3D Training, the essence of functional training

Look around most gyms and you will see a generally unnatural environment. A room filled with fixed resistance machines with the promise of muscle strength and size gains, toning, and with a reduced risk of injury. So we were led to believe. Yes you can drop dumbbells on your toes and break them – I even heard of a guy smashing his face up while doing a 60kg pullover on a Swiss ball that burst, but that is just being stupid! Standing on Swiss balls may be fun but it may only be specific to a few sportspeople like surfers.

The essence of ‘TRUE’ functional training is 3 dimensional (3D) and it does not require balls (however they can be useful) or funny fancy equipment including those machines that are 1 dimensional. It is a concept of how to move your body and in the following article I will show you how to apply this to your exercise program to increase your ability to perform.

What does it mean 3D?

Our body moves in three planes
– Forwards and backwards called the sagital plane (this is the way most machines operate)
– Side to side called the coronial or frontal plane
– Rotational called the transverse plane (considered by many experts including the father of function Gary Gray, as the most important plane

Diagram: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatomical_position

Overusing one plane and forgetting about the others can compromise your ability to perform – we are not just talking athletically – but everyday activities! That is why it is vital to train your body in 3 dimensions.

Functional training redefined So the essence of functional training is the body moving in three planes here is an expansion of that definition from the National Academy of Sports Medicine:

“All functional movement patterns involve deceleration, stabilisation and acceleration, which occur at every joint in the kinetic chain and in all three planes of motion.” (1)


Let’s break this definition down, as I believe it is important to know what is at the heart of functional training – as it is not just a case of doing exercises on balls or on one leg, for the sake of it.

Since most of us drive I will use driving as an analogy for functional movement.

There are muscles that are the brakes, while others are the accelerators, and both are supported by the clutch that helps dictate how fast or slow we will go. The core muscles often take on the role of the clutch as they are where the movement begins. As you know when you are driving a “real” car: to get it moving you need to first push the clutch to put it in first or reverse. (That’s why I don’t enjoy driving automatics like using machine weights – boring and it requires no skill or control). The clutch often sits in the background as it supports the movement, but your effectiveness with it is a big factor in how good a driver you are.

The kinetic chain is merely the link between all the parts if one of the links is broken (e.g. the battery), then you are in trouble and not going anywhere fast.

Three planes of motion is the steering wheel. We can drive backwards and forwards (sagital plane), swerve side to side (frontal plane) and make those circles round the roundabout (transverse plane).

To help you differentiate better, below is a list of terms Gary Gray has designed that describes whether our efforts are functional or non-functional. (1)

Non-Functional – Functional
Isolated – Integrated
Rigid – Flexible
Limited – Unlimited
Artificial – Physiological
Fake – Real
Link action – Chain reaction
Gravity confused – Gravity user
Lab-like – Life-like
Mechanical – Biomechanical
Deceptive – Proprioceptive
1 Dimensional – 3 Dimensional

Here are two of these terms explained:

Isolated vs. Integrated
The body only knows movements as it relates to function.
Isolation training gets results in terms of increasing muscle mass and strength because it allows you to fatigue individual muscles, but this often comes at the expense of physical freedom. Have you seen how some body builders walk around stiff and rigid – this is often the result of a lot of isolated exercises based on training individual muscle groups like a bicep curl. Athletes on the other hand may use isolated training, but will then use integrated training to achieve more effective movement patterns.

Real vs. Fake
Let’s look at that machine in the gym that you lie on and then bring your feet to your bum – the hamstring curl. Where in the real world do you see this movement? However everyday we use some form or a lunge or squat to pick things up.

Now to specific functional vs. non functional exercises:
Non-Functional – 3D Functional
Bench press – Cable push
Lat pull down – Cable pull
Leg extension – Lunge matrix
Leg press – Squat matrix

Description of exercises
– Cable push – using the cable machine or bands. Standing in a fighting position with one foot forward one back. The action is like punching and requires the body to move 3D. You can place the cable or bands in various positions to be punching more up or down – variation of the movement pattern is important.
– Cable pull – again using a cable machine or bands. The action is like starting a lawnmower which again is 3D. Use varying starting positions pulling from high or low.
– Lunge matrix – Lunge forward, lunge to the side and lunge to the back 45 degrees to emphasize rotation. You can do this while holding dumbbells or hand weights (though keep them light) and reaching to various positions like the ground or pressing up.
– Squat matrix – this is a variation from the standard feet shoulder width facing forward squat. Here you put the feet in various positions and at various widths. E.g. Feet together, feet wide apart, toes in, toes out, one foot forward one back- you can complete these while holding hand weights and pressing them up above you. Each of these variations promotes freedom through the 3 dimensions.

So I hope this article has brought you awareness in two ways:

-Training with machines leads decreases your bodies ability to perform
– Functional training is not just about using balls and funny equipment but the body’s ability to move 3D!

Your Coach
Craig Burton

1. What is functional resistance training, by Craig Burton, 2007