Steeling Your Mind: Functional Exercises to Prepare the Body

Traditionally exercises focused on strengthening a specific muscle. You would be focused on the bicep, the trapezius, the latissimus dorsi, the quadriceps, the gluteus maximus, and so on and so forth.

But in functional training (during phase I of the Central Training Program) you will focus on joints. In particular, you’ll focus on joints that are prone to injury, resulting in a restricted range of motion or compensation patterns.

FMS testTo be clear, you are still exercising and strengthening muscles. But instead of isolating a targeting a specific muscle for improvement, functional training will target the entire system of muscles surrounding a joint. Stabilizers, which secure the joint in place during motion are trained isometrically. Prime movers, which move the joint throughout its range of motion, are trained dynamically. The trick is doing both of these things at the same time.

Functional training selects exercises that accomplish both objective at the same time– forcing your stabilizers to lock in place while you move through a range of motion. This requires your joint to function in the ways that it works naturally, before life got in the way and you got injured or detrained and started developing compensation pattern.

Here are some of the key joints that we all need to focus on maintaining, and some exercises to help reestablish proper range of motion and full strength.


Shoulder painWith the greatest range of motion of any joint in the body, the shoulder comes with the added challenge of being particularly injury prone. The muscular balancing act required to maintain the shoulder’s of motion is easily upset through collision injuries and other sports injuries. Once the balance is upset, full range of motion can be difficult to reestablish, as the culprit of the limitation is rarely the source of pain.

Here are some functional exercises for correcting issues in the shoulder:

Three Point Plank

These focus on stressing the stabilizer muscles with a plank while working prime movers. The emphasis on the shoulder blade stabilizers is not accidental, most shoulder limitations can be corrected by simply strengthening this group of muscles.
The North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy has an excellent article on the key exercises, that I won’t be able to do justice to. So instead you can read it Here and start to build these exercises into your workout program

KB Arm Bar

Definitely an exercise that focuses on range of motion and stabilizers muscles–not a “pump.” Don’t let the simplicity fool you, this exercise can help create dramatic improvements in your shoulders.


The muscles that move and stabilize the hips are the strongest in the body. Consequently, we rarely ever notice or describe any issues with our hips’ strength or range of motion. This is because we have very high compensation abilities in this region of our body.

Compensation of limitations on our hips, however, manifest as pain and limitations in other areas. Knee and ankle pain result from improper motion through our legs when our hip flexors are too tight. Tight hamstrings will cause lower back pain and improper posture.

Two great exercises opening open the hips and improving range of motion are:

KB Windmill

This full body exercise stretches and strengthens the hamstrings and works the hip flexors’ ability to stabilize the joints motion.

Back Extensions (hyperextensions)

These truly work your hips throughout their full range of motion, and can easily add weight to increase neural drive.

Phase 1 hyperextensions _1-01-01-01


Knees are a problem, and they make no secret of it. Over the years of bearing the entire weight of your body on this small, isolated hinge, knee pain is an eventuality that all of us face at some point or another.

There are two keys to overcoming knee pain:

  1. Correct range of motion issues in your hips (discussed above)
  2. Strengthen the stabilizer muscles that secure your knee in place

The following exercises will help with your stabilizers:

Bear Squat

Single Leg Deadlift

Unlike the stiff, legged version of this exercise, you want to hinge at the hips and bend your working knee to get the most significant improvements out of this exercise, building on your knee stabilizers as you cross load the body.

Trunk (lumbar spine)

OK, you got me. This isn’t, technically speaking, a singular joint. However, trunk mobility–and even strength–issues are prevalent and insidious enough that it is impossible to discuss functional training without discussing the trunk.

Strength, mobility and coordination are essential across your midsection before you move on to maximal strength (phase II in the CTP) and metabolic training (phase III).

These two exercises will develop and reinforce mobility and stable movement patterns across your abdomen:


I can’t advertise the benefits of the Turkish Getup enough. It is a truly full body exercise that will improve and the movement patterns in every joint listed in this article.

FMS Rolls

Used frequently by FMS specialists to diagnose issues and assymmetries, rolls can actually be used as an exercise to build build movement patterns and reinforce neurological connections.

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4 Keys Behind Successful Athletes

1. Simplify

It’s a matter of priorities. Not just exercise priorities, but everything: work, home, exercise, education. Is exercise truly something your are ready to focus on?

A simple, but very effective way to tell is to sit down with a pad of paper and draw two columns:
Spiral notebook A4, clipping path included
As you go through the list the number of things in the “Not Important” column needs to be equal to or greater then the number of things in your important column. Otherwise your not really picking out what’s important, but just creating a wishlist.

Be honest with yourself. There are times in all of our lives that exercise rightfully goes on the “Not Important” side. It happens to all of us. The important thing is to recognize it, and determine how quickly you can move it over to the important side of things, while still maintaining healthy habits in the interlude.

If exercise makes the list, congratulations. Now the work begins

2. Focus

What, exactly do you intend to get out of your training program. In other words, what’s this whole thing about?

