Reader question time…
Do you think bodybuilding is functional training?
The other day a good friend of mine responded to my chat when I said…
“Are body weight workouts lame? All of my old school bodybuilding friends are telling me to ‘ put away the toys’ when I bring up TRX.”
In a sense, I was half joking. I’m a full believer in body weight workouts. Of course it depends on your end game but they are not lame nor a waste of time. How is working up personal strength to handle your body more efficiently a waste of time? It’s not. In fact, I’ve been doing two days of heavy weight training and two days of TRX (which I consider to be light weight training days).
But his answer shocked me!
“Depends on your goals. I’m a big proponent of functional training workouts so I’d say skip most weight workouts.”
To which I responded… what is functional?
Bodybuilding is for Looks
He followed up with…“Stuff your body normally does. Not goofy unbalancing exercises that develop stuff for looks only. Bodybuilding is for looks. Functional exercises like plyometrics, running, push ups, pull ups. Basically anything that strengthens your body in areas it uses everyday in its natural body mechanics.”
By this time my head was spinning up with all kinds of defensive statements but before I could get a word out.. he finished me off with a Mortal Combat like…
“I’m talking about stuff that increase your overall level of fitness and likely lead to a longer, healthier life span. Not plagued with problems as you grow old. Bodybuilders vs. Runners. Who is likely to be healthier longer? The most important muscle is your heart.”
With sweat dripping down my brow onto my phone, I ended the chat. I realized my friend (who will still be my friend) is not alone in his thinking. Most people believe that by building up muscle for “looks” is not functional.
Let me share my own opinion:
Bodybuilding is functional training.
I remember the day I walked into the San Francisco TRX headquarters and being the only “old school” bodybuilder in the room. All the other people were fitness bootcamp trainers and yoga instructors. I had more mass in my legs then some of them weighted in total!
The perception was that somehow doing a body weight vector resistance style push-up was going to blow me away as a traditional bodybuilder who used heavy dumbbells but on a weight bench. As if my “core” wasn’t up to the task. (The core being the most overused word of functional training today). Or that my heart wasn’t strong enough to do a cardiovascular workout.
Anybody in that room try 20 Rep Squats? Didn’t think so.
But here’s the thing. Doing weighted exercises properly focuses on the muscle itself and relies less on secondary groups. So it’s true that a weighted dumbbell bench press will involve your core less than a TRX push-up. However, what they didn’t realize is that by being a good old school bodybuilder, I do plenty of:
- weighted pull-ups
My core was well beyond the ability to handle my body weight. At first the balance was an issue. But that’s to be expected with anything you need to adjust to right? My cardio capacity was good (not excellent as that requires specific training).
Soon enough, I’m doing some of the most advanced exercises for repetitions as a beginner. Frankly, doing a handstand push-up is far easier for me and more comfortable than a standing military barbell press.
I have more than enough strength to handle my own body weight and being an advanced bodybuilder, I know where my body is in relation to the space around it.
I’m going on the record as saying bodybuilding done correctly is functional training. It prepares me everyday for the tasks I will be doing.
- Climbing stairs
- Getting out of a chair
- Picking up a laundry basket and carrying it up 3 flights
- Emptying the dishwasher
- Putting a grocery bag on the counter
Please tell me how swinging that kettlebell or doing that TRX Clock Press somehow makes you better able to handle picking up a grocery bag unlike my goofy, unbalancing, dumbbell curls?
A strong, fully developed bicep will allow you pick up that grocery bag. A strong core will let you twist with the weight of the bag and place it on the counter. And being flexible helps.
Does this conversation ring a bell? Have you had a similar experience? Do you find bodybuilding to be functional when done correctly? Do you hate the word functional when applied to any training program as if to say… whatever that person is doing won’t prepare them for the perils of daily life?
I’ve love to know what you think.
Marc David – CPT
“The NoBull Muscle Guy”
Author of NoBull Bodybuilding