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Who Has More Functional Strength?


After reading the Gymnast article, I thought "yeah, I did read about this 'functional strength' alot, and I don't really know what that means, quite." So I'd like to read some of yall's perspectives on this functionality and rate these athletes in terms of how much functional strength each one possesses:

1) Bodybuilder
2) Powerlifter
3) Strongman
4) Gymnast
5) The pilates & aquaaerobics guy


In my opinion...'functional strength' is very task specific and shouldn't be translated at 'all-round general conditioning'...

for instance...training like a gymnast would be a waste of time for an NFL lineman...who do you think would have an easier time transitioning to an NFL lineman, Ronnie Coleman or that dude that won the overall gold in gymnastics? it's a no brainer...ronnie would have to learn quite a bit but that Hamm dude would get squashed.

world class caliber decatheletes are in great shape but it wouldn't mean shit if the goal was to become a world class heavy weight boxer.

I know a guy that deadlifts close to 800 lbs that entered a strongman competition...during the specialized 'silver dollar' deadlift for reps he got his ass handed to him by a guy that at best can only deadlift 150 lbs less than him in a one rep max pull...he lost, not because he's not strong as hell, but because he didn't train specifically for that lift.

'functional strenght' is only relevant to a specific task ...bodybuilders, powerlifters, strongmen, gymnasts, bowlers, kayakers, etc...all train to be the best at their specific endeavors.

so to answer you origional question...none of them have more 'functional strength' than the others...they all train specifically for what they have chosen to do.

a gymnast isn't going to beat a powerlifter in a powerlifting competition...a powerlifter isn't going to beat a gymnast in a gymnastic competition etc...


While strength development is indeed primarily relevant to what is being specifically trained for; I interpreted the question as being which one of the disciplines would allow the application of the developed strength and athletic ability throughout the widest range of sport applications.

This question is not always as clear cut as it would appear. Perhaps it would be appropriate to share one of my favorite stories about JJ Gregory here. As you read this, it is important to remember that JJ possessed world class strength on rings and was far stronger than the vast majority of gymnasts and that his unfortunate opponent was in all likelihood just an average powerlifter.

One day while training in his required High School weightlifting class, one behemoth of a powerlifter (250lbs.) got rather fed up with the arrogance and preening of this little bantamweight (135lbs). A challenge to arm wrestle was issued and quickly accepted; JJ had several faults, however lack of self confidence was never one of them.

They got set and on "go", JJ quickly slammed the big guy's arm to the table.
Protests quickly poured forth from the defeated powerlifter as he was roundly jeered and teased by his buddies; "I wasn't ready", "You didn't let me get set", "You cheated" etc. and then "I want a rematch"

At this JJ smirked, and said that only the first one was for free, if the big guy wanted to try again it would cost him. Negotiations quickly concluded with each of them placing a $10 bill on the table.

Seconds later, JJ was $10 richer. In this instance, the amazingly high degree of strength & leverage which he had devloped through ring strength training had served him well indeed.

Now I realize that as a generalization, this comparison between the powerlifter and gymnast is meaningless as the two athletes in question were from different ends of spectrum. JJ had world class strength on the rings and I'm sure the powerlifter was simply average; but is amusing and instructive nonetheless.

The important point that I would like you to consider here is that size is not always the defining characteristic of someone's strength or athletic ability: for example Mugsy Bogues was all of 5'2" tall yet could dunk and played in the NBA for the Charlotte Hornets among others, I also remember a running back for the Kansas City Chiefs who was 5'5" 148 lbs. and, if my memory serves me at about the same time there was also another similarly sized running back(?) who played for Tampa Bay.


I understand your point but...

'functional strength' is still sport specific...

ex: who would be a better bowler...
an NFL lineman trained for a year by a professional bowler or a gymnast that has never bowled in his life?

ex: who would be a better arm-wrestler ...a powerlifter trained for a year by a professional arm-wrestler or a gymnast that has never arm-wrestled in his life.

ex: who would be a better golfer... a bodybuilder trained for a year by a professional golf coach or a gymnast that has never golfed in his life?

by the way...your example is bogus...why not use a more similar apples to apples (i.e. a top rated gymnast against a top rated powerlifter) comparison? How about this one...your top notch gymnast JJ arm-wrestles Bill Kazmier in his prime...the outcome would go something like this...Bill would rip JJ's arm from it's socket and eat it for lunch...then he would take JJ's ten bucks and go buy himself a sandwich because he'd still be hungry.


Thanks everyone!

DPH: I think that example is still pretty good, because it illustrates for me perfectly that a lot of strength can be packed into a gymnast's small frame from all the specialized training he or she receives, and that a person much heavier with more muscle mass (maybe?) can be quite weaker. And the two people used in the example, in my opinion, are good subjects because neither one is a professional arm-wrestler that I know of.

By the way, I can really see how the concept of maximum contraction would help with powerlifting. I think that (based on all the knowledge I have so far acquired), that if one is able to use his muscles in a synchronized and controlled manner, he would lift much more weight in a compound lift.

