Nikolas_jkd / Shutterstock
The term "functional training" has become a controversial buzzword in bodybuilding circles. If you post a picture of yourself as you pull out leg extensions or side elevations, you probably will not be left with comments like "This does not work" or "LMK when you post a DL" and "How does that work?" Flooded to help you with the zombie apocalypse? "
Madness, right? You spend years building a body that you can be proud of, only to find out you've been doing something wrong all along. But are you right? Is bodybuilding all show and no-go? Is it functional?
To answer this question, we first need to define what functional training is – and that can be a surprisingly delicate matter. Some followers will tell you that they use exercises that resemble real movements. others say it's about free weights, stability balls and compound movements. Still others will tell you that it is easy to train a specific person for a particular goal.
The intelligent bodybuilding training considers all these criteria. Almost every muscle head worthy of its Callouses performs variations on real movements such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, and pull-ups. Almost all train with stability balls and free weights. And if they are smart, they can tailor their workouts to address weaknesses and achieve their specific goals.
So we could end the discussion there and say that bodybuilding training is functional – the end of the story. But there is more to analyze here, as all functional trainers seem to think that their approach is not about appearance. As a side effect, the training can improve your appearance functionally – but that's definitely not the main focus. According to the American Council on Exercise, an organization that certifies personal trainers, "the primary goal of functional training is to transfer the power improvements … to improve the performance of another movement." It's not about how you look, but about it What it's about you can do.
As a correction for the claim that fitness culture can be on the verge of physical shame, this is a refreshing perspective. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, a major risk factor for anorexia nervosa is participating in a sport that focuses on "looks, weight requirements or musculature". Bodybuilding is specifically mentioned.
If you turn your attention away from measurements of appearance (weight, body fat percentage, body measurements) and base them on performance measurements such as weight lifting and repetitions, functional training may reduce the pressure and judgment that bodybuilders – especially female – may have. Feel in an activity that is ultimately about what you look like in swimwear or bikinis.
In practice, however, there is little difference between training to look better and training to work better. As any bodybuilder will tell you, preparing for the stage is more about the work you do in the kitchen. The reality is that most bodybuilding exercises can help someone build strength that translates into real movement. For example, a study published in JAMA found that leg stretchers – a single-jointed exercise that is often considered "non-functional" by functional trainers – nearly tripled their muscle power three times a week for eight weeks and increased their walking speed almost three-fold by 50 percent a group of 90-year-old men.
Another study from 2016 compared the effects of squats – a "functional" movement – with those of leg presses – a "non-functional" movement – in explosive force and balance tests. Both exercises improved the performance of the subjects during the functional tests.
Takeaway: You can not definitely designate an exercise or training as functional or nonfunctional – there are only appropriate or inappropriate functions for a person, given their respective goals and limitations. Selecting exercises, repetition programs, and training programs that meet your goals and tracking performance indicators to achieve them does not sound like a functional approach, a non-functional approach, or something in between: it just sounds like smart training.