Functional Strength Training Is The Cornerstone Of Any Great Workout Program!

I remember the first time somebody told me that about functional strength training.  I had only listened half-heartedly as I rolled my eyes in my head. 

Instead, in my arrogant youth I though all there was to training was doing bodybuilder workouts that make you chase a pump. 

After all, these guys were huge.  Nobody messed with them.  That’s what makes a great athlete.  Fortunately for me the universe served me a HUGE slice of humble pie and woke me up from my arrogance. 

Functional strength training, and functional strength, truly IS the cornerstone of any great workout program.

If you don’t believe me, keep reading and I’ll convince you otherwise. 

What is Functional Strength Training?

What Is Functional Strength Training

Functional strength training, or functional training, is a training approach that focuses on movement quality as the main goal of strength training. 

In other words, “don’t lift anything insanely heavy unless you move with top notch quality.” 

Right away you can see why most gym goers and personal trainers don’t implement this style of training. 

It’s really hard!

You have to focus most of your energy on the quality of your movement versus just muscling up weight with bad form (ouch! my ego!). 

Here’s an example:

I am performing a back squat and I notice when I add 20 more pounds to the bar, my back starts rounding and my knees bow inward

What should I do?

  1. Perform Another Set
  2. Add More Weight
  3. Put On A Lifting Belt And Knee Wraps
  4. Lower The Weight And “Fix” My Form

If you answered D, give yourself a pat on the back.  This is exactly what you should do. 

Unfortunately, in most gyms around the country, lifters of all kinds are selecting A,B and C without hesitation.   

I hate to tell them, but they are heading for an injury. 

Key Muscle Groups To Your Functional Strength Training Program

When starting functional strength training, the common urge is to look a the most difficult exercises possible and try to do them on day one.

Don’t do that!

This is the same mindset as the guy loading more weight on the bar with bad form.

You need to lay down the groundwork first. In this case we need to cover three main areas:

  1. The Hips (Glutes)
  2. Abs (Transverse Abdominus)
  3. Scapular Depression (Lower Trapezius)

The list could go on but for the sake of space I’ll just stick with these three. 

Now there is a reason I pick these three.  They are the most common problems most of you have. 

The culprit: Sitting!

How Sitting Down Destroys Your Body  

How Sitting Ruins Your Body   

When you sit for long periods of time, your body takes a beating.  Your hips (glutes) become disengaged and deactivated. 

This causes the pelvis to lose stability.  Thus causing the transverse abdominus to stop firing. 

Couple all of that with excessive rounding of the upper back (kyphosis).  Leading to a weakening of the lower trapezius. 

When all is said and done, you have a category 5 shit storm to deal with. 

This could all be avoided by getting a standing desk. 

But….. for most of you that is no longer an option. 

Let’s get back to functional strength training!

Functional Exercises You Can Implement Immediately For Quick Results

Front Squats (Hips)

Front Squats

Ahh yes front squats.  I have written several articles in the past about front squats, so I won’t go into too much detail here. 

Front squats are one of the best functional exercises out there.  They not only correct your hips, but also your posture, thoracic spine and abs.  Quite literally, they are a full body exercise. 

To perform, place the bar between the deltoids and the clavicle.  Wrap both hands around the bar and bring your elbows up and forward. 

From here, push your hips back slightly and squat down as low as you can.  When coming up be sure to push through your big toe. 

Check out this video by juggernaut training systems for further detail:

Hollow Body Holds (Abs)

In my last article on beginner ab exercises, I went into full detail explaining this exercise and the benefits of this exercise. 

The hollow body hold is taught to beginner gymnasts to teach them how to properly use their core.  The good news for you is you do not need to be a gymnast to reap the benefits.

Lie down face up and tuck your knees into your chest.  At the same time push your belly button into the ground as hard as you can. 

Keep your belly button down while you extend one leg in front of you.  Then two legs.  Now bring your arms overhead.  Keep the bell button down. 

If it comes up, then you need to restart from the beginning and move to a level you can sustain for at least 30 seconds.     

Reverse Flys (Scapular Depression)

This is an old school favorite.  Typically this is used by bodybuilders to add muscle mass to the rear deltoid. 

Ironically enough, this is also a fantastic functional exercise.

