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Functional Strength?


Hey guys what does "functional" and "nonfunctional" strength mean? and is it true that free weights build more functional strength than machines?


It doesn't mean anything. Some personal trainer must have invented it in order to gain more clients. You are "functional" for whatever you train to do.


Hey devildog, I think you may have opened a can of worms here and some arguments will follow. I'm not knocking on you though, it is a legitimate question and I'll try to answer as best I can.
Functional strength is strength that can be applied to an activity. For example, a rock climber wouldn't find much use for a max bench, but pullups would certainly be functional excercise. The arguement with this school of thought is a for a powerlifter, his max bench is his function.
Another example would be to take your stereotypical musclehead. Sure, he can lift a house, but he can't run a mile. This is line of thinking also believes in being musclebound; more muscle makes you slower and less flexible.
Yet another of the functional schools refers to functional excercises as those that target your core. In addition to standard ab work, they preach lots of use of balls (excercise and medicine), kettlebells and balance boards. This school uses functional as a gimmick to sell products. Not all of thier theories are bunk, sure, they may have some good training principles, but most of it is a sales pitch.
To answer your next question about machines... When using a machine, the machine does most of the balancing for you. You are only concerned about creating force, not stabalizing a weight. You are only moving the weight in one plane of motion. In real life, you have to move an object, balance it and balance yourself. So no, machines aren't good for functional strength.
On the last note, I'll add that I am big on sandbag training. I believe it is as functional as you can get, especially for soldiers, marines and martial artists. Sand is dead weight, you have work hard to balance it. It shifts, so you have to make adjustments during a lift. This is much like a casualty, dead weight that shifts, or an oppenent, who will move against your movements.
I hope I helped you out, Semper Fi!


Try the search function, you're beating a dead horse.


of the 47,381 definitions for functional strength that I've read on this site the one I like the best is:

functional strength gets you laid (you are able to re-produce), non-functional strength doesn't (you are unable to re-produce)...

going by that fine definition, I doubt it really matters much if you use machines or free-weights...

but feel free to make up your own definition for 'functional strength', everyone else does...


I wish matt furey was present. He would set you all straight. Functional strength is a term coined by small people that can do 140 pushups but can bench 75 pounds.


Functional strength is inversly related to actual strength. Just ask anybody who is functionaly strong compared to anybody who is actualy strong.

example- Babalu(functional) to anybody else. He's a good example of someone who became weaker as he became stronger, therefore had to become stronger by becoming weaker.

Makes perfect sense now, doesn't it?


Hi Semper_Fi,

Well, my definition of "functional" strength is athletically functional strength. Meaning strength that can be utilized in conjuction with the other facets of athleticism; speed, balance, coordination, etc...

By that definition there are certainly exercises that are more "functional" than others. Meaning that they develop strength in addition to balance, power, kinesthetic awareness, etc...

Of all the Free weight exercises out there I would venture to say that none are more "functional" than the olympic lifts (Snatch, Clean & Jerk, and Hang Clean). These lifts will build tremendous strength that can be utilized in an athletic manner, and they are the most efficient way to lift a heavy weight from the ground to overhead (a movement which has many everyday applications).

Although many people might argue with me bodyweight exercises are also highly "functional" exercises, that is provided that one follows an intelligent progression while doing them. Look at Gymnasts, Breakdancers, and Martial Artists. These are some of the most powerful, strongest (pound for pound), agile, graceful, and skillful athletes on the planet. Olympic Lifters also fall into that same category by the way.

As was already stated, machines pretty much take away any need for balance, coordination, body awareness, and many other athletic qualities. Therefore, I would agree that they are less effective at building "functional" strength.

Notice I said "less", I'm not saying that they are completely "nonfunctional". No exercise is (well, unless it didn't improve any athletic quality).

Good training,



Wait, is this a contest to see how many ridiculous definitions we can come up with? This topic has been done to DEATH. Let it go and quit attempting to find some way to pretend as if training in a weight room is making anyone less "functional" unless they are carrying sandbags, pushing trucks, or balancing on inflatable bosu balls. It was a retarded term whenever someone originally started using it and it still is. The only people using it are the ones trying justify how they are better than the guy in the corner who outweighs them by 60lbs of muscle and can bench press more than they can.


