Functional Training Vs. Bodybuilding

“Bodybuilding is unhealthy” says the functional training enthusiast.

“Functional Training is a waste of time.” says the bodybuilder.

Little do they realize, they both do the same thing when they train.

A bodybuilder’s goal is to become as strong as possible, stressing each muscle to close to the breaking point, then pulling back and cutting fat down so much that each individual fiber of that stressed muscle can be seen and displayed. Then, after some time resting and recovering, they start the program over, this time with a new baseline to build from.

A functional trainer’s goal is to create as efficient of a body as possible. Making each joint move to it’s best ability, so that it can then undergo stress in a healthy, programmed fashion and become as strong as possible (which may or may not result in larger muscles depending on the trainer). Then, once optimal strength is achieved, they restart the program, looking to build from the new baseline.

To get huge, a bodybuilder must squat, deadlift, press, pull, and brace their trunk to experience massive amounts of load and remain injury free. They will use primarily barbells, dumbbells, and cables.

To become strong, a functional trainer must optimize the squat, deadlift, pushing and pulling patterns, and teach the trunk to brace under variable amounts of load and remain injury free. They will use primarily barbells, dumbbells, cables, and are known to occasionally attach a band to something.

Bodybuilders want healthy joints so they can go through full range of motion and stress the muscle as much as possible.

Functional Trainers want healthy joints so they can go through full range of motion and remain healthy for as long as possible.

Bodybuilders want strong posture because it makes the body look better and allows muscles to grow in the proper line of stress, creating a fuller look.

Functional trainers want strong posture because it makes the body look better and allows tissue to experience proper lines of stress, creating a more aesthetic and healthy look.

Bodybuilders do reps, sets, and splits that last a week.

Functional Trainers so reps, sets, and splits that last a week.

Long story short, it’s all the same stuff, people.

At the end of the day, we’re all doing the same thing in the gym; squat, hinge, push, pull, brace. We’re all chasing the same goals; look better naked and don’t get hurt. We’re all using the same tools, the same mechanisms, and the same ideas; make the joint the best it can be and make it as strong as possible. The only thing that changes between functional training and bodybuilding is the intensity. A bodybuilder coming up on a show will be at a higher intensity than most athletes in any sport. It’s just the way it is.

Next time you feel like picking between bodybuilding or functional training, don’t. Just go into the gym and workout. Your joints will be happier, your muscles will be stronger, and the machine that is your body will function better as a result of it. Whether you do bicep curls for size or just for overall elbow health, you’re gonna be doing curls regardless. Let’s all get along and make the world a fitter place.

Perfection: A Waste of Time

Let me start by speaking to those planning to compete in bodybuilding and/or physique based competition; you all should absolutely be working towards perfection to have any shot at success in your field. Now, for those of you NOT looking to compete, let’s chat.

Perfection in fitness is a complete and utter waste of time. It can never be reached, nor should it ever be reached. The actual act of trying to be perfect is a waste of time. Here is why: It. Is. Impossible. You can chase it all day, every day, and guess where you’ll end up? Far from perfect.

What does perfection look like fitness? Low Body Fat percentage, high skeletal muscle mass, perfectly balanced water content, balanced diet of fruits, veggies, meats, grains, all organic, all counted up to equal the exact amount of calories needed to meet your basal metabolic rate, and last, but certainly not least, 8 hours of sleep per night, uninterrupted, minimum. If you truly desire to have the perfect physical specimen of a body, please take time to look at this lovely article and infographic from Precision Nutrition, “The Cost of Getting Lean”, here.

That’s just chasing physical, outwardly perfection. Let’s talk overall perfection in MOVEMENT. This bit is for all my trainers and coaches out there. If you expect a movement to be PERFECT, meaning not a single shift, tilt, or grain of misfire anywhere, you’re full of yourself. Honestly. Perfection in movement is 100% unobtainable. Show me a dancer or gymnast and I’ll show you hypermobility leading to lack of stability. Show me a world class olympic sprinter and I’ll show you a forward lean that places stress in the low back. It’s just not worth the time. Here’s why…


No, I don’t mean that we’re all incredible little snowflakes. I mean that our imperfections create variability, which in turn creates RESILIENCY. Your fluctuations in your diet create an ability to fight off food borne illnesses, as well as create a flexible metabolism that can handle a night out on the town with friends. If you never look to put your system through that stress, then that stress can DECIMATE what you’re looking to accomplish. If you want to have a great diet, just look to make things abundantly green, nutrient dense, and stay in your caloric range.