The rear delts typically do not get enough direct work from most of the exercises we do.  You need to keep them strong because they will cause you to plateau with you pressing exercises. 

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and bend over so your torso is somewhere between 45 degrees and 90 degrees. 

Reverse Flys

Hold the dumbbells in front of you and pinch your shoulder blades together and move the dumbbells behind straight out to the sides as far as you can.  Your elbows should be bent. 

When the weight gets heavy you will be tempted to jerk your upper body back to do more reps.  If you are only doing this for the last two reps, then that’s fine.  If your doing it for the whole set, then that’s a problem. 

To avoid this, simply place your forehead against an incline bench while performing the exercise.  This will hold you accountable.       

Hip Thrusts (Hips)

Bret Contreras, “the glute guy”, made this exercise famous.  Bret is an exercise scientist who studies the glutes. 

He has done extensive research and has found that the hip thrust causes more glute activation than any other exercise. 

But it has to be done right.  The hips MUST come through all the way to full hip extension. 

I’ll let Bret explain how to do the exercise.  Check it out below:

Bird Dogs (Abs)

I learned about this exercise from legendary strength coach Dan John in his book Mass Made Simple

The beauty of this exercise is how simple and effective it really is.  Especially for targeting the transverse abdominus.

Get down on the floor on your hands and knees.  Your knees should be directly under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. 

Now lift one arm off the ground while lifting your opposite leg off the ground.  Repeat on the other side. 

That’s it!

But….

You need to make sure your elbows stay locked out the whole time and your hips and shoulders stay square. 

If the hips start twisting, you will get no benefit from this exercise.  To prevent any cheating, simply place a small weight plate on your lower back. 

If the plate falls off, you know you need to fix your form. 

Straight Arm Cable Overhead Flexion (Scapular Depression)

One of my favorites.  This exercise is literally one of the best exercises for targeting the lower trapezius.

Take a band and loop it around a sturdy object.  Now put both of your hands through the band, so the band is around your wrists. 

Keep your elbows locked out and pinch your shoulder blades together while bringing both hands overhead. 

Think of this exercise as a standing Y.  All you are doing is bringing your arms up over head in a Y position with a band around your wrist. 

Simple as that! 

Can I Combine Functional Strength Training With Traditional Strength Training?

Absolutely!  In fact that is the approach that you should take.  This way you get the best of both worlds. 

In fact your functional training will actually improve your regular training!

Remember, functional training trains the movement of the exercise whereas traditional training usually trains the muscles. 

Strength training is two fold.  Both the nervous system and the muscles play an equal role in getting results.  If you are only training your muscles, that means that you are only using half of your potential. 

If you follow this article and start to implement these exercises into your workout you can start to get amazing results quickly. 

How To Implement Functional Strength Training

Implementing these exercises is rather simple and shouldn’t take any serious programming. 

All you have to do is add the corresponding muscle group with the corresponding muscle group you are training on that training day. 

In other words,  add front squats and hip thrusts to your leg training days. 

As for sets and reps, leave the ego aside.  These exercises are meant to train movement and function.  Don’t load up a ton of weight, that defeats the whole purpose. 

The goal is to do these exercises with perfect form!  So pick a weight you can do for 10-15 repetitions on ALL OF THE EXERCISES

Conclusion

I hope after reading this article you have a greater understanding, and respect, for functional training.

Roided out fitness models and flashy exercises sell better than functional strength training, but the truth about functional training will always be there. 

There is only one true universal law out there: Truth & Lies. 

Either something is true, or it is a lie.  It is that simple.

The truth is, functional strength training will add an enormous amount of value to your workouts.  It is how you are designed to perform.  Likewise, traditional strength training also adds tremendous value to your workouts. 

Don’t follow the trends, follow those individuals who are in the “know” and they will show you what works. 

Now that you know what works, get out there and get it!          


Tony G
Tony G

Anthony is a fan of all things gym related. Growing up very overweight and out of shape, Anthony whipped himself into shape and stunned his entire community becoming a "fitness guru". Tony then set his sights on strength sports (Weightlifting/Powerlifting/Strongman) and learned all about body mechanics, mobility work and injury prevention. Tony found his true love in the strength sports, particularly Olympic Weightlifting. He earned a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree from Fitchburg State University in Exercise and Sports Science. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the NSCA.

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