With that said, call me crazy but I would wonder at how good a ballet dancer would be at deadlifting, or if doing yoga might help someone to train the nervous system for max contraction...
...time for bed.


The person with the most functional strength is the one who earns the most money from their strength.
A powerlifter who trains all week, earns no money and deadlifts 800lbs has no functional strength - he's strong but to what end, because he can lift a bar and a lot of iron. Unless it transfers over into his real life - moving furniture, building a house, it has no function except to make him feel good about himself.
The NFL player on the other hand who deadlifts 500lbs has a good deal of functional strength - because his comparative strength, combined with his other talents, earns him several million dollars a year.
Functional strength is a misnomer - none of it really serves any function. Ultimately, all these things weightlifting, bodybuilding, gymnastics, football, whatever are just fantastically enjoyable hobbies that have replaced the functional activities:- hunting, gathering, building our own homes, farming our own land. IE:- the type of things that have been eradicated by life as we now know it.


Let's not forget the O-lifters!

Huge max strength, second only (maybe) to that of powerlifters, speed outstripping that of most sprinters, flexibility only second to gymnasts, and extraordinarily high levels of correlation in snatch/C+J poundages to jumping ability. BBers and Pilates, obviously, aren't even in the running.


very interesting perspective...


Yes, VERY interesting perspective. So lets raise the stakes. If we could put all of the athletes listed into a time machine and transported them back to caveman times, which athlete would survive best?

My pick: Strongman, with gymnasts a very close second.


Hey Mike...

My pick: the gymnast or the pilates dude.

Reason: Just think about how much food strongmen, bb's, and powerlifters (generally) need to survive vs. a vegan pilates dude or a smallish gymnast...Plus, muscular strength in and of itself would not necessarily be needed unless in the case of hand-to-beast contact or building a shelter. Endurance (muscular and cardio) would be much better qualities to have, and agility and speed would also be desirable...gymnasts have all of the above qualities...

In the end it would come down to who had the most knowledge and was the most resourceful (barring the bigger dudes ganging up on and eating the littler ones!)

just my thoughts...


Well no... the guy who hunts the most is the most functional :stuck_out_tongue:

but strong man overall...

Marius Pudzianowski would kick paul hamm's ass.

Mind you, I think if you were hunting and came upon a bear, I'd rather be Paul Hamm, he can probably get away...

You'd end up fighting the bear if you were marius...

Hell marius would kick the bear's ass too.

Strongman- 2
Gymnast- 1


just reading the first three or four posts I found an important detail missing which might bring "functional" to its knees. rofl. I say 'missing' because I think Coach Sommers may have forgotten to mention this in relation to his story.


In Coach Sommers' story there are two physical people from two different specific skill fields and not professionals. Neither requires marathon running or swimming, and most likely the 250lb guy doesn't run and maybe not the gymnast. They entangle themselves in a challenge and the little guy comes out on top. How in the hell does a person, who believes he trains soley for strength and power, lose to someone who trains to just move his bodyweight around some rings and a string boarded mat? I can only guess a little more effective conditioning on the gymnast's part.

The learning pyramid for a gymnast starts heavily on conditioning for body mastery before they even touch specific training. Where as specfic training is the only thing most weight trainers may do. For example, my first day in the gym my dad told me to squat. But besides squatting, how else can I improve the squat. Well from reading the numerous, informative articles by the Homies of Westside I know what I can do now. Some of the best darn conditioning articles for specfic skill events like weight training, weightlifting, and powerlifting.

Using myself as an example- I trained in a number of strength sports since 86. When I trained in bjj and judo in 98 my butt got kicked by the gymnastic type of conditioning, but I've been working with weights so many years. So besides putting in more time doing the conditioning learned in class, I hung out at a gymnastic gym two properties up from a house I was renting and took part in their conditioning in the adult skills class in exchange for an able bodied adult to help in their youth classes.

Lifting weights did not have a faster, more effective crossover than the gymnastic conditioning. BUT I think the gymnastic condtioning couldn't take all the credit of the crossover since I had trained raw leg power, raw pulling power, grip strength, and raw pushing power from weight training and weightlifting. Add that to rugby season and conditioning and it seemed like a complete package. The point being that weight training didn't make gymnastic conditioning easier compared to the other way around. Oh and my skills performance and conditioning excelled in both bjj and judo, as well as performance in the "outside" world.

Do I think gymnasts are the best functionally then? Nope. Just part of a total program. With such base level of conditioning combined with the base conditioning for a football player (any position since I believe all football players should be trained the same hard way otherwise you'll have a weak link on the team) and a base conditioning for a strongman, etc could go a long way. Since most conditioning is universal amongst groupings of particular activities then there isn't much more to add is there?

