Functional Strength — now there’s a buzzword that’s become popular over the past few years. Functional training, functional strength, functional conditioning, functional tactics, functional martial arts – functional etc., etc., etc. Truth be told, there’s really no such thing as “functional (anything).” Why not? Because for any particular type of training (strength for example) to be considered “functional,” it would imply that an alternate type of training would not be functional. In other words, it’s like saying, “Program A” can help you build “functional strength,” while “Program B” can’t, and that’s not true.
To be “functional,” means serving a function. To build strength, to be stronger than you were before — that your strength serves a function. At the very least, you’ll be able to train with heavier weights. Now, you may be thinking, “Not necessarily, Wiggy! I can train and become stronger by performing Lateral Raises (for my shoulders), but is that going to help me in everyday life? I don’t think so! And you’re right. But everyday life isn’t what we’re talking about. We’re talking about “functional strength.” Will becoming stronger at performing Lateral Raises “functional?” Yes; is it useful in the real world, maybe not – but it is functional.
While many people think they want functional strength, what they’re really after is “Real World Strength” – i.e., strength that’s usable in everyday situations. The same can be said for conditioning, martial arts etc. You want your training to have real world applications. For many years, most people relied on simple bodybuilding-style weight training routines and jogging several times a week. Although there’s a great deal of new and useful information available, it still isn’t applied correctly.
Most people perform their strength training and conditioning routines separately, and that’s smart, but every once in a while, mixing strength training and conditioning is needed. Strength can be quite an advantage in subduing an adversary on the street, but if you’re not in top condition, you may not be able to take advantage of that strength. Let’s look at a few examples. Say you are a police officer, and you arrest someone. In a desperate attempt, the perpetrator flees and you give chase. Packed with all your gear (e.g., vest, belt, radio, etc.) you chase the perpetrator through alleys, over fences, up flights of stairs, etc. for 500 yards. Will you still have your strength reserves left?
Say you and your girlfriend are walking down the street and some kid half your age runs up behind you, snatches your girlfriend’s purse and runs off. You give chase and sprint 50 meters to catch him. Will your conditioning be shot after your all-out chase? Both strength and endurance are important and in the following paragraphs I’ll show you why.
If you do strength and conditioning training, you probably know that jogging is great exercise, and you’re right – it’s a great exercise. It can be coupled with a healthy diet to help you lose weight, keep your cholesterol low, and is also beneficial to maintaining healthy blood pressure. The ballistic shock can be rough on the heels, ankles, or knees, but this can be remedied by running on a softer surface (track or grass), wearing better quality running shoes, and even improving your jogging technique.
If jogging is so good for you, why isn’t it optimal for law enforcement officers? Well, I’ll tell you…there’s an old saying that goes “If you want to be a better wrestler, then you should wrestle.” This means that if you want to be better at something, then you should practice it more.
In our situation, “practice” would be your training (Strength and Conditioning). Let’s look at our practice sessions. Jogging for 45 minutes 3 times per week. While jogging may have enormous health benefits, it won’t produce the benefits you’re looking for. People who are capable of jogging long distances are completely “zapped” after sprinting just 50 or 60 yards.
I recommend all law enforcement conditioning be based around a HIIT program (High Intensity Interval Training). HIIT is a style of training that intersperses short bouts of intense physical exercise with short (or shorter) bouts of rest and recovery. HIIT training can be adapted to many forms of exercise including sprinting, biking, bodyweight calisthenics, rope skipping, striking a heavy bag, etc. Formats can vary, but the basic premise is still the same – perform a brief warm up, followed by multiple bouts of intense exercise interspersed with equal or near equal bouts of rest, followed by a brief cool-down.
While jogging may improve your aerobic performance, it has virtually no effect on your anaerobic capacity. HIIT (anaerobic conditioning) on the other hand, has been shown to not only increase anaerobic capacity, but aerobic capacity as well.
In other words, if you jog, you’ll get better at jogging, but not at sprinting. If you sprint, you’ll get better at sprinting and jogging. Couple this with the fact that anaerobic conditioning has the capacity to dramatically improve power, speed, strength and muscle mass.
See: (“Crossfit Journal,” Oct. 2002 – http://www.crossfit.com)
Sample HIIT Routines
– Go to a 400-meter track
– Jog an easy warm-up lap
– Sprint straight sections of track, walk corners (repeat for 4-8 laps)
– Jog 1 lap as a cool-down
*Perform this workout 2x-3x’s a week.
An article describing “Guerilla Cardio” was printed in the Nov. 2001 issue of Muscle Media magazine. “Guerilla Cardio” is based on the interval training methods of a Japanese researcher by the name of Tabata.
– Choose your exercise protocol (sprinting, rope skipping, biking, etc.)
– Perform the exercise for 4 easy minutes as a warm-up
– Sprint (i.e. – perform your exercise as hard as possible)
for 20 seconds, then rest 10 seconds (repeat for 8 bouts)
– Perform the exercise for 4 easy minutes as a cool-down
*Perform this workout 3x’s a week.
