T Nation

Functional Strength


I need some help here...I am a 2 year weightlifter who is 18 years old. I am a bodybuilder now, but in high school I played football and wrestled. My stats are 210, 12.5% bf, 5'10". My problem is two-fold. First of all, I gain muscle mass really easily, but my strength is not always equal to my muscle mass. Many people overestimate my strength in the gym. My bench is only 275 for 2 reps, squat is 315 for 4 reps, etc. These numbers are not terrible, yet for my size, it's not quite even. The worse part is, outside of the gym, my strength is even worse. I'm good at certain things and stronger than most smaller guys, but some guys who are smaller are as strong or stronger than me. So, my real question is, how do I improve not only my lifting strength but with that my functional strength in the real world? Thanks for any help, Duffey.


first off...there is no such thing as non-functional strength...

people improve at things they do on a regular basis...

if you want to get strong at lifting grocery bags, then start lift grocery bags...

if you want to get strong at lifting tables over your head, then start lifting tables over your head...

if you want to get strong at pushing your car around your block, then start pushing your car around your block...

get the idea?

as far as your training in the gym goes your lifts could be crap for a multitude of differing reasons...

your form could suck...you could have terrible leverages...you could not be getting enough rest in between workouts...etc...

try to find someone that knows what they're doing and get them to analyze what you might be doing incorrectly and then fix those problems...

good luck!


1) Eat maintainence calories
2) Work on a powerlifting routine with relatively low volume
3) Do this until you are satisfied with your relative strength



What does eating maintenance calories have to do with it?


I understand how the body works. However, some people are still strong in things, such as armwrestling, carrying furniture, etc., and yet they never do these things, or do them very little.

Yet, I lift with proper form and proper rest periods, and am still not a "strong" person outside of the gym. And I have heard many knowledgable people talk about functional strength, yet no one has ever specifically stated how to improve and/or work for it, which is why I asked.

As far as my lifts, I am not weak at all and I do gain in weights but my muscle mass is not lifting where others said it should be. I lift with a smaller guy, 6'2", 175, 10% bf, and he can match me lift for lift occasionally.

This is another example of functional strength to me. He is still in the gym granted, but he does not lift that often or eat even close to properly, or even have better leverages than me, yet he can lift quite a bit, especially for a smaller guy. This is part of what I first meant when I posted.



I'm bigger than Ed Coen and he is a shit-load stronger than me...

that's life...

just try to be the best you can be...

good luck!


A couple things I might recommend. Take them with a grain of salt because I'm not a strength coach, nor do I posess exceptional "functional strength." But I digress. A few things that might make your strength more "functional."

1.) Improve your grip strength. Actually, I think this will improve your weightroom numbers as well- I know it has with me. Also, a lot of "real world" strength involves holding objects that aren't designed to be help. Strong forearms and hands help with this.

2.) It sounds like you might not be very neurologically efficient. Do you do any dynamic training? Dave Tate has some great articles on here about improving bench press strength. One thing that a lot of the Westside guys do is a lot of dynamic work and a lot of work with chains and bands. Try mixing some of that in and see how it goes.

3.) I don't know if you do unilateral work, but if you don't you might want to try that. I know a lot of people have had success breaking through bench press barriers by mixing in a week or two of dumbell work.

Just a few thoughts.


I can vouch for unilateral bench training. I put on 30 pounds to what I repping using dumbbells, one side, then the other.


Like DPH said, many factors can play in to this. Inefficient nervous system, poor recovery, fragile build(very small bone structure with weak ligaments and tendons), technique, but in your case I would say age has a lot to do with it. The strength will come, for some it comes more naturally than others, but be thankful that size comes easily for you, and unless you are a powerlifter, don't worry so much about it.


it all comes down to specificity really, you need to anaylse how you train and why you train, If you have been essentially performing bodybuilding type routines with high volume medium intensity etc then the gains you accomplish are not going to be conducive to sports performance, its been said that bodybuilding is essentially endurance training, at a high relative intensity.

so if youve been following high volume bodybuilder type routines muscle growth you have achieved may be sarcoplasmic hypertophy, which is the growth of the cellular space, this type of growth is evidenced in bodybuilders, is charctersied by a decrease in muscle density and little corresponding increase in strength, compared to sacromere hypertrophy wherein the contractile elements of the muscle increase in size and number which increases the area density and has a greater ability to exert force.

There a so many factors that could present here for your lack of relative (hate that term!!) strength. As has been mentioned, your lack of strength could be neurological reasons (poor intra and intermuscular coordination) poor motor learning, the list goes on and on...

strength is an enormousley complicated motor ability, however all strength types are mediated centrally, the nervous system is ultimatley respsonsible for any strength activity.

This basically tells me your training is off, yes people respond differently, the principle of individuality states this.

The body is essentially like a piece of clay, you can mould it to pretty much achieve anything you want given the right stimulus (training), the central nervous system moulds this clay, training provides the tools!!

So, if I were you post your current training program, numbers etc and any other info you feel relevant, like typical diet, sleep patterns etc etc That way people have more information to work with and may be able to help you out more.