  • Looks?
  • Feeling better?
  • Accomplishing something specific? (eg 5k, weightlifting competition, long distance hike)

Someone looking to build muscle mass will select a different training program from someone training for an Ironman, who will select a different training program from someone looking to take up rock climbing. By defining exactly what you want, you can begin to determine how you’re going to get it. (and that’s Goal Setting 101).

3. Identify Progress

This is easy task phase II (maximal strength training) of your workout programs. You’ll be setting a new personal record almost every time you touch the bar. But what about the other phases?

Phase I (functional training) can be particularly challenging for goal/results driven athletes. Aside adopting what Dan Johnson calls a “park bench ” approach to exercise, which is extremely effective, you can measure success by learning and using the FMS screen. The FMS screen is a series of seven tests that examine movement patterns and range of motion. It is scored on a 3 point scale.

Progressing from a 2 to a 3 or a 1 to a 2 during your phase I functional training is an excellent indicator of progress and truly identifies that you are improving your capacity for exercise.

Phase III (metabolic training) is a different type of challenge. Your workouts will be intentionally varied to continue driving new stresses and adaptations in your physiology. Because you can rarely compare two workouts to each other during Phase III, it can be difficult to identify progress. Remember the “focus” part of this article? That will be your key to finding progress in your program. Identify a couple key exercises that demonstrate that you are getting what you want out of your exercise program. For some it might be performance on one of Crossfit’s named workouts; for others it might be an average of sprint times on the track; for others still, it might be developing and progressing on one of the olympic lifts (an excellent indicator of total body fitness).

4. Plan and Log

Once you have a plan, you’ll have expectations of yourself. Once you have a log, you’ll be accountable to yourself. There are paper options and digital options. Pick something and use it.

Writing this stuff down is more important than most people ever realize.


How to use the 3 Microcycles to breakthrough plateaus

Sometimes you work out really hard. Sometimes you take it easy. And sometimes you stay right in your groove.

And BOOM–you understand the three basic microcycles that you’ll need to build your program. Let’s learn them by name:

  • Shock–higher than normal training volume and intensities, designed to wear you out
  • Recovery–lower than normal training volume and intensities, designed to build you back up
  • Normal–normal training volume and intensities, designed to compliment shock and recovery cycles; depending on where they are placed in your program.

SupercompensationThis is where most people go astray. They build an exercise program, composed exclusively of normal microcyles, and then wonder why they don’t see any improvement. Then they get frustrated, stack a bunch of shock cycles in a row, and get injured or burned out.

By learning the concept of microcycles and how to apply them, you can cross the threshold to designing your own workout programs.

The Basic Progression

There are countless theories on how to vary and rotate your microcycles to get the maximum results out of your training program. Within the Central Training Program, the recommended progression for your phase III (metabolic) workout routines is as follows:

Shock->Normal->Normal->Recovery->Shock->Normal->Recovery->(Repeat as required)*

*We’ll call this a “round” in future discussions

The shock cycles elevate the stress caused by each subsequent workout. Immediately following the shock cycles with a normal cycle allows for minor recovery, but primarily builds upon the stress still present in your system from the overload. The recovery cycle allows for complete recovery and super compensation–which shifts your fitness level above your original baseline.

Generally speaking, recovery cycles should always be followed by shock phases. You’ve fully recovered, so it time to once again challenge your fitness with a brief training overload. By constantly inducing the added stress of a shock cycle, rather than staying in the “normal” training groove as most amateur athletes do, you will guarantee constant improvement as you progress through your training program.

Determining the length of a Microcycle

How long should a single microcycle last?

It depends on where you are in your training program. The longer you’ve been training, the longer your cycles need to be in duration, to build up sufficient stress and drive improvement. When you first begin your metabolic training** a microcycle can be a short as a single day.

Athletes Doing Tire-Flip ExerciseThat means a single day of higher than usual exercise will be sufficient to stress your system. Maybe you’ve got a really hard workout planned for that day, maybe you do two workouts in the single day–the point is, you need something that wear you out. Then the next two days will be regular workouts, followed by a rest day.

Single day microcycles will be sufficient for about 2 weeks (ie approximately two rounds). Then you need to increase the length to 2-3 days. This means that the shock cycle will be 2-3 days of higher than normal training intensity. Normal training cycles will be 2-3 days of regular difficulty workouts. Recovery cycles are at least two days of rest (you can include one day of an easy, low intensity workout in the mix to stay loose and relaxed).

Again, you can do this duration for 2-3 rounds. Then shift to 4-5 day microcycles (3-4 rounds). Then go to a full week (remainder of your training program).

Shifting the duration of your microcycles is one of the key components to both avoiding over training early in your training program, and breaking plateaus later in your training. the other key component is adjusting your intensities to match your fitness.

**Due to the highly neurological focus of phase I (functional training) and II (maximal strength training), you will follow a slightly different progression during these phases)

Redefining “Normal”

The intensity levels listed above are intentionally vague for each of the microcyles–high, medium, low is hardly specific enough to know if you’re doing it right. The reason for leaving these definitions open ended is to allow you to define these intensities based on what you know to be you abilities.

