Optimal Vs. Functional

In our industry, we see a lot of people going about things the wrong way. A common problem we see comes down to the issue of whether to use the optimal technique or the most functional method. Let me explain what I mean by this.

Optimal describes a method or technique that is, in theory, the most efficient and effective way of doing something. In contrast, a functional method takes into account the person’s specific needs, strengths, and limitations. For example, an understanding of Newton’s Laws tells us that the optimal squat stance to be mechanically efficient is one with ultra-wide feet and vertical shins. Functionally, not every athlete has the hip mobility, levers or strength to do this technique effectively or at all. The optimal vs. functional argument suggests that the most optimal position or technique available is not always the most functional for every person. Athletes might be able to get more out of lifting or better hit their peak strength with a more functional variation of the optimal technique.

These two concepts exist in all areas of training and nutrition. Although a particular diet may be optimal to produce maximal performance and body composition changes it may not be sustainable for the athlete. Allowing clients to eat foods they enjoy and can stick to, or designing a diet that you can stick to for the rest of your life will produce far superior results than an unsustainable but optimal diet (competition preparation is, of course, the exception). The same goes for training programs, injury rehabilitation, training frequency, and long term goals.

Here at Lifters League, we like to think of ‘optimal’ as an impossible standard that we should always strive toward as our clients’ and athletes’ abilities allow. To do this a coach needs a firm understanding of both optimal technique and the client’s individual needs. Taking into account each person’s limitations, we construct a plan that will get deliver the best results as efficiently as possible.

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