The fact that you don’t move your hips all that symmetrically is why you don’t get injured playing ball with your friends or going for a long run. You’ve placed enough of a consistent stress on your body that you have found the healthy compensation needed to achieve what is necessary. Look at your favorite athlete and I can damn near guarantee you’re gonna find a physical trait that doesn’t line up with what you consider “Perfection”. But, the sum of the parts works itself out into something pretty impressive.

Now, let’s say you can’t touch your toes and you eat burgers everyday for lunch. Okay, let’s fix that. Yes, there are prerequisite skills needed in order to back squat, run a mile, and swing a kettlebell. I can agree with that. What I’m saying here is that we do not need to get so caught up in making sure that those prerequisite skills are perfect that we completely miss an opportunity to build strength and conditioning and live happy, awesome lives.

Stop chasing perfection. You’ll enjoy the result.

Training Vs. Straining: Which Are You Doing?

Think back to your most recent workout. What was the goal? Did you get close to your goal? What did you do to make yourself better? Why did you do that workout? What’s next? What did you get out of that workout? How many burpees did you do?

Now, some (or most) of you reading this just realized that you cannot honestly answer any of those questions. You have no idea why you chose the workout you did and you you’re not quite sure if it worked; all you know is that you got hot and sweaty and your body did some stuff that should make you sore. Here’s the thing…and let me make myself abundantly clear…THAT IS OKAY, it just didn’t do you any favors.

If all you want or need from your fitness routine is to feel tired and beat up, then okay. Stop reading. High five, keep gettin’ it. If you need something more from your fitness routine (results, change, etc.) and I have captured your attention, please stick around.

TRAINING is planning work and working a plan. It requires some attention to detail; what’s the point? What happens next? Why does this matter? Think about training a pet or potty training a child. THERE IS A POINT TO WHAT YOU’RE DOING. There is a step by step process you’re following to make it work. Nobody just makes up stuff willy-nilly with their dog and hopes that it sticks. No, you figure out the skill you need, you devise some ways of tricking the dog into performing the skill, you create a reward system, and over time you create a habit that the dog naturally follows thanks to regular intervention and rewarding. Training your body is the same way.

Think of the goal. Think of the wants and needs related to the goal. Now, think of what you’ll need to hold yourself accountable and ensure you reach your goal. Think of the steps you need to take to start, maintain, and finish the process. Think of the moments of triumph you’ll use as check-ins to reward yourself. Think of the next step after the goal is accomplished. That’s training. Afterwards, you feel better than ever, and ready to tackle something else.

STRAINING is just making things hard for the sake of making things hard. You get red, you get sweaty, you get tired. Then, two days later, you roll out of bed, feel sore, decide that the pain and stiffness is the sign that it is working (weird, right?) and do it again. Over time, you find that you’re not getting as tired. You’re not as sweaty. Uh-ohhh. You don’t know what to do because you never thought of what the next step would be, so you stop for awhile and try something different to make you sweaty. Then, because that’s challenging in ways you don’t like (uncomfortable machinery, different people, etc.) you revert back to the thing you’re comfortable with and just do it until you get sweaty again. If you don’t get red, it must have not worked, so you just take some time away from it all until you’re convinced you need to get sore again. Then you do the same stuff again. That is straining, and that is what the large majority of people do with their time in the gym.

Your body deserves so much more than just exhaustion and soreness. Your body deserves maintenance and care. A couple tough weeks of work followed by some scheduled check ins and assessments. Your body deserves to be BUILT UP, not TORN DOWN. Your body deserves to be pushed to learn something new and become better than ever, not just given what it’s always been capable of. Your body deserves to be TRAINED, NOT STRAINED.

Think back to my original questions, now. What is your goal? What do you want to do to reach your goal? What will you do once you reach your goal? Please, please, please….do not just do burpees and hope it works. Think about it, plan it out, and come up with a few steps. If you can’t do that right now, guess what? THAT IS WHAT I AM HERE FOR. Let’s start training.

