Select Page

Functional Strength

Functional Strength

These days I am a fan of functional strength. But what is functional strength?

It’s the kind of strength derided by bodybuilders who see training as serving one purpose; to create muscle bulk. They despise crossfit, because they see it as impure training. You are only training right if you are using weights within certain specific parameters.

It’s the kind of strength we see the best examples of on a rugby field or an MMA ring. It’s a combination of strength, endurance and mobility.

Rugby is one of the best examples I can think of (not just because I am an old rugby player). You need strength yes, lots of it. But all the strength in the world is no good to you on the rugby field if you are exhausted after 20 seconds. This is not an environment in which you exert yourself then sit down and rest for a minute or two. This is an environment where you have to contest time and again against other large strong men, then pick yourself up and run to the next contest.

Even more so in MMA, where 10 seconds of exertion feels like a minute. Where it doesn’t matter what your best bench press is, because if your arms can’t lock in a choke and hold it until the guy taps out, limit strength is useless. It is better to be able to do a hundred pushups to prepare yourself for this than be able to bench press 400 pounds.

In MMA and boxing, they have a term, “gassing”. It’s where a guy no longer has the energy to do anything constructive, because his cardiovascular endurance has hit its limit.

I began weight training to get bigger and stronger for rugby and karate. I then lost my way to some extent and pursued bodybuilding (in a non competitive sense). But for me the idea of non functional muscle, muscle for show without any go, didn’t appeal to me. For me I was always drawn to the power exercises.. to develop raw power. Heavy bench, squats, deadlifts, bent over row, power cleans and the like. Exercises like this give you a foundation of power.

But what about the ability to go and go without gassing? The weights won’t give you that, so how do you get it? You have to have a component in your training that improves your cardio, your VO2 max (your maximum ability for you muscles to use oxygen).

I have a preference for Tabata. This is where you do 8 20 second sprints with a 10 second rest period. When I say sprints, I mean any exercise that you can do that taxes you when done for 20 seconds. I have for example, done it with deadlifts. I don’t advise this by the way; it was murder.

With Tabata you can do your cardio in 4 minutes. Sounds hard to believe I know, but more and more, researchers (don’t ask me to name them) are finding it is a viable alternative to steady state, long slow aerobic exercise.

I might add that you are not shirking when you do Tabata. In fact I think you are taking the easy way out when you just go for a run. It doesn’t leave you gasping for air at the end.

With a combination of brief, brutal weight sessions (I average about two a week) and Tabata, that’s a good solid foundation. There is still flexibility to deal with, as well balance and agility. I use yoga for that, but that’s another story. Good thing is, I have plenty of time to do yoga because my weights and cardio combined is less than 2 hours a week.

Flexibility is an essential component for mobility. So once again it contributes massively to functional strength. If you don’t have spring and explosiveness to close in on your opponent in a sport like judo for example, you have nothing. Functional strength is strength that you can apply.

You do the three components – strength training, cardio and flexibility, and you will have an all round strength that is useful for most sports or simply just feeling great throughout your day.

About The Author

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.