Functional Strength by Michael Jen
When most people hear the word “strength”, weightlifting and bodybuilding are often the first things to come to mind. However, functional strength is very different from weightlifting strength. Most traditional weight training exercises are done to develop physical aesthetics. Of course bodybuilders are not weak, however, the strength from standard weight lifting does not always translate over as effectively in real life as someone who trains for functional strength.
A great example is the World’s Strongest Man contest. Rather than curling dumbbells, bench pressing barbells, and pumping out reps on a machine, the World’s Strongest Man contest has competitor lifting rocks, pulling cars, flipping huge tires, etc… If you look at the competitors in these contests, though they are big guys, they look nothing like professional bodybuilders. A few professional bodybuilders have participated in these contests in the past and most had very limited success. I am not saying that in order to have functional strength, you need to be big like the competitors in a World’s Strongest Man contest as there are many other examples of functional strength. I am using that as an example with people of comparable mass to a professional bodybuilder to show how training for looks versus training for function can directly translate to performance.
Functional strength not about how big or defined a muscle looks, but rather having strength in the movements of your body that is used in daily activities, sports, and another other natural forms of physical exertion outside of the gym. When you look at many standard weight training exercises, the movements are not natural if you look at it closely. Let’s take the flat bench press as an example. Most people see the flat bench press as simply a pushing motion. However, if you really dissect the flat bench press, you will notice that your back is against an immovable object (the bench) and you are pushing (the weight) directly against the force of gravity. When in your regular life do you find yourself with an immovable object against your back and pushing directly against the force of gravity? The answer is probably…never. So, the strength developed for the flat bench press is simply strength to bench press and developing muscle mass for looks. This exercise and the strength developed from this exercises is useless and is not functional for most people and, especially, athletes.
Having functional strength can really be seen when doing movements or activities outside a person’s norm. People with functional strength tend to be the ones who are a lot stronger than they look. I have grappled thousands of people throughout my martial arts career. Interestingly, some of the strongest opponents I have grappled against were gymnasts, yoga instructors, and people who did hard manual labor for a living. None of these people ever did standard weight training and very few were bigger than me, but when I grappled against them, each one felt like I was wrestling a bull.
About the Author
Michael Jen, a life-long martial artist, is a Muscle Balance and Function Development® (MBF®) Posture Alignment Therapist based in California. For more information, please consult http://www.solution4pain.com