Functional training and the development of functional muscle in the tactical sense means building functional muscle that will get you “through the door” or “outta the shit” and enable you to “embrace the suck”.
For many people this simply means developing the muscle required to function on a daily basis.
For others functional training means building a body that functions as good as it looks.
Functional training requires a very different approach to building muscle in comparison to building beach muscles that are simply there to look good.
Not to suggest it takes any less effort to build beach muscles, because it doesn’t. These are just very different training goals
My focus has always been functional training to build tactical muscle that serves a very mission specific purpose whether it is a stealth probe to contact, contain and call out or a breached entry to execute a high risk search warrant.
I believe in efficiency so if I’m going to spend hours a week training, the results better produce a body that is agile, flexible, strong and high performing.
If a byproduct of that work is also a body that looks strong and fit then I consider that a bonus.
I will be the first to say I am not, nor will I ever be the biggest. I have a specific set of genetics that I must work with. I use epigenetic factors to influence my genetics expression.
I will examine epigenetics in more detail in later articles, but suffice to say when you control your epigenetics you control everything.
What does interest me, as a 46 year old man who has a desire to be active well into my 50s 60s 70s and 80s, is what I refer to as Tactical Muscle.
Tactical muscle through functional training is developed through a thoughtful and well designed approach leveraging science to build both size and increase strength.
Strong legs, back, shoulders and trunk developed not only for mass and muscularity but also for lifting, holding, pushing, pulling, throwing and heaving can benefit you in more ways than you think.
When using functional training to build a whole body that is strong and works synergistically, you develop a level of mobility and strength that isn’t easily gained by traditional training of one muscle group per day methodology.
Functional training incorporates a variety of modalities including isometric training, hypertrophy, strength and mobility to name a few. These are not necessarily in any order of importance however simply identifying them raises an important point.
Of all of the different modalities of functional training it is important to focus on areas of weakness. So if you need some size, add in a couple days of hypertrophy. If you are stiff and lack mobility, make sure you incorporate 3 or 4 days of mobility work. Train your weakness and make it a strength.
My experience has been there are consistently weaknesses among the tactical population whether they are involved in responding to the public on a day to day basis or special operations.
What I have found interesting is there are similar weaknesses reflected in the general population as well.
Regardless of whether you drive to your office, roll in a patrol car, or get dropped in by a helicopter, guys don’t seem to be focused on functional training.
The following list illuminates very common areas of weakness regarding strength and development.
Trunk Stabilization: Based on my own experience, training team guys and training the general public, the trunk is an area of significant weakness. Carrying loads on an LBV (load bearing vest), a duty belt, ruck marching and a requirement to move explosively at any given moment means you must have strong trunk musculature. Furthermore, simple act of shooting a shoulder fired weapon in the proper position (isosceles stance) can exert as much as 9x bodyweight through the trunk.
The same is true of the general population as well. Today’s corporate environment often means an excessive amount of time sitting. In addition to sitting, time is at a premium and it is difficult to get in specific training. Your ability to stabilize your body serves to provide you with whole-body control and strength. Developing and strong core is key when you need lower back strength and the ability to bend, flex and rotate through the trunk.
The posterior chain: The posterior chain comprises of all muscles comprising of the posterior area of the body for the most part. The yolk (traps and posterior delts), all back musculature (in particular the erectors, QL and multifidus), lumbar spine, glutes and hamstrings all comprise of this often neglected area). Most people who are considered to be in the tactical world, ie. police, fire ambulance and the world of special operators such as tactical teams and even special operations, focus on the mirror muscles; chest, biceps and quads. I have prepared a Youtube video regarding the weak link in the posterior chain and how you can work to overcome it – https://youtu.be/poUQ5ul_eRY .
Over worked anterior muscles such as pecs and underworked posterior development such as lats, can pull the shoulders forward, concaving the chest. Weak hams and glutes can hinder not only the development of the quads but also the performance on squats and other lower leg moves.
Overhead pressing: Strict press and rear press is an uncommon site in most gyms outside of the crossfit or elite performance environment. A properly performed overhead press provides the entire shoulder girdle with stability and strength that will carry over into other lifts such as bench presses, pull-ups and rows.
