How to stop losing muscle; functional strength training

FEATURE — Strength and size are not synonymous. The goal for athletes when it comes to strength development is to become stronger without adding muscle bulk.

Many believe strength training will slow them down; however, research done on Olympic athletes at the 1970 Olympics in Mexico proved that Olympic weightlifters were faster than 100-meter sprinters in a 30-meter sprint.

Strength training with a resistance band | Stock image, St. George News
Strength training with a resistance band | Stock image, St. George News

Others claim that strength training will lead to decreased flexibility. These same Olympic weightlifters are the second most flexible athletes. Research has revealed that beginning around their early 30s, athletes will lose approximately half a pound of lean muscle per year if they do not engage in intense strength training.

This loss will result regardless of the amount of aerobic activity one engages in. To maintain fast twitch muscle fiber strength, which is needed for sprinting and climbing, 75 percent of one rep max (which is the most weight you can lift one time) must be used in strength sessions. This equates to the amount you can lift 10-12 times while keeping proper form.

Many believe that they don’t have time to focus on strength training. For those people, functional strength training, also called FST, is a good solution, as it does not require a large time commitment. Maximal gains in strength and power can be achieved with a small time requirement (two 30-50-minute sessions per week).

Often times, these sessions can be conducted outside the gym. Another tip for athletes young and old is to continue a strength program year round. Many athletes only engage in off-season strength programs, which can lead to less than optimal strength when it counts the most.

This training can include free weights, cable machines, elastic bands or tubing, stability balls, medicine balls and balance boards. Functional exercises should posses the following:

  1. Be progressive. Start with simple exercises, and progress in intensity and difficulty.
  2. Use multiplanar movement not restricted to a single direction of movement
  3. Be velocity specific; use exercise which duplicates the speed of movement required by the individual sport
  4. Use specificity; incorporate movement patterns of the exercise which duplicates that of swimming, cycling, basketball, running, baseball, et cetera
  5. Balance dominated moves are important; moves which increase stabilization will aid in increasing efficiency and reducing injuries
  6. Enjoy it; if you don’t enjoy the process, you won’t get the most out of it

You might be thinking this all sounds great but where do I begin? First, make a list of the functional tools you have available to you. Next, look at you current strength program (if you have one), and evaluate it for it functionality. The third step is to use the methods outlined here to create a more specific routine.

Weightlifting for strength training | Stock image, St. George News
Weightlifting for strength training | Stock image, St. George News

Often times these changes will result in a lowering of the weight or resistance needed to successfully complete the exercise. Begin by introducing FST into your warm up exercises. Then integrate them into your lower intensity sets, before making them the primary exercises.

If you are still uncertain on how to integrate FST into your training, hire a sports coach or personal trainer who specializes in your specific sport to help you make the gains needed to achieve your fitness goals and peak performance.

Tiffany Gust
Tiffany Gust

Written by Tiffany Gust for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.

Tiffany Gust received her Bachelor of Health Science degree from Utah State University. She is an ACE certified personal trainer and a USA Triathlon certified coach. Gust has competed in over 70 triathlons and has qualified for World Nationals in the Olympic Division in 2012 and 2014.

She specializes in weight management, triathlon, and fitness coaching. As the owner of TG Triathlon and Fitness Coaching, Gust helps clients to unlock their potential and journey towards a better self.

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