So, what is functional strength? That ‘functional’ strength the weight lifter told me about.
First, let’s look at the lever system in the body….
Your body is not built for strength. It is built for efficiency and endurance. Form over function.
Even a third class lever in the arm, where people get massive biceps – that lever is mechanically disadvantaged because the rotation point is below the load. That’s why the bicep gets huge – you are over doing that muscle on purpose. There are more efficient ways to pick up a weight than sitting on a machine built for unnatural movement (isolating the point of rotation) and then ripping your muscles apart.
Power lifting – very similar. The legs are designed to lift the weight of the upper body, propel the body in movement, and to fight gravity – they are not naturally designed to power lift hundreds of pounds with leg lifts.
So, when people talk to me about functional strength – I can only see dead lifting 400 pounds to be ‘functional’ if that’s what you do on a daily basis. Other than that, it is hyper-functional. It is beyond the natural function of the body – and if you over do it, it mal-functions the body.
My dogs are stronger pound for pound than me – they don’t need weights. A monkey in a tree doesn’t need hundreds of different weights. It needs only it’s body and mastery of it’s own body weight, lever system, respiratory system, and equilibrium.
Picking up a child – getting up off the ground – a push up – a pull up – running 5 miles – carrying a heavy backpack – these seem to be much more functional unless you are a body builder.
And what about long term function. In general, lifting weights is a two dimensional movement with an added load your body is not meant to handle.
Functional strength is not built by this because it does not allow proper function of the joint system – which is comprised of neat things like triaxial joints, biaxial joints, etc. These need to be given their full range of motion, controlled my ligaments and tendons. When you exercise the body to the fullest extent of natural motion in it’s planes, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons act to stabilize the joints and bones.
So, my definition of functional strength is quite different – I look at functional strength as refining my body for the tasks I have at hand:
Living day to day and growing old. I want to make sure that I can properly, easily, and efficiently perform tasks using my body’s lever system…so exercises should reflect this If there is something more I want to do – say, rock climbing – then I would train the body for this.
Growing old means having the most range of motion and stabilizing strength so as I get older, I am less prone to injury, joint replacement, etc.
You will never see me power lift – you will never see me squat 400 pounds. You will probably never see me bench press more than my own body weight. If I need to do so, that’s what my autonomic nervous system is for – it will engage with my nervous system and give me the boost I need or the task at hand.
You will see me do body weight exercises on the floor for hours and not tire – you will see me articulate my joints in ways other’s can’t – you will see me have fun being flexible and challenging myself on a climbing wall.
Functional is not function – not hyper function, and not mal function.
I know, I’m too logical, I need to go lift some weights.