Strength: The Most Essential Skill

“On my last day on this earth, I want to be able to wipe my own ass.” – Jason Marshall, Strongfirst Barbell Master Instructor

No matter what it is you would like to accomplish in your life, whether it’d be lifting 1000 pounds, running across the country, or simply being able to get yourself up and down the stairs in your office without getting winded, there is one thing you will always need in order to accomplish it: STRENGTH.

Strength is the master skill. Your body is made up of a series of lever systems, all of them complex in their own special ways, each individual lever depending on both the last one and the next in order to complete it’s own task as efficiently as possible. The force producer on each and every one of those levers? Muscles. Muscles experience a phenomenon called hypertrophy, which means they break down momentarily, only to recover and come back thicker, denser, and stronger than ever. After experiencing hypertrophy, a muscle can do more work more efficiently with less stress, essentially creating a better machine (specifically that lever). How does hypertrophy happen? Through strength training.

You want to run faster? You’ll need to push the ground harder and quicker, which will require a stronger leg. Boom. Strength Training.

You want to throw farther? That will require a stronger arm. Boom. Strength Training.

You want to push yourself off the floor when you fall? That will require some strong muscles. You guessed it. Boom. Strength Training.

You want to see your abs? They should become thicker and denser aka experience hypertrophy. Boom. Strength. Training.

No matter the goal, strength is required. From the day you are born to the day you die, strength is required of you in some way, shape, and form. Yes, looking toned and feeling “tight” is nice, but guess what you need to do in order to tone a muscle? Strength train. You want to build your metabolism so that you can burn more fat and weigh less? Guess what, the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism becomes! What does that take??? STRENGTH TRAINING.

Make a goal, program for that goal, then start training for it. Just make sure some of that training is strength training.

“All or Nothing” Means Nothing

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

“Well, here’s some news, sir…I sprint my marathons.”

*Chaos ensues. The client begins to sprint, the client slows down, then stops, then re-starts, then slows down, then stops, then quits*

No matter how quickly you get there, the finish line is the same for everybody. It’s the same color, the same size, the same euphoric feeling, everything is the same. So, why do we feel the need to rush there before we’re ready? If I have confused you so far, allow me to put this into context for you.

The day is January 1st. Ryan Seacrest is recovering from being up all night and streaming the ball drop. The champagne bottles are still on the counter, and you just woke up and made your first move of the new year: a healthy breakfast. After that, you go to the gym, crushing a one hour bootcamp and then getting in extra work on your own in the weight room. Time for lunch; you get a salad. Then, instead of watching TV, you read a health blog and start meal prepping for the week. Lastly, you get into bed before 9 and sleep 8 hours. Then you wake up and have the same healthy breakfast, go to the same bootcamp, go to work, come home, prep some bland dinner, and go to bed early again. Then again, then again, then again. 2 weeks later, you’re frustrated by two things; this is too much change so you haven’t “had a life” in weeks AND on top of it all, you have only lost 2 pounds. In a whirlwind of anger and stress, you cave and devour a pint of ice cream and a bottle of wine. The two pounds are back. Then, you don’t get 8 hours of sleep so you say “SCREW IT” on that healthy breakfast and get that drive thru you used to get. You ate like crap, so what’s the point of going to the gym? You feel bad about how you treated yourself, so you make yourself feel better with some ice cream and wine. Then it starts over again….

Sound familiar?

We are not designed to take on overhaul well. Big change is good in DOSES, but not all at once. Instead of making all of the big changes, make one. See if you like just that one big change. If you don’t, instead of giving up change altogether, just attempt a smaller change and see how you do. If you succeed, add another change. If you don’t repeat step 1. Give yourself a chance to change your approach. Too often I see people give up on themselves, not because they failed, but because they couldn’t keep it up. The time and the sacrifice were too much to take on all at once, and they didn’t even know yet if they LIKED what they were trying to do. Some people don’t even want to change their breakfast routine, but hey, all or nothing, right?

Instead of gunning for perfection in your dive into health and wellness, try to do just ONE thing well. When you do one thing well, it gives you confidence to try another thing, then another, then another. By slowing yourself down, you actually gain a chance to succeed MORE often. When you try it all at once, you either fail or you pass, and we all know that passing rarely happens more than once in that case.

You care too much about yourself to set yourself up for failure. So take a deep breath, look around, pick something you want to work on, and give yourself a chance to succeed. Who knows? You might actually enjoy the work and try it again.