The phrase functional training gained popularity in the 90s and is still used today to describe specific exercises and how they impact an athlete for their sport. In “Functional Training for Sports,” author and strength coach Michael Boyle states that “function is, essentially, purpose.” Therefore, functional training implies choosing exercises that serve a particular purpose. Here is a functional workout designed specifically for triathletes looking to maintain strength and power during the competitive season, or as a maintenance phase during the fall months. Perform this workout once a week after your morning ride or run. Take 30 to 60 seconds rest between exercises and do 3 to 4 sets in total.
Exercise 1) Thoracic Spine Rotation with Arm Circle on Wall
Purpose: To improve hip flexor length and to promote thoracic spine, rib cage and shoulder mobility
How: Kneel against a wall with your outside knee down and your inside leg in front. Space your legs apart so when you slide your body forward you experience a hip flexor stretch on your outside leg. Next, hold your arms in front of you at chest level. Take your inside arm up along the wall with your palm facing out until you reach vertical, then rotate your arm, rib cage and upper back to bring your arm along the wall behind you. Once your arm reaches horizontal, reverse the motion. Do 15 reps per side.
Exercise 2) Quarter Squat Lateral Band Walks
Purpose: To strengthen lateral hip musculature
How: Stand on a long circular band with your feet parallel and placed shoulder-width apart. Hold the middle of the band and crisscross the band in front of your legs. Squat down slightly and bend your elbows to pull your wrists towards your hips. This will create tension in the band. Take small steps sideways as you remain in the mini-squat and make sure to keep tension in the band. Keep your torso vertical and make sure to not drag your trail foot. Take 15 steps left and right and repeat 4 times.
Exercise 3) Banded Split Squats with Overhead Reach
Purpose: To improve hip flexor length and to strengthen glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and groin.
How: Anchor a long circular band on one end and stand inside the loop with one leg. Bring the band up just below your glute and back up to create tension in the band. Take a lunge step back with the banded side and find your balance with your front foot flat and rear foot positioned on the base of the toes. Pelvic tilt to tuck in your hips to create length in your hip flexors on the rear leg side. Next, slowly lunge straight down while your reach your arm on the rear leg side up over your head and lean toward the opposite side. Try to keep your rear leg glute squeezed throughout the movement. Kneel all the way to the floor, gently touch and return to standing. Do 15 reps per side.
Exercise 4) Dynamic Blackburn
Purpose: To improve scapular mobility while strengthening rotator cuff, trapezius and rhomboids
How: Lie on your stomach with your upper stomach and ribs placed on a small cushion. You can hold 1 to 5 lbs weights, or even cans of soup in each hand. Start with your hands close together behind your low back. Squeeze your shoulder blades slightly together and toward your hips. Next, bring your arms out to the side to form a capital letter “T” with your thumbs pointing down. Reach out to the side to create “long arms.” Next, rotate your thumbs so they point upward and bring your arms overhead. Shrug your shoulders and reach your arms “long” as if you’re flying like Superman/woman. Reverse the motion to return to the starting position. Do 15 reps.
Here’s a video explaining the Dynamic Blackburn exercise:
Exercise 5) Dynamic Low Box Lunge Step Ups to Knee Drive Hop
Purpose: To develop lower body explosive power
How: Stand on a 3- to 5-inch step or elevated surface. Take a lunge step backward off the step. Keep your torso vertical and bring your rear knee toward the ground. Next, press down into the step and push off the toes of your rear leg to step onto the step. Drive the moving leg knee up toward your torso and explosively hop upward. Land carefully on the step and repeat. Perform 12 reps per side.
Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MSc, CK, CSCS has been a Certified Kinesiologist and Strength and Conditioning Specialist for over 15 years. He co-owns a fitness training, nutrition and run coaching gym in St. John’s called JKConditioning (www.JKConditioning.com).