Get the 'F' out!
Get the ‘F’ out!
The three most overused and tiresome words in the sports conditioning and fitness industries in recent times?
The one thing worse than each of these on their own can only be them used in combination; ‘function stability’ (ugh), ‘core stability’ (blah) and, dare I even say it, ‘functional core stability’ (shudder). Globally renowned strength and conditioning expert the late Mel Siff, in his excellent book ‘Facts and Fallacies of Fitness,’ has a tongue-in-cheek section which he calls the ‘The Guru Terminology Kit.’ Siff observes “How often do you come across self-proclaimed ‘gurus’ who try to impress and confuse with the use of some abstruse terminology that may or may not have any valid meaning or relevance?” As such he provides his ‘kit’ which comprises a tongue-in-cheek ‘pick and mix’ of words which will, as he light-heartedly puts it, “make you sounds like a real authority in the world of therapy, training and teaching...if anyone ever used that old trick of throwing in complex-sounding terminology to appear more educated than they really are.” The ‘kit’ contains three columns, each comprised of ten jargon words. What you do is randomly select one from each column and throw the resulting phrase into an article or conversation to “sound like a real ‘guru’ in any profession.” What you end up with is wonderfully meaningless phrases such as ‘anterosuperior biosequential synergism,” “ipsilateralised endokinetic tempo” and “sympathetic neuromotoric trajectory.” Does that sound familiar? Let’s take a look in the mirror people, if you use the words ‘core,’ ‘functional’ and ‘stability,’ and the phrases comprising them, without real contemplation and consideration then you’re the sports/fitness industry equivalent of people in the business world that use ‘buzz’ phrases like ‘brainstorm,’ ‘think outside the box,’ ‘close of play,’ ‘keep me in the loop,’ ‘let’s touch base’ and ‘ blue sky thinking,’ and we know the only ‘buzzing’ we want to do to them is in an electric chair!
That’s not to say that the words ‘core,’ ‘functional’ and ‘stability’ are totally meaningless, there are many situations where they may be the correct word to use. The problem is that they just get used EVERYWHERE and often completely inappropriately. Can you say passé?! Sadly even I am forced to use them from time to time to ensure the reader understands the concepts I am writing about; I feel dirty.
You can’t open a fitness magazine or book, or turn on the telly without being bombarded by the word ‘core.’ There’s a strength and conditioning facility in Cambridge called ‘Core,’ American S&C coach Mark Verstegan has written books called ‘Core Performance’ and ‘Core Essentials,’ hell ‘E! News’ just had a feature on about Madonna’s training called “Hard-‘core’ tactics.” Core, core, core, core, core. Get over it! Proper strength athletes in the past had strong midsections because they lifted heavy weights standing on their feet. They didn’t set out to develop a strong trunk (I refuse to use the ‘c word’), they set out to develop a strong person. At what point in history did we suddenly decide that the mid-section required specific attention? Perhaps when athletes stopped training with heavy freeweights hoisted, pressed, lifted and thrown whilst standing on their feet. Make a note, no athlete ever won an Olympic Gold medal because they had a strong trunk, they won because, for example, they punched and kicked hard and fast, or they jumped high, activities facilitated by a strong core. The core, then, is a slave to other movements and its effectiveness comes from its integration into these movements in a performance specific fashion
‘Functional’ is rapidly going the way of ‘core.’ It is a much misunderstood, misused and overused word. Everything’s ‘functional training’ these days and everyone’s a ‘functional trainer.’ To a bodybuilder, however, anything that makes them bigger and leaner is functional to their sport yet none of these functional training gurus (funny word ‘guru,’ it usually gets applied to people who have lots of opinions but struggle to back them up with any scientific evidence as Siff alluded to) would term such exercises ‘functional.’ Function is as function does. What’s functional to a cyclist won’t be functional to a rower. What’s functional to a boxer will perhaps not be functional to a wrestler. What was wrong with ‘sports specific?’ Besides, the Olympic weightlifting community has been preaching the ultimate form of functional training for decades and decades, they just didn’t have the money grabbing inclination of the modern day ‘gurus’ to market it effectively and take all of our hard earned.
So we’ve had the ‘c word’ and the ‘f word’ but what about the ‘s word,’ stability. Everything’s about ‘stability’ nowadays; whatever happened to just being strong? It is another much misunderstood word, often confused with ‘balance.’ Even in the first edition of this magazine there was a debate on stability balls which featured a picture of one of the Klitschko brothers sitting on a stability ball, the caption underneath read ‘stable.’ The reality is he was not stable, he was balancing, the two are very different things. Seals balance objects including, in the old advert, pints of Guinness on their nose, clowns balance on balls, circus artists upon tightropes and squirrels on tree branches. Should Frank Warren, UKA or Man United sign these up as the next big thing? Aside from the fact that they’d all fare better that Audley Harrison and look better than Wayne Rooney, probably not. Renowned, real deal, strength and power expert Andrew Charniga observes of Mike Boyle’s book ‘Functional Training for Sport’ (excuse the F word) that the book:
“indicates (without scientific support) that the single leg squat on some sort of pad is by “two steps superior” to the traditional barbell squat. Presumably, this is because the former involves more difficulty to maintain balance. This, of course, makes it inferior for sport training and confirms as false the book’s fundamental assumption of the “superiority of functional training for sport.” The reason why is because more attention and effort are wasted on balance in these types of exercises and too little is left to adequately train an athlete to develop force.”
Even when used more correctly, i.e. in stabilisation of a joint, are we really not just talking about being either too weak or strong enough to maintain integrity at that joint? Why do we talk about athletes performing specific joint stability exercises when, and I hate to harp on about them but feel it necessary, weightlifters, who train to maximise power, and to a lesser degree strength, do no real specific joint stability exercises yet are able to pop up to three times their bodyweight above their head? The reality is if an athlete has a stability problem in their shoulder, for example, then they are simply too weak in their shoulder and are unable to rapidly, subconsciously recruit the right muscle/s at the right millisecond. If they were to perform jerks, snatches, push presses and the like, with a range of equipment including bars, dumbbells and kettlebells, progressed in a sensible and appropriate fashion, then they would become stronger, more powerful and, yes, more able to stabilise their shoulder in multiple planes against rapidly applied forces. In essence, does this also not bring us back full circle to Charniga’s comments?
I recently had the pleasure of having a long chat with my good friend Rob Hamilton, a phenomenal physiotherapist, and he observed that in sport we have forgotten, or at least ignore, the basics. The very same basics that took the former Communist bloc to the pinnacle of world sport, and he is absolutely right. The modern day functional training gurus make out that they are taking us forward in the field of strength and conditioning yet they are, as Charniga’s observations highlight, forgetting what got them to the dance. At best they are taking the simple and making it ridiculously complex and at worst, devolving the art form. If more fighters picked up copies of books by people like Mel Siff, Vladimir Zatsiorski, Yuri Verkoshanksy and Mohammed El-Hewie, and listened to and idolised proper strength experts, the unsung heroes who toil daily in Weightlifting clubs around the World, then we would be turning out more and more world class athletes in all disciplines; athletes who are strong, fast and powerful (concepts explained elsewhere in this edition). The problem is that a bodybuilding type approach to S&C infected all sports including the fighting arts and physiotherapy stepped in to undo the damage this had done. Secondly, many athletes simply do not train to maximise strength and power anymore and thus they do not train to contend with the demands of heavy and fast moving loads. The wheel didn’t need reinventing, old school is cool and ‘back to basics’ should be the key phrase. Come on people, have a day off from the ‘c word,’ the ‘f word’ and the ‘s word.’ After all, it’s unnecessary and there are ladies present!