True Functional Training
for Improved Performance

By Brian Yeager

"Functional" training has become a very trendy method of training over the last few years. In both the fitness and sports conditioning fields, many so-called experts have stretched this idea to the point of my great amusement. I realized that the industry had gone over the edge when I attended a seminar and the speaker outlined how he trained a motocross racer to perform better off jumps on the track by having him leap onto boxes while swinging heavy dumbbells upward as if pulling on handlebars. Now I'm not a mechanic, but I'm pretty sure that the bike is largely responsible for the jumping part. So in this article, I would like to introduce some technqiues I have used successfully with my athletes that have produced greater levels of "functional" performance.

All of us have seen the large Nordic men on ESPN pulling trains, throwing cars, and picking up small buildings. They are examples of what being truly strong looks like. If these men did not have "functional" strength, they would be quite incapable of performing in the events that they do so well. Over the last several years, modified exercises that closely emulate much of what they do have found their way into the strength and conditioning programs of progressive thinking coaches in a variety of sports. These training exercises provide greater levels of overall strength and conditioning as well as mental toughness and what I view as real core strength. You often hear about core strength in relationship to the abdominal region, but I say that as an athlete, if your ankles, knees, and hips are not strong, you will be unable to generate force from the ground to reach the midsection. The strongman exercises do just that. Upon adding these to your training routine, you will feel much more powerful and grounded on the field and you will definitely notice the ability to display force over the course of a game.

The first exercise is the farmer's walk. This is very simple to perform and I believe very underrated as a tool for improving sports performance. It will improve your anaerobic conditioning dramatically, increase grip strength, as well as strengthen the ligaments in your ankles and knees. The easiest way to do these is just by grabbing a really heavy pair of dumbbells and walking with them, either for distance or time. I suggest if you are in great condition you use heavier dumbbells and aim for short distances with explosive speed. If you are really strong but are carrying around some extra insulation, you will benefit greatly from lighter weights and carrying them for distances anywhere from 50-100 yards. Two or three workouts of these workouts a week and you'll be ripped in no time at all. When training the farmer's walk, always look in the direction you are heading and take short, choppy steps. One variation you might want to try to increase abdominal strength is to use one dumbbell heavier than the other and alternate sides each set.

The next exercise is my favorite, sled dragging. The sled is an excellent tool for developing explosive leg strength and power. As with the farmer's walk, it can also serve as a fantastic method for raising an athlete's level of conditioning while improving strength levels. There are also many variations that can be done with the sled to work the upper body. The main two exercises that I use with my athletes are forward and backward sled dragging. Forward dragging with the sled attached via a belt around the waist really targets the hamstrings. You want to keep an upright posture and walk with powerful, driving steps. Using an attached rope, you can also drag the sled backwards. Driving explosively backwards, taking short steps, pull the sled backwards. I like to tell my athletes to visualize punching the ball of the foot into the ground. Again for stronger athletes in need of conditioning, this can be an excellent tool when used for moderate to longer distances of up to 100 yards. If your strength is lacking, load up the weight and go for explosive pulls of no more than 20-30 yards. I purchase my sleds from EliteFTS.com as they have been using them with athletes for years and make a sturdy, durable product that should last for a long time. One other variation that I like to use with my players is lateral sled dragging. You can purchase two dog collars at your local pet store and attach them to the dragging rope that comes with the sled. Putting the collars around your ankles, you can pull the sled sideways stepping first with the outside foot and them with the inside leg. This will improve your ability to explode laterally past your opponents or stay in front of them on defense.

Try incorporating these two exercises into your weekly training regimen on your non-weightlifting days. I can assure you that you will enjoy the results. Check out next month's column for some more fun exercises designed to dramatically boost your core strength and explosive power on the field. Train hard, as always, and good luck.

PREVIOUS E-LACROSSE WORKOUTS:
Functional Training for Lacrosse: Part 2
Functional Training for Lacrosse: Part 1
Building Explosiveness
Improving the Velocity of your shot


Brian Yeager is the owner of Pro Strength and new head strength and conditioning coach for the Philadelphia Barrage. In addition to training several players from the Philadelphia Wings, Brian has also worked with athletes from Villanova University, Malvern Prep, and Villa Maria Academy for Girls, in Malvern, Pa. Formerly a strength consultant for Lightning Fast training systems in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, he has now focused his attention on the exciting, fast paced sport of indoor/outdoor lacrosse.

For more information on Pro Strength, visit www.prostrength.net or contact Brian at phillyfitpro@yahoo.com.

Medical Disclaimer: The information and routines outlined in the article are intended only for healthy individuals. Individuals with health problems or a history of injury should not use these or any exercise routines without a physician's approval. Before beginning any exercise or dietary program, please consult with your physician and/or coach, as well as with your parent/guardian if you are a minor.






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