Functional Fitness and Bodybuilding – Two Different Things?

In Bodybuilding by Matt Smith

Every style of training, from Bodybuilding to Olympic Weightlifting, to Crossfit, all have their own agenda. Exponents of each sport will enjoy telling you why theirs is best and sometimes they can all be right! Each sport/training style has it’s merits and each one usually excels in an area where the others can be lacking.

The question is always, ‘What is your goal?’

Many training styles, and particularly the ones I’ve mentioned, have their goals rooted in competition, which also means the training style will always be tailored to maximise scoring potential. That’s often where they become unstuck or unhealthy or unsafe.

Bodybuilding is probably the vaguest of these pursuits and Olympic Weightlifting probably the most specific, when it comes to goals.

Bodybuilding is quite subjective, being a purely asthetic (basically judged modelling) sport and has evolved over the years, with massive mystery, a huge reliance on drugs at a professional level and no clear path to success. StandingCurl03Strength comparisons between competitors mean nothing and to become competition ready you must become quite unhealthy and dehydrated.

Despite these things, I still consider it can be (in ‘natural’ circles) one of the most rewardingly healthy sports.

Whereas Olympic Weightlifting has very specific, structured goals within strict technique and form guidelines and anything outside of the competition lifts do not matter. For example, if you can get the weight above your head correctly, it doesn’t matter whether you’re skinny or fat or healthy, so long as you make weight for the class and you have what it takes to achieve the lifts within the rules. But it’s strict discipline and adherence to technique make it a distinctly skilled and rewarding sport that relies upon perfect technique as much as it does upon strength.

Of my three examples, Crossfit is probably the most balanced, for strength and certainly fitness focuss, but of course, as soon as you mention competition, it turns into a dangerous combination of how many reps of heavy weight (of strictly technique based exercises) can you perform in a limited timeframe. Form goes out the window and people get injured. Despite this, Crossfit’s focus on functional fitness and varied exercises make it a far more practical style of training for life skills and quality of life.

So each training style has it’s pros and cons and so far I’ve been intentionally negative toward each.

So here’s the thing, each style of training can benefit immensely from elements of the others in many ways, but I’ll make my example with Bodybuilding since this is what I understand the best.

Bodybuilding training usually focusses way too much on isolation exercises, when it’s competitive goals revolve around proportions and symmetry.

This is because there is no real path to follow when it comes to Bodybuilding training.  Everyone does their own thing and few people really understand how their body works and responds to stimulous well enough to become competitive, outside of early onset chemical intervention.  It is also sadly for this reason that the biggest guy in the room cannot really be relied upon for the best information.

Bodybuilders need to spend much more time on large, compound, functional exercises, which involve as many muscle groups as possible to achieve the best natural proportions for the body. The body and it’s muscle groups were designed to perfom (and GROW) in functional and symbiotic ways and nothing but imbalance will come from isolation exercises, until most of your mass gains have already been achieved and all that’s left is to iron out the imperfections. Until you’re already huge and you’re going competitive, isolation exercises are simply a waste of time and energy (of which you have a limited supply) that could be far better spent on something worthwhile, like… posting a pic of your lunch on facebook, balancing a protein shaker on your nose or pretty much anything.

bodybuilder training with dumbbellsBodybuilders should also focus on strength building, strict-form exercises for increased strength and therefore symmetry balance. Nothing balances out left and right better than strict technique free weight exercises.

And lastly Bodybuilders should focus on fitness elements as well as size, for cutting body fat and sculpting nice shape and again promoting functional balance within the body.

All of these elements usually feature more highly in the other training styles.

Similarly, Weightlifters rely on building muscle density but could benefit from some balanced size and strength gains, while Crossfitters could benefit from some strict form and so on. I have made it really simple by using only 3 types of training here to make my point, but the list is obviously much bigger than this.

I love competition, but the reality is that it’s competition in these fields which pushes us to their various extremes and takes away from our balance, so my final point is this; decide whether your aim is to compete in these sports, or not.

If it is, then I still think you could greatly benefit from some cross training in other training styles.

If you’re not interested in competing, then you really owe it to yourself to take what you need from each discipline to balance out your personal health, fitness, strength and size goals. If training is about improved quality of life, by improving your health, fitness and strength, then balance is your friend. Life experiences don’t usually require a 200kg squat, or a 28inch bicep or a timed strength based obstacle run.

“…you really owe it to yourself to take what you need from each discipline to balance out your personal health, fitness, strength and size goals”

It pays to specialise, that’s definitely true in life. But we all benefit from health and fitness, so fitness training of some kind should be a given for everyone.  And if your speciality in life is something outside of the sporting arena, as most people’s are, then your fitness training should include an overarching perspective of balance.

Stay Hungry Guys,

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About the Author

Matt Smith


Matt completed his Management qualifications at the Aust Institute of Fitness in 2014, when he left his trade and opened BodySmith Fitness with wife, Rachel Smith. Matt was awarded his Black Belt and Diploma from the Japan Karate Association and completed his Coaching Accreditation from the Aust Sports Commission in 2012 and now teaches Shotokan Karate from the BodySmith Dojo. Matt has also spent the last 25 years in and out of the gym and has developed a strong understanding of muscle growth, which is what he enjoys helping people with in the BodySmith Gym.