This is an extremely demanding routine
– At a 400-meter track
– Jog 1 easy lap as a warm-up
– Sprint 1 lap (400 meters)
– Walk approximately 1/2 lap.
The time it takes you to walk half a lap should be approx. twice the time it took you to sprint a full lap.
(repeat for 2-4 sprint laps)
– Jog 1 lap as an easy cool-down
*Perform this workout 2x-3x’s a week.
Many LEOs attempt to do some type of strength training. I say, “attempt” because strength training implies that you’re training to build strength levels that are greater than they once were. Unfortunately, this is not often the case, as many trainees don’t actually build any strength. You’ll notice that I’m using the term “strength training” rather than weight training, weight lifting, or the like. The reason for this is that strength can be built with many different types of apparatus – not just barbells and dumbbells.
Like conditioning, there are many people out there spending lots of time training with no results. Why? A major reason is that most routines are based on volume-heavy routines [you see propagated in bodybuilding magazines]. For decades people have turned to these publications for training advice only to find themselves overworked, tired, and no stronger (or bigger) than they were when they started; and their wallets too are much lighter after purchasing tons of unnecessary supplements. I’m not going to explain the whole story here (I do cover it however, it my book “Singles & Doubles – How the Ordinary Become Extraordinary”) but suffice it to say that a large share of training advice in bodybuilding magazines doesn’t work.
To really build strength, let’s look at what you’ll need.
Certain training styles advocate the use of various machines, whether they’re Nautilus, Cybex, Hammer Strength, or even just a cable apparatus. While some of these machines can produce good results, I find that as a whole, “Free” Weights [resistance] is a much better choice. Why? Because nowhere in your daily-life are you going to find a situation where you will apply strength that is guided or restrained by some type of machine.
Most machines are developed for as much absolute isolation as possible. In other words, if you are using a machine for the shoulders, it’s designed to target only the shoulders. However, if you use a free weight (resistance), other muscles come into play – triceps, forearms, pectorals, upper back, the core for stabilization, etc. The idea behind isolation is to eliminate possible “weak links.” Say you’re performing a standing shoulder press your lower back gives out because it’s not strong enough to support a heavy weight overhead. You’re not able to fully tax the shoulders due to the weakness in your lower back. By using a specific machine, you’re able to bypass that weakness, therefore making gains on your shoulders.
This all sounds great in theory, but in reality, it’s about as useful as a snow blower in the jungle. Wayne “Scrapper” Fisher’s site (www.trainforstrength.com) contains a quote that says, “Life is not an isolated movement. So why train that way?” Very true.
I bet some of you are wondering why I keep saying “free weights/resistance.” I tack “resistance” on the end because barbells and dumbbells aren’t the only type of training outside of machines. You can use bodyweight calisthenics, sandbag lifting, barrel lifting, kettlebells, clubbells, and a number of other apparatus.
You should not use just any movements/exercises; compound movements are better than isolated movements. By definition, isolation movements are those that usually involve the flexing of just one joint, and intended to isolate one specific muscle group. Examples would include shoulder raises, triceps pushdowns, leg extensions, etc. Compound movements are those that work multiple muscle groups at the same time (while usually focusing on one) and involve the flexing of more than one joint. Examples would include overhead presses, bench presses, squats, cleans, rows, deadlifts, dips, chins, etc.
Just as you would use free weights/resistance to eliminate isolation, you should focus on compound movements for the same reason. It’s very rare you’ll ever use just one muscle group in any real situation. Using isolation movements from time to time is Ok, but don’t make them the basis of your routine.
Use Heavy Weights
Another advantage to using compound movements is that when compared to their isolation counterparts, they virtually always allow you to use more weight. This may seem like a “no-brainer,” but to build strength, you’re going to have to use heavy weights. You wouldn’t get smarter by studying a subject that you already had a firm grasp on, and you won’t get stronger by lifting a weight that provides no challenge. To build strength, you are best suited using weights that are 75%+ of your 1RM (one rep maximum) for multiple sets.
Your body won’t be able to sustain a constant “attack” from near maximal training. As such, it’s usually best to cycle (or “ramp”) your training poundage. Depending on your specific routine, for anywhere from 3-8 weeks; begin with resistance close to 65-70% of your 1RM. Ramp up by increasing the weight every workout until you’re either at your 1RM, near your 1RM, or have exceeded your 1RM (again, depending on the specific routine). Then drop the weight and start over.
Use Low Reps
If you use a little common logic, you should be able to deduce that if you’re using maximal or near maximal weight, you’ll have to use sets of low reps. By “low reps,” I mean 1-5 reps per set. If you’re doing 12+ reps per set, don’t think that you’ll build much strength. Don’t get me wrong, you may build a little, but not nearly as much as you will with lower reps. It’s just that if you’re able to use that many reps, the weight just isn’t heavy enough.
Sample Strength Training Routines
Perform five sets of every exercise: a set of five reps, a set of four reps, a set of three reps, a set of two reps, and a set of one rep. Slightly increase the weight (5-20 lbs., depending on the exercise) every set.
