Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Review of Dr. Craig Liebenson's Functional Training Handbook

I recently had the privilege to receive Dr. Craig Liebenson’s new text, Functional Training Handbook.  Dr. Liebenson was generous to offer me a complimentary copy to review.  He has been a mentor of mine for several years, and for him to ask my opinion on his work is a true honor. 

To start, this book not about a single individual.  Though Dr. Liebenson's name graces the cover, this work is clearly a team effort with contributions from eminent names in sports medicine and sports performance.  Despite knowing a partial author list in advance, I was not prepared to see the full all-star roster in the Table of Contents when the book arrived!

The introductory and closing chapters by Dr. Liebenson and colleagues provide the vital framework to fully appreciate the middle chapters.  I can best describe this book as “athlete centered.”   A central message is to prepare the athlete for stress adaptation:  provide the athlete the right environment for the movements, loading, skill, and feedback to stimulate change.   This is not a “plug and play” manual, but rather a science-based reference from which coaches and clinicians may build intelligent systems.

One thing I love is how the book tracks the athlete development progression.  We start with movement foundations then progress to sports specific training, strength and conditioning, injury considerations, and finally motor development.   Dr. Liebenson and his team offer multiple portals of entry into the athlete development process: Movement-skill-conditioning-rehab-learning. 

Synopsis by Section

Fundamentals – In this opening section, we learn concepts to properly audit faulty movement, manage the developmental lifecycle, and approach training through an interdisciplinary continuum-of-care.  Dr. Liebenson champions the “rehab renaissance” in which modern practitioners collaborate across fields.  In this work, we see contributions from medical doctors from different specialties, chiropractors, physical therapists, coaches, athletic trainers, and researchers.    

Sports Specific – This section applies movement fundamentals directly to sport.  Sport specific training is widely misunderstood, but guided by the sage words of Dr. Karel Lewit, MD, we learn to place sport specific training in its appropriate context....

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This section is not to convert clinicians and strength coaches into sport coaches.  Rather, it offers guidance to effectively support the athlete in his/her discipline.  Yet it all circles back to the creating the right environment in an athlete-centered model.   The foundation is creating sound movement so that the skills coach can refine technique and the strength and conditioning specialist can provide optimal loading, which leads to the next section… 

Strength and Conditioning Considerations – How can we leverage a sound fundamental base with a layer of sport skill and turn the athlete into a dynamic performer?  This section is heavy on areas most pertinent to the clinician and sports performance expert: off-season considerations, movement screening and assessment, running, strength, and energy system development.    

Region-Specific Considerations – Rehabilitation and prevention are the key themes here.  We see valuable contributions here from co-author teams including orthopedic surgeons and rehabilitation professionals.  This section is tactfully placed, as we have been forced to “think like a coach” to this point.  You can’t reach this section without appreciating how movement, skill, and loading affect the injury process.  We are reminded to treat the athlete, not the injury.  Though biomechanics may affect injury, the stress-adaptation model and neurobiological pain constructs must not be ignored. 

Motor control and athletic development – To me, this is the climax.  Everything to this point serves the goal of movement automaticity.  How can dynamic performance be cultivated with minimal conscious thought by the athlete?  It is automaticity in performance that separates the decent from the good, the good from the great, the great from the legendary. 

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This chapter brings us full circle to the opening chapters, reminding us how fundamental movement proficiency begets skill acquisition, conditioning, and resilience.  We even learn about programming and long term development, again advancing the theme to provide the right environment for the athlete to flourish.  


Overall, I can’t say enough good things about this book.  It has already become a trusted resource.  This book provides a comprehensive, yet practical foundation for cultivating athletic talent in a wide array of disciplines grounded by a bedrock of movement principles.   I give it my highest recommendation.  

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