The Central Training Program Guidebook is able to prescribe some fairly exacting formulas for microcycles because the overall training program is designed with specific gates at each of the phases so that you (an we) know where your at at each point of your training phase.

However, when setting out on your own there are a few key indicators to determine where your ‘normal” training phase load needs to be:

-Resting Heart Rate Recovery. The testing is very precise and very simple. In the morning, preferably before coffee, lie down for 3 minutes then take your heart rate. Then stadn for one minute and take your heart rate. If there is more than a 20% difference your training volume is too high for a normal level micro cycle.

-Fatigue. Are your getting 8+ hours of sleep each night and still tired throughout the day? If yes, then your training volume is too high for a normal cycle.

-Soreness. Soreness should last for 2 days after a workout that is focused on a specific muscle group. If your body cannot recover within 2 days, your training volume is too high for a normal cycle.

After each microcycle round, reassess what your capable of. You will see an increase in your abilities and will be able to do more and more difficult workouts as part of your normal training cycles.

This is  the beauty, and the challenge, of building a training program around microcycles–you will always progress forward and consequently, will constantly be able to take on new challenges.

How to Build Kettlebell Workouts into your Training Program

If you don’t already own a kettlebell, get one. You’ll never regret it.

The Kettlebell is one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal as an athlete. When the berlin wall fell, and this little guy crept found its way across, it both sparked and augmented a fitness revolution.

The large handle, the compact mass, and the rotational design are all characteristics that make this training implement incredibly unique and effective.

And at its core, it’s incredibly simple–a forged clump, with a handle. Simple is good, simple is cheap.

In simplicity, there is versatility. The kettlebell can (and should) be effectively employed in the Functional (Phase I), Strength (Phase II) and Metabolic (Phase III) phases of your training program.Here’s how:

Phase I

At first, the kettlebell seems like an unlikely candidate for the movement pattern portion of your training program. Ballistic is, after all, the opposite of what we’re training to achieve during this phase of training. Slow steady motions. Controlled, repeated movements. And fresh, frequent rehearsals.

Hardly seems like the standard kettlebell workout, does it?

However– if used correctly– the kettlebell’s abilities to develop grip, build a slightly off-balance exercise, and demand concentration with its compact weight distribution make it adept in building stable movement patterns. Here are the key KB exercises for use during phase I:

Turkish Getups

Turkish Getups (TGUs) work the stabilizers in your abdominal, lumbar, shoulder, and pelvic muscles. It demands coordination across your body’s ceter line and through all limbs and joint. It’s awesome. Click Here for a Step by Step Guide.

Half Kneeling Halo

The half kneeling position is widely used by followers of the Functional Movement System. by doing a KB halo from this position, you extend this exercise from working shoulder ROM to incorporating trunk stabilizers and improving the overall impact on your movement patterns. Here’s an excellent instructional from youtube:

KB Windmill

As versatility and variations are the key to continuing to drive improvements in your movement patterns, the KB windmill should be incorporated as a compliment to the Turkish Getup in that in drives the trunk, shoulder and pelvic stabilizers, but also demands improved focus in range of motion. Here’s how it works.

Phase II

The kettlebell, in itself, sucks for building maximal strength. It’s not heavy enough to drive the neural loads and motor drive that we’re seeking to build. However, in ballistic motion, the kettlebell excels.

That’s a Bingo.

By pairing medium to lower weight kettlebell ballistic exercises with your maximal strength exercises (squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and weighted pullups), you’ll build an extremely effective complex training protocol that drastically increases your motor recruitment. Here’s how to match the exercises up:


2-3 Sets of:
1-3 Deadlifts @ 85-95% 1 RM max
immediately followed by 7 KB swings (use a weight that you can normally do 75 swings without rest)

OH Press-KB Push Press

2 sets of:
3-4 OH presses @ 80-90% 1 RM max
immediately followed by 5 KB push presses (use a weight that is .5 pood lower than your 75-swing weight)

Weighted Pullups–KB Row

2 sets of
2 weighted pullups (max vest weight)
immediately followed by 7 KB suitcase rows

Squats- American Swings

Warning: Controversial some maintain that the American style (overhead) kettlebell swing is injury prone–unless you’re slamming that KB into the top of your range of motion–your physiology should self limit with no risk of injury.
2-3 sets:
1-3 Squats @80-95% 1 RM max
immediately followed by 5 American style KB swings (“75 swing” weight)

Phase III

If you didn’t realize that the kettlebell is appropriate for high intensity metabolic workouts, then you’ve probably never used (or even seen) a kettlebell before. This is where the KB shines. Here’s some workout structures to help you get the most out of your handled clump:

KB Moving Target Complex

Straight from Pavel Tsatsouline himself, this workout combines cleans, presses and squats in a way that maintains high intensity across all three exercises.
Learn the Moving Target Complex

KB Snatches for VO2 max (VO2)

1:1 work to rest ratio.

Weighted Carries

The large grip and concentrated mass make the kettlebell ideal for longer farmer walks, suitcase carries, and even waiter carries.

Interested in Learning More?