– Barbell Clean & Press
– Medium Grip Bench Press
– Barbell Curls
*Perform three times per week
5 x 5:
Perform five sets of every exercise, each of five reps. The first two sets act as “warm-up” sets, while the last three are your “work” sets. When you can do five reps on all three “work” sets, increase the weight.
– Barbell Clean & Press: 5×5
– Pull-ups: 4×6
– Medium Grip Bench Press: 5×5
– Squats: 5×5
– 70 degree Incline Press: 5×5
– Bent Rows: 4×6
– Dips: 5×5
– Barbell Curls: 3×6
– Deadlifts: 5×5
Now that we’ve taken a look at some real strength training, let’s take it a step further and make it Strength-Endurance training. What’s the difference between strength and strength-endurance? Strength-endurance training adds one very important factor into the equation – time.
When a strength program is performed, rest between sets and between workouts is the norm. This affords much needed recovery time, allowing maximum effort for each rep/set. While this may be ideal for building pure strength, it offers little use in the real world. You’ll be hard pressed to find a situation where you can exert maximal strength (for a very short period of time – say 5-8 seconds) and then rest for multiple minutes. More often, you’ll have to exert maximum strength several times, and for an extended period. This is where strength-endurance comes in. Convention says that if you want to build endurance, you should decrease the amount of weight you’re using, performing multiple sets, and increase the repetition count (15-20). WRONG! If you do this, you can kiss strength-endurance goodbye.
But if you wish to perform more reps and sets, then you’re going to have to significantly reduce the weight used. If you reduce the weight, then the strength you build (brute strength, endurance) becomes much less of a consideration. For example, say that Joe Schmoe’s 1RM for the Clean & Press is 225 lbs. Joe can do multiple sets of 1-2 reps with 210-215 lbs., but he has to rest several minutes between sets to recover. To build usable strength you only rest 20-30 seconds, Joe drops the weight down to 110-120 lbs., and does sets of 15+ reps, will he be achieving this goal? No.
In this scenario, a trainee is best off keeping the weight high, the reps low, and shortening the rest periods. Continuing, let’s say that Joe has done some testing, and finds that the absolute least he can rest between sets of Clean & Press with 215 lbs. (96% of his 1RM of 225 lbs.) is 3 minutes. To start building the strength-endurance he needs, Joe drops the weight to 175 lbs. (roughly 78% of his 1RM). He then performs 12 sets of 2 reps with only 60 seconds rest between sets. At the point where he can perform all 12 sets with “ease” (relatively speaking), he drops the rest-period from 60 seconds to 45 seconds and repeats the process. When a 45-second rest becomes easy, he repeats this with 30 seconds, then again at 20 seconds, etc. When he can do all 12 sets with only a 20 second rest period, he bumps the weight up to 185-190 lbs. and starts over for a 60 second rest period.
This method works because it satisfies the basic equation (as I see it) for strength-endurance: Strength-Endurance = Heavy Weight + Short Rest + Volume
Most of the time, I recommend starting at 70-75% of your 1RM and ramping up from there. This will assure that the majority of time is spent using near maximal loads. Some cycling and re-ramping will be needed, but you’ll find that progress comes quickly.
It will probably take you a few weeks to acclimate yourself to the shorter rest periods, however, you’ll quickly find that once you adapt, your endurance will pick up quickly. By continually decreasing the rest periods, you’re forcing your body to build its recovery ability from near maximal work much faster (increasing your strength-endurance).
If you don’t use (relatively) high volume, then there is no point in the program. It is the volume that allows you to help build that sustained strength-endurance to last over an extended period of time. Think of it like this, if Joe Schmoe continues his routine, he will get to the point where he’s performing Clean & Presses with 210-215 lbs. at 20 second rest intervals. In other words, he’ll be performing 24 reps with 93%-95% of his 1RM in around 4 minutes.
Are you still unsure that training for strength-endurance has benefit? Powerlifting is a sport, which you would think; virtually no endurance or conditioning would be needed. Dave Tate, of Westside Barbell fame, had the following to say in a recent edition of Testosterone magazine about strength-endurance and conditioning (www.t-mag.com/nation_articles/264eight.jsp): “If you think you can excel in any sport without a base level of conditioning you’re out of your mind. The days of over-fat, bloated, can’t breathe, can’t sleep powerlifters are over!”
If your training goals call for more strength-endurance, consider one of the following routines.
Sample Strength-Endurance Routines
Workout #1 – Two days, alternated
-Clean and Press: 15 sets x 2 reps
-Curl Grip Chin: 15 x 2
-Medium Grip Bench Press: 10 x 1
-Deadlift: 20 x1
-Dips: 12 sets x 3 reps
-Clean and Front Squat: 20 x 2
-Bent Rows: 12 x 2
-Barbell Curl and Press: 6 x 4
Workout #2 – Performed every workout
-Clean and Press: 20 sets x 1 rep
-Bench Press: 8 x 2
-Barbell Curls: 6 x 3
-Chin: 15 x 2
-Squat: 20 x 1
Train Hard, Rest Hard, Play Hard