Keep'er Fit

Gary Wallace

How functional is your training?

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This article is coming to you all the way from Poland. As I write this I’m away with the Northern Ireland U-19s as they aim to qualify for the European Championships.

Firstly, just to add a little bit from my article last week on supplement intake, we are sharing the hotel with the Poland U-19 team and I noticed that they are taking a shot of liquid magnesium with their meals. Before my trip I went into the Nature Trail shop in Omagh and topped up on my Multi Vit, fish oils, L-Glutamine and magnesium. If you are looking for any supplements I would highly recommend them, the staff are very knowledgeable, friendly and will advise you on what you need.

My trips away also give me a chance to catch up on some reading between airports and on bus journeys. This trip I have been reading Mike Boyle’s new addition of Functional Training for Sports. I follow a lot of his material and listen to his Strength Coach podcast regularly. He and Mark Verstegen founder of EXOS and author of another brilliant book Every Day is Game Day follow similar training protocols and programming.

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This biggest thing I took from this book was training unilateral squats (single leg) rather than bilateral (normal squat) for sport.

This makes sense as when we play sport we are loading the leg on one side when carrying out most movements.

He starts the process by making sure you can body weight squat bilateral effectively and understand the movement.

This is key for everyone but especially if you are coaching kids. Not only are you making sure they can control and understand the movement, you can also identify any mobility, stability and strength issues they may have in certain areas.

The next progression and also regression is the goblet squat. This is a bit of a contradiction but adding load to an exercise is a progression but going from a body weight squat to a loaded goblet squat can help balance and increase your range of movement. Try it out for yourself and see.

From here he moves away from the conventional bar bell back squat for two reasons. The first is that bar bell back squat with heavy loads can increase the risk of lower back injuries, and secondly it is not all that functional for sport. I agree with this, but also disagree to a certain degree. If you can lift heavy loads while keeping good form in the back or front squat these exercises can help build strength. Better again you can lift heavy weights safely in a trap bar deadlift, this is a more hip dominated exercise rather than knee – but we won’t get into that today.

Anyway back to the next progression which is a body weight split squat followed by a loaded split squat using dumbbells or kettles in each hand. Having the weights in your hand puts less pressure on your back and also helps to engage the shoulders, lats and traps.

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The final progression is a rear foot elevated split squat either on a bench or specially designed stand. You would follow the same reps and sets as you would when bilateral squatting but in theory it’s a lot safer and functional for sport to train in a unilateral position. I would highly recommend this method of training for sportspeople.

Especially men when they are training in a group environment for the simple reason it controls their macho egos.

When you train men’s teams in the gym you hear the same question come up all the time ‘How much can you lift?’ and if you lift heavier you must be better, I don’t think so.

But by performing unilateral squats the players can try and lift heavy but if they fail or are lifting above what they should be the chances of them injuring themselves are very low compared to doing the same in a back squat.

So men, leave the egos at home the next time you enter the gym.

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