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Functional Strength Training Basics for Endurance Athletes 

By Kelly Wissolik

functionAs an athlete, you know the importance of sport-specific training. You can’t run a marathon if you don’t run. You can’t race a triathlon if you don’t swim, bike and run. You certainly won’t do any of these things if you are injured. Unfortunately, you are likely underachieving if you don’t address your specific physical weaknesses. The best way to avoid injury and achieve better results is by identifying your limitations and turning them into strengths.

Functional training will help you avoid injury and turn physical limiters into a positive force. Sounds good, right? But what is functional training? Functional training, also known as FT, refers to a well-rounded training program that integrates activities that contribute to better, more efficient and safer performance of real world activities or sports movements. The goal of functional training is to create improved balance and muscular control because the human body should be able to achieve and maintain balance and control during movement in a range of conditions, different positions, various planes and a variety of angles, in order to be totally functional.

Focusing exclusively on swimming, cycling and running only works the body in one plane of motion. Exercising solely in the same plane of motion will cause the body to develop muscularly tight areas as well as muscular imbalances that lead to injury, biomechanical inefficiencies and wasted effort. In turn, athletes must include functional training to even out the imbalances and alleviate the tight areas.

As a triathlete, functional strength training should consist of three specific components:
1. Functional sport-specific strength
2. Development of underdeveloped muscle groups
3. Improvement of flexibility and mobility

First, athletes should strengthen the muscles that are used in sport specific training. Strengthening exercises should therefore mimic the movement patterns that are used in swimming, cycling and running. Along with sport-specific strength, underdeveloped muscle groups must be targeted and strengthened to even out imbalances thus improving general balance and control. And finally, flexibility and joint mobility must be improved to enhance biomechanics and overall body movement.

Without a personalized functional assessment, it’s a guessing game of what strength work and stretches you should be implementing in your training plan. A knowledgeable functional strength assessment will pin point your muscular imbalances, muscular weaknesses and muscularly tight areas. The personalized evaluation will identify your specific needs, so you can take corrective action and train smart! Once you know your physical limiters, you or a coach can then design a strength and stretching program to even out your imbalances, strengthen your weak areas and relieve your tightness.

Take corrective action! Get an assessment and then incorporate the right functional training this season. Now you can avoid injuries and achieve your best by identifying limiters and turning them into strengths.

Coach Kelly Wissolik is an elite triathlete and professional triathlon coach (USAT Level II Certified). As an Energy Fitness Coach, she performs Functional Strength Assessments on her athletes and provides them a detailed analysis and personalized exercise drills to correct muscular imbalances. Visit her website at