What is Functional Training & Muscle Imbalances

The concept of functional fitness has been massacred within YouTube Fitness. This term functional training is such an umbrella term. So many different training applications can fall under this term functional training. If you hear people say this is functional training and this is not functional, that is just in many cases disingenuous. These people generally don’t understand the breadth of what functional training can mean. Within mainstream fitness, functional training would actually be categorized as movement training. These training methods are using alternative pieces of equipment, which are heavily movement-based, which have direct applications to sport athletic performance or daily activity.

 Most certainly that is one part of functional training. However, there are many other parts. For example, the barbell has many functional applications. Just because your wrists are in a locked fixed position on a barbell, does not mean that it’s not a functional piece of equipment. The function of these compound barbell movements are significant. They do translate to sports performance, your daily life and activate muscle groups. They do work through ranges of motion. When people really disregard the barbell as a piece of functional equipment, that’s just not correct. One very functional training application is correcting muscle imbalances and that’s the focus of this blog post. One of them the most common imbalances is to do with the rotator cuff muscles

 Let’s be honest pressing movements are fun and we love to do them. We get excited by them. External rotation is not that exciting and it can be neglected within macrocycles. One of the most common muscle imbalances is to do with the muscles surrounding the glenohumeral joint, the shoulder joint i.e. ball and socket joint. This is because we tend to see that people are very press-dominant within their training. 

Internally rotated positions have the potential for a great amount of force. So you can go to the gym and increase your strength. It’s all exciting and good stuff. Generally, these external rotation exercises help to balance out the pressing motions. But generally, not as exciting and also you have to perhaps use a lighter weight due to the mechanical position of externally rotating and the amount of force that you can generate. All the muscles within the rotator cuff have a specific function in relation to the attachment of the humerus into the glenohumeral joint. So, if we overdevelop our deltoids in our chest, we actually knock that humerus out of correct balance and the problem with this is that it can lead to impingement. Specifically, the impingement of the tendons in relation to the acromion. If we have a development of the deltoids pushing the humerus upwards then it is the development of the rotator cuff muscles which can counteract this and keep it within a functional position. We need to use preventative training or if you do have these muscle imbalances you need to correct it. If you’re not familiar with the rotator cuff muscles here’s a quick rundown.


We have the supraspinatus. Supra meaning above the spine of the scapula. You can think of the supraspinatus as initiating the abduction of the glenohumeral joint aka lifting up your arm. Then we have the infraspinatus. Infra means below the spine of the scapula. This is an important muscle for external rotation. Then comes the teres minor which is a small muscle. But this also aids and supports in this external rotation. We also have the subscapularis subunits lying underneath the scapula. This muscle within the rotator cuff actually is involved in internal rotation due to its attachment point on the humerus. If you know the movement of the anatomy you know how to strengthen it. if we know that external rotation is the function of these muscles how do we strengthen it for external rotation exercise.

Now you can use the cable machine which is particularly flexible and useful and trace a good amount of tension through the strength curve. But here’s the main problem. People either go too light or too heavy. Now you need to train these muscle imbalances as you would any other muscle group. You need to use the principles of overload and progression. So, if you go to light, this is not an effective way to build strength within those small muscle groups. By contrast, if you are going too heavy the real issue with this is form. Form is so vital for corrective exercises because you purely want to isolate those rotator cuff muscles. You do not want to involve the deltoids. You must make sure you have a straight form. For example, with external rotation of the cable machine, keeping the elbows tucked. You just want to make sure that you are feeling that contraction of the muscle you are targeting.

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