I have lots of strength in my arm. But it is completely non-functional strength when I am doing leg extensions.


That about covers it.


i dont think anything way you lift would be non functional, it all has some carry over to whatever your goals are, sure there are some exersizes that would carry over better to certain activities but that doesnt mean all the other ones are "bad" or wrong or anything like that. as for machines being better than free weight? depends on alot of things but i prefer free weight


'Functional streangth' is a combination of two words:
Functional , Usefull and can be worked with ie functioning
Strength , Probably the amount of force you can aply on a point in physics and powerlifting but as training goes it means lifting heavy,fast for FULL rom while spitting out kenetic energy

as much as I care if the only thing I want strength for is say lift weights that makes it functional strengh, if I want to throw a ball faster and for more distance on a football game anything that helps me do it is functional strength..

So I really don't get thoose guys making up myths about lifting weights or lifting them but on a fitness ball or w\e unless there gonna walk on a rope balancing some heavy stuff I just don't get it


Ok, so then I guess you would consider Christian Thibaudeau one of these people? After all in his article "Renaissance Body Development" he says he believes Bodybuilders to be "no more than non-functional piles of muscle!" Hmm, well coming from a world renowned strength coach who has worked with elite level athletes, I'd have to say that your last statement is obviously false.

I also just read an article by Sal Alosi, the Strength and Conditioning coach for the Atlanta Falcons in which he used the term "functional strength", so there's another world class strength coach using the term.

Also, reading back through this thread I didn't find even one example of someone trying to suggest that training in the weight room would make you "less functional" or that training with sandbags, pushing cars, or balancing on bosu balls are the only ways to develop "functional strength".

Why do you seem to have such a big problem with accepting that there are different types of strength, or with accepting that it's not everyone's goal to get "hyooge". Now, before you jump down my throat, yes, I realize that this is a Bodybuilding site. But, this site also welcomes and accepts athletes who have other goals besides just getting big.

If all you want to do is get big, then I say more power to you. But I don't see why you have to get all offended whenever someone suggests that they might have different goals in mind. Don't want to train for athleticism, relative strength, ect...? Well that's your right. But you don't have to try to belittle someone else for doing so either.

Good training,



I sure do. I am all giddy with amazement at how name dropping somehow justifies certain comments.

Wait...THE Sal Alosi?!! Well then, I suggest no one questions it...or anything else he has to say. God forbid someone thinks for themselves.

It didn't have to be said in this thread. It has been said 5,000 times in SEVERAL other threads on this very topic. That is the way every single debate on this topic goes. Perhaps you should do a search.

Not one person on this forum is unaware that different people have different goals. Along with that, we are very aware of how "functional strength" is actually being used by many trainers who are seeing little to no progress. It goes hand in hand with the overuse of "relative strength" by guys weighing under 160lbs. How is it you have missed this?


His point is that is just a stupid term. Only an obese couch potato that does not lift a finger is non functional. If you can move, you are functioning. If you move any type of weight, you are still functional. If you are huge and ripped, you are functional. If you wiry and fast, you are still fuctional.

I, for one, would really like to see the end of the term "fuctional strength" as it is an ambiguous made up phrase. When I read or hear it, I immediately think that a load of bullshit is coming right behind it.



Yeah, I agree that there really are very few people who are completely "non functional" and I can understand why you are so sick of the term, as it does get overused.

My post wasn't really even in response to the definition of "functionality" per se, more in response to why Professor X always seems to get all offended whenever he hears the term and then always seems to attack the ones using the term.


Ok, you're the one who made a ridiculous blanket statement that "The only people using it are the ones trying justify how they are better than the guy in the corner who outweighs them by 60lbs of muscle and can bench press more than they can."

All I did was to disprove your statement. I gave two reputable examples of strength coaches who obviously know a thing or two about strength training, and building muscle for that matter, to illustrate that your blanket statement was false. Want another example? How about Eric Cressey. There that's three reputable strength coaches who use the term.

You wrote:

"Wait...THE Sal Alosi?!! Well then, I suggest no one questions it...or anything else he has to say. God forbid someone thinks for themselves."

Ok, so I guess you think you know more about strength training than the trainer of a successful professional football team? Give me a break. This guy is getting paid big bucks to train these guys, and I'm willing to bet that a bunch of them not only outweigh you, but can bench more than you too.

