Functional Weight Training: How Stanford is Building a Bully

We have a motto at Egoscue when it comes to strength training: Straighten, then strengthen.

It’s simple, but it’s true. If you wouldn’t want to build a Ferrari on a bent frame, why would you want to build muscle on a crooked body? I’m sure most of you would answer that you wouldn’t want to. Obviously, in both cases, when the underlying frame is compromised, the performance will suffer. Personally, I do a menu every time I go to the gym. Even if it’s just a few e-cises, I make sure my body is as aligned as possible. When you’re aligned, you’ll have better workouts, get better results, and prevent injury. Sound like a winning plan? I thought so.

Stanford FootballThat’s exactly what Stanford Football is doing. While they aren’t directly implementing Egoscue as a precursor to their weight training, they are focusing on functional movements while they’re working out. Their Strength and Conditioning Coach isn’t worried about how much his players can squat or bench press. Instead, he’s worried about how balanced his players’ bodies are, how efficiently they move, and how he can decrease his teams’ injuries. Sound familiar? It certainly should. To me, it sounds a whole lot like Egoscue (awhile back I actually blogged about a similar topic when I wrote Functional Movements vs. Moving Functionally). With what Stanford is implementing, I believe the sky’s the limit for their football team, and I can’t wait to see where they end up.

There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles on The Farm; the Stanford program focuses on simplicity and execution. “I don’t have a lot of secrets or gimmicks,” said (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, Shannon) Turley. “There is an old school way that probably works. It’s been working for a long time.”

Turley does not have some sort of magical formula, nor are his players putting up Zeus-like numbers in the weight room.

“I don’t care how much guys can bench squat or power clean,” Turley said. “It has nothing to do with playing football. Football is blocking and tackling. It’s creating contact, avoiding contact and gaining separation if you are a skill guy on the perimeter. That’s football.”

What they are doing is building one of the most comprehensive and successful player development programs in the country through highly specialized training, personalized by position and player.

Stanford’s player development team focuses its efforts on injury prevention, athletic performance and mental discipline—in that order. Basically, the Stanford weight program doesn’t worry about having the “strongest” guys in college football. It focuses on football strength, technique and making sure the best Cardinal players stay on the field all season.

I love this approach. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with lifting weights. On the contrary, I think it’s a vital part of an athlete’s workout regimen, and no one–not even Turley–is suggesting lifting weights should be eliminated entirely. However, in weight rooms all across the country, I believe there needs to be more of an emphasis on proper/functional movement, and Turley is doing just that.  The entire article about the Stanford football program–“How to Build a Bully: Inside the Stanford Football Strength Program”–is worth a read, and you can CLICK HERE to do so.

QUESTION: What’s your take on standard weight-training movements vs. more function-based workouts?