional Training Certification.  Spend 8 hours exploring these sciences, learning new training moves, and building better programs under the counsel and coaching of your master trainer. Beginning at Personal Trainer APEX – you can sign up and begin delivering better results for clients that enhance their function and their performance. For more sessions and certifications with Kevin Mullins, join him at SCW Live Stream MANIA®, February 26-28.

Remember this, who you are as a fitness professional is only measured by how you help others. If it is only about your body – then you are a fitness model, or “talent”, as they’d say in Showbiz. There is nothing wrong with that title either – but it isn’t the same as a trainer, coach, or therapist. Being an elite fitness professional requires a tireless commitment to education and personal growth so that you can help others achieve what they thought was impossible.