Thinking for yourself is fine. Suggesting that if someone doesn't think the same thing as you do means that they don't know what they're talking about, or haven't developed themselves in terms of strength and size is what I have a problem with.

But once again, I wasn't even trying to suggest that Sal Alosi was the unquestionable guru of strength and conditioning knowledge, I was simply using him as an example of a professional in the field who doesn't fall into your suggested stereotype.

You then wrote:

"It didn't have to be said in this thread. It has been said 5,000 times in SEVERAL other threads on this very topic. That is the way every single debate on this topic goes. Perhaps you should do a search."

Well, I for one was actually responding to this thread. I've read those other threads and yes, there have been people who have made that argument. But, why if you disagree so strongly with that notion did you feel the need to bring it up here? If someone had again made that comment, then I could understand, but no one did.

Finally you wrote:

"Not one person on this forum is unaware that different people have different goals. Along with that, we are very aware of how "functional strength" is actually being used by many trainers who are seeing little to no progress. It goes hand in hand with the overuse of "relative strength" by guys weighing under 160lbs. How is it you have missed this?"

Well, I'm glad that you are aware of that. Why then does it seem like you feel the need to belittle or put them down?

Honestly, I can understand what you are saying about many trainers overusing, or misusing the term "functional strength". But, that doesn' mean that all of the trainers who use the term are doing so. Nor, are all the trainers using the term not seeing results.

Finally, what do you mean by "overusing" the term relative strength? Overusing in what way? Would you argue that some one like "Pocket Hercules" lifting a triple bodyweight C&J is impressive? Surely that constitures an incredible amount of relative strength. Yeah, I also realize that it gets misused, perhaps that is what you meant by "overused".

Good training,



You haven't disproved my statement. Regardless of what may have been meant initially with the use of this word, it has been overtaken on message boards like this one by skinny dudes as justification for their lack of size. Are you able to comprehend this without me restating it 50 more times?

I could care less who you quote. He may be the greatest trainer the world has ever known and I can still see that blindly following every word someone says simply because of "who" they are is retarded.

Read above. This has been explained.

YES, you are when you try to use the simple fact that he used a term as justification for why we all need to agree with the man.

You seem very unable to follow why many are tired of hearing this term.

I felt the need to bring it up here because it was about to fall right back into the exact same rehashed argument the exact same way EVERY single other thread has gone.

Wouldn't the guy acting as if his "functionality" puts him on a higher level than any gym trainers be putting those trainers down?

I would bet that most aren't.

To use one anomaly as justification makes very little sense. To even use two or three out of thousands is equally ridiculous.


Non-functional strength is when you gain strength but lose flexibility in the process. Actually, I wouldn't call it non-functional strength. I'd call it gaining functional strength but losing flexibility in the process.

It is common though. A lot of baseball players, when they take up an offseason weightlifting program for the first time will have their mechanics messed up because of tightness in the hips, back and shoulders because they did not work to maintain flexibilty. Basketball players who do heavy pressing but ignore flexibility maintenance may not be able to get their shoulders in the same position as they previously could.

I would also say that a sprinter who gains too muck in the hamstrings to move their legs in a mechanically efficient way would qualify.

One could also argue that for an athlete to gain muscle/strength in a particular area, when they have a weakness in another area that keeps them from using the new strength would be non-functional. For example, you can gain leg strength to squat 500, but if your back can only support 375, you are not going to squat more.

If you do 3 things: 1) maintain flexibility, 2) build muscles in balance and 3) work most to improve your weak points (for your given activity) then all strength is functional.


Alright now you're just proving imaturity.

For one, lay off the bench press, it's a played out movement that only teenagers and fat people with nice leverage(powerlifters) practice religiously. Benching doesn't mean shit, if anything can be used as a strength measurement for the upperbody pushing muscles, it's the standing overhead press.

Two, most people on this planet don't outweigh the professor, maybe in fat, but not with muscle. So that's just a dead arguement. While you might be able to drop names of people who you've heard of or know of, professor can use himself, which is alot more credible than "I KNOW THIS GUY ON AFOOTBALL TEAM WHO OUTWEIGHTS AND BENCHES YOU!?!?!? OMG".


Wow I posted this like 2 weeks ago. Thanks for all the feedback though.