What makes a workout functional? In simple terms, the workout—the movements—look like the task you’re training for. 

Function is individualized. Function is context dependent. 

A functional litmus test is presented that will help guide you with criteria to generate functional movements. The “Functional Movement Spectrum®” that has been developed by Gray Institute®, considers the physical, biological, and behavioral sciences to provide principles that makes sense to what is functional and what is not.

What’s the “Best” Functional Core Training?

Now what does this look like? Well, we can resurface an article that was penned by Gray Institute a while back that is still fully relevant today. This article is taking functional movement workout essentials a layer deeper by showing what it means for the all-important “core.” 

There is nothing new under the sun…certainly core training is one of those “nothings.” Core training has been a point of emphasis—a central focus—in the world of movement for quite some time. There is a reason for this: The core has everything to do with everything we do.  

Traditionally, the core has been known as the abdominals. This is true but is only part of the whole. The body’s true core is everything from the nose to the toes, which explains why the middle—the abdominals—has been the focus. If there is more to the core than the abdominals, then that raises the question: What is the best way to functionally train the true core? 

Functional Core Training Should Be Task-Specific 

We, as human beings, function in all three planes of motion. As we move, there are three groups of twos that drive our motion—our two eyes, our two feet, and our two hands.  

Take walking down the sidewalk as an example. We see with our two eyes where we are going, allow our two feet to take us where we are going, and utilize our hands to facilitate momentum to get us where we are going. This everyday activity of walking creates biomechanical chain reactions throughout the body from the bottom up and from the top down, thus utilizing the body’s core in accomplishing the task at hand: getting from Point A to Point B. 

Function is task specific. The exercise needs to replicate the end game or the task at hand; functional core training is no different.  

If basketball players want a stronger core, they may not want to spend a significant amount of time training on the ground. Let’s say in a supine position performing sit-ups. Why? Because basketball is a game that is not played primarily lying on the ground. Rather, it is a game that is played upright, demanding movement vertically, linearly, horizontally, and rotationally. A basketball player should be training the core in Transformational Zones (points of changing direction) that mimic the motions of the game. 

Core Conversion: Core Training in Three Planes of Motion 

The Core Conversion, which is part of the Gray Institute’s 3D Matrix Performance Series, is a workout that utilizes upright positioning, as well as: 

  • Prone positioning in performing a specific sequencing of lifts (from shoulder to overhead and from hip to shoulder) 

  • Lunges with lifts (from knee to shoulder and ground to overhead) 

  • Squats, squat thrusts, and push-ups  

The different actions functionally feed the core, in all three planes of motion, efficiently and effectively for any task at hand. It is a workout that can be tweaked up (made harder) or tweaked down (made easier) for different ages, abilities, and functional goals. 

Use Drivers to Bring Out a Chain Reaction® 

One component of the Core Conversion is utilizing hand drivers (with dumbbells as an external load) to elicit a chain reaction throughout the body that loads and strengthens a certain area of the core.  

For example, lifting a dumbbell anterior at overhead (forward and above the head) strengthens the “back core” because the dumbbell creates an eccentric load that lengthens the back muscles and activates them to decelerate the motion concentrically to bring the dumbbell back towards the body.  

Taking this same action but driving the dumbbell posterior at overhead (backward and above the head), strengthens the “front core” by activating the front muscles in a similar manner.  

While these are only two of the many actions that cause a front core or back core load, the Core Conversion peppers the body in multiple ways to strengthen the core in its entirety. 

Other highlighted components of the Core Conversion are found in the squats and push-ups 

The old-fashioned, most common squat is performed with the feet side by side, shoulder-width apart, and the toes pointing forward.  

Not only is this squat exploited in the Core Conversion, but twenty-six other techniques add variety and functionality for the feet, ankles, knees, and hips. The same patterns are also paralleled with push-ups to enhance the shoulders.  

The beauty of the position tweaks is the many ways the body’s core is loaded. 

Other drivers you should keep in mind as you create the training environment 

As mentioned above, drivers elicit certain chain reactions throughout the body. The drivers given for “free” (gravity, ground reaction forces, mass, and momentum) are important in all types of training, especially core training. If we can position (drive) the body differently using different drivers, then we can functionally train the core to do more. 

For a change to take place, you must stimulate a catalyst. The Core Conversion is a combination of multiple, strategically sequenced techniques to help one’s core to functionally perform better, as well as prevent injuries.  

This workout is a necessity to any program—either as a standalone or as a complement. Core Conversion successfully blends strength training, flexibility training, and cardiovascular endurance training. This approach adds to the success to the entirety of the body and helps people reach their goals. 

Expand Your Functional Education With Gray Institute  

For decades, Gray Institute has led the movement industry in functional movement education. Our approach—Applied Functional Science®—is based on the scientific truths of human movement and has empowered movement professionals around the world to help their patients and clients move and feel better. To learn more about our courses, please review our course catalog. Or, to speak with a member of our team about your goals and how we can help you meet them, send us a message directly. We look forward to speaking with you!