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Functional Strength

I would like to introduce this concept to you, as many of you have probably never heard this before, but is one of the main concepts behind the kettlebell / body weight resistance training phenomenon and one that you should understand before you commence or continue on your body development journey.
I am sure you know many guys that go the gym or go with you to school that are the usual norm when we think of muscular guys- they have bumps in all the right places, sport bulging biceps and look great in a t-shirt. Don’t get me wrong, many of these types are physically impressive, but if these muscles were developed in a gym and not based around actual real life movements under load, their bodies are often ill equipped when faced with the reality of a kettlebell or kettlebell/ exercises, or real life stresses.

These special built physiques are used to isolating one body part at a time, pumping that muscle to perfection, but missing the amazing potential of when they integrate that movement with the rest of their bodies, allowing for coordinated, total body muscular development. Often, the size of one body part has been sacrificed for the overdevelopment of another, their favorite part, or the one they find easiest to see gains with.
Take any person that you know like this, and compare his or her physique to that of a gymnast. The gymnast has the same basic structure but their musculature is much more compact, compact but dense, and they seem to be able to be in a state of ‘pump’ throughout the day. This is because their strength is derived from years of hard, whole body, intensive exercise and resistance training against their own bodyweight, propelling it through space and operating as one complete unit. And did I mention flexibility?
The difference in philosophy is what is known as “functional strength” ie strength that is derived from actual ability to move dead weight objects through space, similar to those that you would find in daily life. Functional strength means that if a muscle is big, or even if it is not, it has the ability to work with the rest of the human musculature to safely lift, clean, squat or press an object without damaging any part of the body.
The utter simplicity of kettlebells is based on the fact that a bell is a ‘dead’ weight, which gives you no assistance when you attempt to move it. To even get the thing off the ground requires you to bend over and use your legs, stomach and back to lift it to waist height. To clean it to your shoulder requires you to either swing the weight up, driving initially with your hips and legs, and “catching” it with your arm and shoulders. To press it overhead requires your back, shoulders, rock solid abs and legs as the base upon which you punch it up into the sky. Walking around with it held over your head introduces you to small muscles in your back and abdomen that suddenly announce their presence to you.
Compared to your average weight gym, where most routines revolve around isolation exercises, these exercises may indeed work that particular muscle hard, but do not necessarily relate it to the surrounding muscles mass and teach your body to work in a coordinated manner. This has potentially dangerous ramifications in the real world when you are suddenly confronted with a dead weight not contained within a fixed frame of movement or shape.
Body building and weight lifting are two completely different beasts, and it is important for you to be able to distinguish between the two. Yes, many weight lifters carry extra bodyweight, for their goal is to lift heavy weights, and physical appearance is secondary. But it is possible to find a balance between the two, where strength and physical form match in a working unity.
It is actually possible for you to workout your body right in your very own home; go to the garage, and if there is a bag of cement lying around you have the perfect object to play with; squats, overhead presses, lunges, pick up and drops, jump squats.. the list goes on and on. And the experience is very different from your gym routing because your whole body has to keep on responding to the imbalances that an irregular weight provides.. sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
If you choose to work out in a gym, that’s totally fine- just don’t forget to do some composite exercises that stimulate as much of your whole body musculature as possible: dead lift, clean, squats, clean and jerk. And make sure you know how to do these properly before you start, and take the advice of an authorized sports coach if you can.
If you go the kettlebell route, don’t forget that some barbell exercises can stimulate growth through your whole body, and its worth hitting the gym when you can to put your muscles under a different stress. You can only benefit!
Also, realize that you can train just about anywhere- look around your home or school today, and I am sure you could improvise yourself a real life gym any time.
Lift for strength, not just to impress, and you will lead a healthy life.



About Marc

international businessman and consultant, life coach, world traveler and wandering mystic who loves keeping fit and is endlessly learning how to lead a healthy life.

One response to “Functional Strength

  1. cptan

    Great and nice article.

    Thanks for sharing this information to me.

    Good ….. and keep posting

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