Craig Valency, CSCS

Part 1: From Muscles to Movements – My Journey

In this 7 part series on Functional Training, I will explore the various incarnations of this popular training philosophy. Be prepared for a bumpy ride, as I will challenge some long held beliefs about fitness and training. I’ll also showcase my personal journey from traditional to functional training and explain how it saved my back. In each segment, I’ll delve into the finer points of the various aspects of functional fitness. Toward the end of the series, you will meet one of my clients and experience the ultimate functional workout.

Functional Training could possibly be the most overused two words in the personal training industry today. The reason those words are overused, however, is because they are a perfect description of a paradigm shift that has led us away from the isolated, muscle-oriented bodybuilding approach, to a movement-oriented, full body training approach.

I love functional training!

Today, it’s in vogue for trainers to be haters, to be above it all, and to proclaim how absurd and meaningless the term “functional training” is. Every popular movement or trend gets a backlash as a result of the bastardization and commercialization that inevitably follows its initial popularity.

Muscle Orientated Workouts (You Wore What?!)
When I first started working out, bodybuilding was the rage, and Arnold and Lou Ferrigno were among the men we all looked up to. I worked out with my man crew, decked out in our parachute pants and tank tops in a small private gym in L.A. that was owned by Ken Waller, former Mr. Olympia of Pumping Iron fame. The workouts we did lasted up to 2 – 3 hours per day, 4 – 6 days per week. Always in search of the iconic 6-pack, we also worked our abs daily with hundreds of sits-ups. We worked each and every body part to death. Our typical body split routine was chest, shoulders, and triceps on day one; back and biceps on day two; and legs on day three. Most of the time, we pretty much lived on Bench Press Road, the revered shrine of all young men looking to get big.

Machines Were Cool in the 80’s
For a brief stint in the 80’s, I was a Nautilus instructor. We had to run every single person through the identical line of machines in the exact same order. Each massive machine, complete with seat belts so you couldn’t “cheat,” isolated one specific muscle at a time. One set of 10 – 15 reps to temporary muscle failure was the exercise prescription for everybody. It would have been just as challenging to work with Lucy Ricardo packaging chocolate on the conveyor belt for 8 hours a day; and at least I’d get some free candy out of the deal!

Movement-Oriented Workouts
Today, rather than muscle/ body part-oriented workouts, I teach movement-oriented programs with a focus on function and how it translates to real world activities like sports and occupations . . . or, just being a happy, mobile, stable, and strong human. This paradigm shift in my own workout routine is what has helped me go from being a guy with muscles and a bad back to having a leaner, more athletic build and no back pain.

Ten years ago, my chiropractor introduced me to functional training, based on the teachings of Paul Check; and that’s when my back “miraculously” healed. I finally started doing more compound, whole body movements. I also started doing single leg and arm exercises, and I found my inner stabilizing core muscles. I was sold. When I got into functional training, I was re-invigorated by a whole new world of exercise. It was what motivated me to be a trainer again after a 20-year hiatus.

In Part 2, I will explore exactly what functional training is and is not. Some think it’s a circus act, and sometimes it looks like one! Should you use straps, belts and knee wraps? What is the true meaning of a functional workout, and how does that translate to usable strength in the real world? Stay tuned.