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The Difference Between Strength Training & Functional Strength Training

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

If you’re new to working out, navigating the various types of exercises and the different terms used to describe them, such as weight training and resistance training, can be overwhelming. When you hear the term “strength training,” you might imagine a bodybuilder lifting heavy weights at the gym. This is often associated with traditional strength training. Alternatively, you may think of functional strength training, which focuses on using body weight or small equipment to improve your ability to perform everyday movements like deadlifting or squatting.

These different types of training can be confusing to distinguish between, but all of them have the common goal of building muscle and power throughout the body. Both serve their respective purpose and for the most part, both should be a part of your weekly workout routine. However, according to your goals, you may prefer to utilize one more than the other.

In this article, we will dive deeper and discuss the two types of strength training- traditional and functional. So, which type is best for you?

Disclaimer: It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before starting any exercise or workout program to ensure you are healthy enough to do so and to work around any health issues or disabilities you may have.

What is Traditional Strength Training?

Traditional strength training aims to build strength while having no such effect on other systems. It typically works by focusing on one muscle group at a time to exhaustion using machines or heavy weights at the gym.

Strength training encompasses the characteristics of conventional gym-based training exercises such as triceps extension, bench press, lat pull-down, squats, and pull-ups. It basically uses resistance training principles and is also used for bulking up your muscles. It isolates a specific group of muscles and involves lifting weights to gain muscle strength. The method used in traditional strength training is very similar to various other types of workouts.

A lot of traditional strength training requires exercises commonly used with gym machines or equipment such as dip machines, barbells, dumbbells, leg press machines, and similar pieces of equipment. While you can engage in strength training in the gym, you can also set yourself up with a home gym to accomplish the same thing if you have the space and are willing to put out the money to build a home gym.

What is Functional Strength Training?

Functional strength training is designed to enhance your body’s ability to perform daily activities like carrying groceries, picking up heavy objects, moving things overhead, or climbing stairs. While all types of strength training improve your overall health, functional strength training involves more dynamic, full-body movements compared to traditional strength training exercises such as using the leg press machine.

By incorporating many muscles in one exercise, functional training improves endurance, core stability, and balance while increasing overall strength.

In contrast to traditional strength training, functional strength training equipment is more diverse, allowing you to use dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, sandbags, medicine balls, body weight, or a combination of these items in a single workout. Basic exercises like side lunges, planks, and push-ups all target multiple muscle groups to develop full-body power.

Combining these foundational movements can create more complex exercises such as burpees, renegade rows, or lunges with a rotation to further enhance your workout and results.

Shared Health Benefits of Both Traditional and Functional Strength Training

Both traditional strength training and functional strength training have numerous health benefits that make them valuable components of any fitness routine. In addition to building strength and endurance, they can improve bone density, boost mood, and help with weight loss.

Whether you prefer bodyweight exercises or lifting weights through the use of dumbbells, barbells, or similar, these two types of training can improve your overall health and well-being.

Below are some of the shared health benefits of the two types of strength training:

  • Strengthen Bones: Both forms of strength training can improve bone density and keep bones strong and healthy.
  • Strengthen Muscles: Weighted resistance training helps increase muscle size (hypertrophy) and muscle strength in both types of strength training.
  • Boost Mood: Exercise of any kind can boost your mood by releasing endorphins, which can soothe the mind and improve mental health.
  • Clear Mental Cobwebs: Regular exercise has been linked to improved neuroplasticity, which is how your brain and nervous system adapt to new experiences. It also helps clear away brain fog.
  • Burn Calories and Fat: Both types of strength training can help burn calories and fat. Strength training, in particular, can cause an afterburn effect, where your body continues to burn calories even after your workout has finished. Building more lean muscle mass can also increase your resting metabolic rate, which means your body will burn more calories throughout the day, even while at rest.

Which One is More Effective?

Determining which type of training is more effective, traditional strength training or functional strength training can depend on various factors, including personal goals, fitness level, and overall health.

Functional training focuses on improving movement patterns and enhancing your overall functional ability to complete life tasks, while strength training aims to increase muscle strength and overall size.

Therefore, if you’re looking to simply improve your performance as you age, functional training may be more effective for improving your functional performance, balance, and mobility, while strength training may be more effective for building muscle size, maintaining lean muscle mass as you age, and being able to increase and maintain strength levels.

However, it’s important to note that both types of training can complement each other and can be used together in a well-rounded fitness routine. Functional training can help prepare your body for the demands of everyday life, while strength training can help build a foundation of strength and power. Ultimately, the most effective training program is one that is personalized to your specific needs and goals.

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