A UK Expert Reviews Advances in Functional Training

UK Strength and Conditioning Coach Nick Grantham was nice enough to provide a review of Advances in Functional Training that I wanted to share with you.

Now Michael Boyle is old but he wasn’t around in the days of Confucius, but if ever there was a statement that in my mind sums up Michael Boyle it’s the one below by Confusius, and I’m sure Confucius wouldn’t have any problems with me linking his wise words to a certain American strength and conditioning coach!

“Learn avidly. Question repeatedly what you have learned. Analyse it carefully. Then put what you have learned into practice intelligently.” – Confucius

Michael contacted me back at the start of the year to ask me if I would review his latest book, Advances in Functional Training: Training Techniques for Coaches, Personal Trainers and Athletes. This is his third book to hit the shelves of our local bookstores (not including his countless DVD’s and training manuals) and I was pleased to be oblige.

The first book I read from Michael was Designing Strength Training Programme and Facilities; I’ve also got a copy of his follow up book, Functional Training For Sports: Superior Conditioning For Today’s Athlete. Both are great books that I often refer back to. So why when I already have two of his books would I want a third? A question that you as the reader of this review may well be asking.

Well, the answer lies in the wise words of confucious, Michael’s training methodology is constantly evolving. He reads, observes, analyses and then implements. Some critics will argue that he is always changing his mind! In fact, he even points out in the introduction that “in the past 10 years I’ve ridden on a rollercoaster that probably makes me appear confused to the casual reader” I would suggest that Michael is simply someone whose training naturally evolves where necessary. I would add though, that this is not a book for the casual reader. You would do well to take the time to read his first two books as I think it helps you understand his perspective when writing Advances in Functional Training. You can’t really watch Return of The Jedi and fully appreciate the plotline, without first having watched Star Wars! Advances in Functional Training is very much like Return of The Jedi, whilst it stands up on its own, it becomes even more insightful when you understand the evolution of the book and Michaels rationale.

So, what can you expect from Advances in Functional Training? In the opening chapter, Michael explains his path to becoming a believer in functional training and sets out to explain what he feels “functional training” actually is? Having clearly established, what functional training actually means the book then moves into the ‘nuts and bolts’ of physical preparation. The first area to come under scrutiny is mobility and flexibility, an area that is often overlooked by many strength and conditioning coaches, but one that is crucial if you wish to develop athletes that are robust and ready for competition. In this section, readers will are walked through a joint by joint approach that underpins program design, the importance of establishing a comprehensive screening programme and the effective use of a variety of soft tissue therapies.

The second chapter tackles another poorly understood aspect of strength and conditioning, injuries. In this chapter, you will find out why much of what we currently do in terms of injury management is simply ‘papering over the cracks’. Michaels, physiotherapy background is clear to see in this chapter and is refreshing to see simple and logical injury reduction strategies for some of the common problems faced by many strength and conditioning coaches such as rotator cuff injuries, ACL injuries and sports hernia’s.

Another area of mass confusion in the world of fitness and strength and conditioning is core training! If you’re not sure whether you should be hollowing, drawing in or bracing then this chapter is a must read! If you do not read Michael’s earlier publications you may find parts of this chapter to be a little bit radical. For example, when it comes to anterior core training Michael has all but done away with traditional flexion exercises. I think we probably agree on more than we disagree when it comes to core training and whilst I understand the rationale behind his thinking (repeated flexion = disc damage) I do think there are some cases that warrant the use of exercises involving flexion. Grappling sports, for example will have elements of flexion and it may be pertinent to include that as part of your overall physical preparation programme. However the days of doing endless crunches are behind us! Areas that do receive attention in this chapter are anti-extension, anti-rotation and rotational training, and Michael offers some interesting arguments as to why these should be essential components in any physical preparation program.

I read with particular interest the chapter on cardiovascular training and the work capacity model put forward by Michael for training athletes. I’ve always favoured a non-conventional ‘reverse periodised’ approach to cardiovascular conditioning and had the opportunity to speak to Ian King and Istvan Bayli back in the late 90’s about this alternative method. I think it is a very effective model and have used it extensively with the athletes and teams that I’ve worked with. In addition to the work capacity model, Michael offers some useful tips on how to develop your interval training programme which has made me stop and think about my own programming of work to rest ratio’s.

The closing chapters concentrate on how to develop gross athleticism through a comprehensive programme design structure. Sample workout programs for 4, 3 and 2 day a week programmes are provided, and Michael goes on to show you how to program on a shoestring and develop flexibility and mobility circuits.

In the final thoughts section Michael says “ it’s vital not to get caught in the trap of believing so intently in your training philosophy you’re unable to recognise the value of new thinking”. This for me is the key to unlocking the information contained within Advances in Functional Training. I’ve been working as a strength and conditioning coach in high-performance sport for more than a decade and my copy of Advances in Functional Training is littered with notes, sticky markers and highlighted text. The photos below give a clear indication of how useful I found this latest addition to my library. Once again, Michael delivers a thought-provoking, challenging and contemporary book on real-world functional training that is relevant for coaches, personal trainers and athletes. Great job.

So the bottom line is, do I think you should purchase this book? If it is the first book that you are thinking of reading to gain an insight into functional training then I would say no…. I think you need to put the time in and read Michael’s previous publications to the fully understand and appreciate the current text. I would say however, that once you have read his earlier work this is well worth purchasing and adding to your library.


One Response to “A UK Expert Reviews Advances in Functional Training”

  1. Matt Smith Says:

    Another great review Mike. I thought Nick was gonna call you Yoda at one point!

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