I do find it disturbing that a harsh statement was made saying that gymnastic training would do nothing for a football player. Does the person know how to do gymnastics because they've done it? Nope. I know of a NFL lineman that trained in tai chi to improve his skills on the field. Now talk about an internal experience of not being a srength sport. Looking at gymnasts they are shorter than the average football player, and they don't receive the same skill training. But give them the specific skill training and you have a gymnast that can play football. Take a football player and put him into gymnastics conditioning will you end up with a 5'4" football player who used to be 6'2"? That football player may have learned how to use even more of himself to better his on field performance. BUT he will still have to train his specfic skills.

I don't think there has been a better sport that can prepare an individual for more other sports than gymnastics.

There are flaws and discrepancies in all specific activities as far as their conditioning, including gymnastics. And wish that someone freely distributes a fully encompassing conditioning program that can be uniform to apply to all activities/sports with just a lack in specific skill training. I regularly train in CrossFit since it's the closest to what I want from a basic conditioning program. Specific skills change with whatever I am into that given period (martial arts, basketball, rugby, football, golf, bowling, powerlifting, etc).

I always felt "functional strength" as another commercial fancy pants way of saying GPP, SPP, and conditioning.

Like Westside kinda goes, no basic level of conditioning then what's the use?


I disagree...

'functional strength' is how well you can 'function' at a specific task (i.e. hitting a ball with a bat, swinging a golf club, hitting a target with a bow and arrow, shooting a free-throw, kicking a ball through a field goal, playing a defensive lineman in the NFL, etc.).

almost everyone here seems to think that general physical preparedness and functional strenght are synonymous ...they are not.

gymnast may very well have the greatest general physical preparedness of any atheletes on the planet...the top guys are in great shape no doubt...but this won't make them better than anyone else at hitting a target with a bow and arrow or shooting a free-throw or hitting a home-run or any other of a million specialty skills needed to perform well in other sporting endeavors.

perhaps the title of this thread should have been 'Who Has More General Physical Preparedness'...that would have been a much more accurate question.


In terms of flexibility, agility, and upper body strength at all angles at a given bodyweight, Gymnasts rank at the very top of the totem pole.

Strongmen excel at sustained efforts. Per pound, most don't ever approach gymnasts, but when you're 300 lbs, so what.

Olympic lifters and sprinters are superior in CNS activation to everyone. Concentric stregth is phenominal, but eccentric and sustained power output perhaps not on the level of the two above.



So begin in gymnastics... add o-lifting around 12-13... and continue working on the farm.

shit find me a kid like that, give him a year of sub. wrestling, boxing, a month or two of some muay thai. And by the time he's 19-20 you got a new champ :stuck_out_tongue:


Cool, but yea I did forget the Olympic lifters, I meant to put them on the list but...

And now I think that it is not "functional strength" <-- because strength is inherently functional, no? But that whatever we are talking about should be called "functional MASS"?


With all due respect to Gymasts, I have never seen one who had the functional strength of a wrestler of the same weight!

A good example of this would be former wrestler Matt Hughes who now fights in the UFC. He easily picks people up and slams them to the mat. He does not have bulging muscles yet is incredibly strong.

He also has the type of strength where he could shovel dirt/snow, move furniture or perform any other sort of functional strength movement. He's a former farm boy as well.

I would bet that there is no Gymnast anywhere near his weight (170lbs.) who could even come close to him in any sort of functional strength contest.

One of the reasons for their superior strength and conditioning is the fact that they train constantly testing their strength and skill vs another human being. I know the rings are challenging (and move around quite a bit) for Gymanasts, but do they push back and attempt to hurt you when you grab them? Is there constant force in the reverse direction? Wrestling with another human being is like grabbing a hold of a Barbell (of a similar weight) and having it fight back.

I think Wrestlers have without a doubt the most functional strength of any athlete.


With all due respect to wrestlers, I've never seen one do a maltese.

I tend to presume anyone capable of this can also shovel dirt, wipe his ass, and move a chair across the room when called upon to do so.

Wrestling is fundamentally about moving an object that really, REALLY doesn't want to move. With gymnastics, the rings want anything but to stay static; stabilizing them takes mental vigilance and the use of every muscle in the body.

The upshot is that gymnasts tend to build enormous static strength. Wrestlers may have an edge in concentric strength and endurance, however. Deadlifting in particular would be a wrestling strong suite, but I wouldn't bet against the gymnast on anything else.




You need to give much more credit to moving an object that does not want to move, and is in fact attempting to move you! The best wrestlers have mastered this.

If we can name the specific "functional strength" movements then we would have a better idea of which candidate would be superior.

Never underestimate a wrestler relative to his ability to continue on at a high rate of intensity, strength endurance. If you add the mental conditioning you have one very effective machine.

Again...this takes nothing away from Gymasts, as I would place them in the top five or so relative to functional strength.


Day laborers. Not only is their physical conditioning more generic, they are more conditioned to working in adverse environments.

I just hired a couple of day laborers last weekend to help me move five yards of dirt out of a hole in my deck where a tree had died.

Those little guys worked their asses off. They flat outworked me hands down.

These guys did this on fast food burgers and coca-cola; no protein drinks, no supplements, no electrolyte replacement drinks, nothing.

Sort of makes you rethink your whole training regimen.