A problem I see with guys who start back into overhead lifting is they forget to engage the quads and the glutes as the weight moves overhead… As I have told many of the guys I train – If you are wearing $30 shorts, at least $20 worth had better be squished between your butt cheeks on an overhead press.
Lower body flexibility and range of motion: Limited ranges of motion are most common amongst lower body lifts often due to injuries. Developing muscle through a full range of motion will strengthen that muscle through the entire scope of its function however there are methods that can effectively build the muscle if range and mobility are issues.
Unilateral training imbalances: One leg, hip, arm or shoulder stronger than the other risks injury and also significant strength differences from one side to the other. Unilateral training will quickly build balanced strength. Simply put this means focusing on one limb at a time to ensure balance in the musculature. Typically these imbalances are present in the legs however shoulders are an issue as well.
Bodyweight strength: The ability for tactical populations and those who are not in these kinds of jobs to develop true strength has diminished significantly. Functional training requires control over your body and a surefire way to develop body awareness, strength and control is through bodyweight training for real world strength. Try a muscle up or handstand or even 10 pullups… if you aren’t there yet that means there is work to be done to build your tactical muscle.
Functional Training Variables
I have outlined the different variables you will incorporate into your training from both a bodyweight only system and a weighted system.
There are 2 main systems that I developed to complement this kind of training regimen. The functional training bodyweight system to develop a lean strong physique is called Alpha and the strength and size program is called Tactical Muscle.
Depending on where you are at personally in your training will determine which area should be the primary area of focus.
Or you can also go through a building process, where you may have very strong bodyweight strength and now you are looking to build size and strength or perhaps you have good size but need to incorporate more bodyweight functional training.
Strength: When developing strength typically you work with low reps to develop raw strength. There are numerous set and rep schemes that can build raw strength and some that work better than others. The overall volume is monitored closely when doing strength from a intra-workout point of view and macro-cycle or training block. Volume refers to the amount of work, so we are talking sets and reps.
Hypertrophy: Sometimes you just need to grow to improve function. Meaning you need more muscle. Personally this is a challenge for me as my gene expression is more on the leaner smaller end of the scale. I have to work hard to build muscle which is why I developed my Tactical Muscle program. God knows I need to combine strength and size. Increasing the cross sectional fiber size of muscle will help with other aspects of development and improve performance.
Muscle endurance: muscle endurance can result as a benefit of functional training. The ability to do an activity over and over repeatedly and recover quickly is the major benefit of building muscle endurance from a tactical perspective… ie breaching a very difficult fortified door may take 10 – 15 strikes of a mechanical ram. The secondary aspect which is important for both the general population and the tactical population is that this form of training aids in fat loss.
Power: You need to be able to move weight including a downed partner as well as your own bodyweight quickly and with explosivity.
Cardiovascular endurance: The fact is high intensity interval training (HIIT) is more efficient at building cardio endurance and improves lipolysis. Who the hell wants to run on a treadmill for 50 minutes anyway…
Speed and agility: Sprint intervals will go a long way toward fat loss. Agility will enhance your ability to manipulate your bodyweight to change direction with speed and accuracy. It will also serve as good cardio work.
GPP: Lately this has been called prehab. I hate that word. General Physical Preparedness, GPP or Prehab consists of dynamic warm-ups, banded stretching, general stretching and foam rolling. You must prepare for work. You do this by doing exercises to increase blood flow generally then specifically. General warm up might be something like a 5 minute moderate intensity spin on a bike or treadmill jog followed by specific warmup for the area being training to increase synovial fluid in the joints and muscle prep…
Mobility: I have a mobility routine to improve mobility through the T-Spine and trunk called “Kickstart Your Core” which is Free and includes Video Demonstration. Mobility is critical for ensuring longevity, maximum muscle development and contraction. Taking a few minutes to stretch post training is great idea.
As mentioned from the outset of this article, the only training that really interests me personally is the kind that I can use to remain active in my daily life. If a by product of functional training is a body that looks lean and fit then that’s a bonus.
If you like building a physique using your bodyweight then my Alpha program will more than cover all of the variables I have discussed here.
If increasing your muscle size and strength using weights and very specific set and rep schemes then Tactical Muscle is an incredibly powerful training program.