After we’ve focused on the building blocks of mobility and stability, we need to turn our attention to strength. Strength helps us maintain the most efficient biomechanics for our body. Building functional strength teaches our bodies how to move efficiently in the patterns we want to perform in. Because different types of soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, joint capsules, etc.) all learn to respond to variable speed, intensity and angulations, it’s crucial that we train that way, too.
Let’s look at an example in running. In running, you are constantly fighting gravity, which makes the body’s ability to decelerate as the foot hits the ground with each stride crucial to performance. We can test this ability by having you stand on one leg on a small box in front of the mirror. With your arms overhead, you will then take your other leg and reach back and towards the ground. We monitor this motion with two questions in mind: 1) do your hands stay upright? and 2) do you start to bend at the waist? Because falling forward at the waist or shoulders is counterproductive when running, the answers will tell us a lot about where your functional strength can be improved.
Improvements in functional strength will come from performing what may sometimes seem like unconventional exercises. All too often training is based on movements that in no way resemble that actual sport or activity you’re performing. For example, you probably know that sit-ups train your abs, but what exactly are you training them to do. You are teaching your abs to bring your shoulders towards your knees. Unless you’re training to lie under a car and change the oil, this movement doesn’t make much sense.
The goal instead is to look at how your abs can increase performance. As a runner, your abdominal muscles help drive your shoulders and keep them as far from your knees as possible. They also help connect our hip motion to the driving arms. Your abs are an integral part of a proper running motion and when trained right can be one of your greatest allies.