A chain is only as strong as its weakest link

3. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link

„Many training and conditioning concepts put their emphasis on maximizing the strengths, it is much more reasonable, however, to approach the weaknesses and work on problem areas. Sooner or later the ignored weaknesses will surface in everyday life, training or competition, thus, neglecting the weaknesses is not a good idea in the long “ (Cook, 2011, S.16)
Appropriate movement patterns form the basis in Functional Training. But Functional Training is much more than just quality of movement. Following Gray Cook’s motto ‘first move well, then move more’ quantity is not missed out on. But what kind of quantity should be trained?

I once had the pleasure to listen to a lecture with the topic ‘training differences between top athletes and average athletes’. In this lecture, the speaker stated that both types of athletes train according to the principle 80% to 20%. While the top athlete spends about 80% of his/her training time to improve his/her weaknesses and only about 20% on his/her strengths, the average athlete does the opposite.

I am not sure whether these numbers are correct but the rationale of the top athlete is certainly reasonable. I think it really makes sense to place your own weaknesses in the center of your training regimen, according to the motto ‘a chain is only as strong as its weakest link’.

What you need to do before you can put your weaknesses in the center is to expose them first and decide which one is more basic or should be addressed first. And exactly for this purpose Gray Cook has designed a second reasonable guideline that can guide us when it comes to optimal movement: the optimal movement pyramid.


Unsurprisingly, the basis of the pyramid is functional movement which can be checked with the FMS. If there is a sufficient basis of quality of movement, functional performance becomes the focus of training. Depending on sport or personal goals the base values can differ. And only after that sport specific abilities become the center of the training.

I think this weighting of training progression is very reasonable. Of course you can work on all three stages at the same time but the weighting in this particular order is something I would adapt in my long term training schedule. And it seems only logical, thanks to Gray Cook, that building quantity on an insufficient level of quality not only seems illogical but also dangerous.

In my opinion the best way to develop yourself is when you assess your weaknesses and then decide in which order you want to address them. With FMS and the optimal movement pyramid we have two very helpful tools, in my opinion, that everyone can implement.

Functional Training & a chain is only...


Out of a kind of summary of the three mentioned aspects the following definition of Functional Training would result:

Functional Training is a concept of improvement of physical capabilities. Following the motto ‘a chain is only as strong as its weakest link’ weaknesses in the movement of the client are determined and addressed. Based on functional movement patterns functional performance aspects and sport specific abilities are trained. The exercises used for this kind of training are characterized by active, appropriate, and three-dimensional movement patterns that incorporate not only conditioning aspects but also coordinative abilities in order to challenge the body as holistic as possible.

This is why I think Functional Training is deserving of the following description:

Functional Training_to train with brain

Have fun!


  • Cook, G. (2010). Movement. Functional Movement Systems: Screening, Assessment and Corrective Strategies. Aptos: On Target Publications. ISBN: 978-1-931046-72-5
  • Cook, G. (2011): Der perfekte Athlet. Spitzenleistungen durch Functional Training (2.Aufl.). München: Riva Verlag. ISBN: 978-3-86883-021-7
  • Orig.: Athletic Body in Balance (2003)
  • Tsatsouline, P. (1999). Power to the People. Russian Strength Training Secrets<(li>
  • For Every American. St.Paul: Dragon Door Publications. ISBN: 0-938045-19-9

You can find the other posts of this series here:

Part 1: Training movement patterns

Part 2: Quality of movement comes first

Author: Tom Schwendener

Tom Schwedener is a full-time sports teacher. Since his interest in health-conscious kinetics and fitness training has steadily increased and he doesn’t feel that the common training models are optimal he has designed his own concept under the label SFT Swiss Functional Training®. Click here to visit Toms homepage and here to follow him on Facebook.

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