Building a Strong and Functional Body
Building a strong and functional body is a key step to greater health and vitality. Functional training helps us improve body composition and strength while enhancing the functionality of our bodies. The importance of strength is finally recognized, and more people are conscious of the benefits strength promotes.
This is a tour around our functional fitness world that constitutes anything from the best compound exercise, and warm-up protocols to the importance and benefits of functional strength.
- Building a Strong and Functional Body
- What is Functional Training
- Importance of Strength Training
- 4 Movement Patterns and Exercises
- Best Compound Exercises
- Strength vs Power vs Hypertrophy
- Benefits of Strength Training
The Sweet Spot for the Working Population
- compound exercises have greater benefits on strength, mobility, and metabolism
- strength training is essential for physical health; should make up at least 30% of total training
- 2-4 strength training is the practical sweet spot that gives the highest benefit in return
- sessions should optimally last for 30-60 minutes, not more
- 8-12 reps (medium-load) improve body composition, fat loss, and muscle growth; exert the highest metabolic effect
- 4-6 reps (heavy-load) increase strength and activation
What is Functional Training
Functional training effectively integrates multi-functional movements into your training routine, which can greatly increase your mobility in real-life movements or day-to-day activities.
The objective is to make use of your body with greater efficiency, allowing you to run farther, squat deeper, or stabilize your core when the bus stops.
Your ability to move through space with great agility and flexibility is the ultimate goal of functional training. You can achieve peak physical performance and perform movements like jumping, crawling, swimming, jogging, and squatting without any pain or tightness.
Compound movements are the core of functional fitness, which improves the body’s capacity for movement, twisting, lifting, and other activities. The improvement in postural alignment, general health, and athletic performance that results can be quite remarkable.
Importance of Strength Training
Resistance training or weightlifting is training focused on pushing against external load with the goal of increasing strength. It’s not just for muscle growth (1) but offers numerous other health benefits. (2)
It helps increase muscle mass and speed up metabolism, which further helps with weight loss, (3) putting our bodies at a healthier BMI level. It helps increase energy levels and testosterone, thus boosting libido and confidence. (4)
From a longevity standpoint, strength training can increase stability, balance, and bone density, all of great importance for preventing fractures and enhancing mobility, especially in old age. (5)
Lastly, resistance training trains our heart as well, improving cholesterol profile, heart output, and cardiometabolic factors, while enhancing blood flow in the process.
What is Functional Training?
Functional training is training that emphasizes multi-joint exercises that can translate into improved strength, stability, and control. The aim is to enhance movement efficiency to be better prepared for real-life movements. It teaches proper transfer of force, and the use of the full kinetic chain mostly.
What are compound exercises?
Compound exercises are multi-joint exercises like squats, deadlifts, or overhead presses made to stimulate higher muscle mass, enhance joint mobility, and increase activation (strength). The compounds are a must, as they build a solid foundation for any amateur, fitness enthusiast, or an athlete.
What are the benefits of strength training?
Strength training provides numerous benefits to the body. From increased bone density and improved stability which reduces fracture risk, to muscle strength, aesthetic physique, and tone appearance. It also improves heart health, cholesterol profile, and blood circulation. Combatting resistance increases hormones that improve mood, confidence, and self-image as well.
4 Movement Patterns and Exercises
Hinge – The hinge is done by bending your torso forward, decreasing the angle in the hips. Anytime you stand up, lift something off the ground or tie your shoes you are bending forward, that’s a hinge. Keeping a neutral spine here is crucial. The top hinge exercises incorporated in functional fitness are deadlifts, good mornings, kettlebell swings, and pull-throughs.
Squat – is one of the most primal movement patterns we do since we’re babies. The squat is very important for building a strong foundation, as it works the largest leg muscles in the body while activating the core. It’s done by lowering your hips down and pushing your knees in the direction of your toes. The best alternatives aside from the barbell squat include unilateral lunges, pistol squats, or hack squats.
Push – the pushing motion occurs when we try to push an object further away from our bodies. There’s the horizontal push which helps us close a door or push away from our desk and the vertical push, which helps us lift our kids or put an object on a higher shelf. Bench press, overhead press, push-ups, and flies are all great push exercises.
Pull – the pulling motion occurs when we retract our scapulae and pull an object closer to our bodies. Elbows go back while we squeeze the back. We do pulls all the time when trying to climb a rock, open a heavy door, or keep a straight posture. Anything that has rowing in, like band pull-apart, pull-ups, and single-arm rowing makes the pull category.
Functional Warm-Up for Weightlifting
It is important to prepare your body for the upcoming workout by increasing blood flow and oxygenation to your muscles. This helps to activate your nervous systems and improve your aerobic metabolism, leading to better performance and reduced risk of injury. (a) (b) (c)
A good functional warm-up consists of:
- light cardio – 5 minutes of low-intensity activity like skipping, jogging, or rowing to increase body temperature
- dynamic stretches – like leg swings or lunges to increase muscle elasticity
- strengthening – a few planks, bridges, or jumps for CNS and muscle activation
- quick mobility – a few cat-cows, deep squats, and twists for an increased range of motion
A proper dynamic warm-up increases metabolism in the muscle, getting all the energy sources ready to fuel the workout. It also improves characteristics like viscoelasticity, helping prevent injury and improve performance.
Best Compound Exercises
Compound exercises are multi-joint exercises that use a full range of motion. Besides being more efficient for training strength, as they activate larger muscle mass, functional exercises improve joint mobility and health. They improve postural alignment, as well as stability, balance, and coordination at the same time.
Squat – compound push exercise targeting the legs. It activates large musculature, and is great for training strength and improving hip mobility. Done by lowering the hips down while keeping a straight spine, knees go in the direction of our toes as we enter a deep squat.
Deadlift – the fundamental posterior chain exercise, the no.1 for gaining strength. It activates the largest full-body musculature such as the full back and rear portion of the legs, mimicking a pull movement for the legs. Helps us straighten our back, prevents knee injuries, and improves erector strength.
Overhead Press – the vertical push exercise is done by extending the arms overhead. Mainly targets the mid-deltoid muscle and triceps, while challenging postural stability. It’s the go-to exercise for a push day, great for both hypertrophy and strength.
Bench Press – the horizontal push exercise that mainly targets the chest and triceps muscles. It can be done on a flat bench, or an incline or decline to target different parts of the chest. It translates into any real-life movements that involve pushing an object further away from our bodies.
Pull-up – maybe a bit too advanced for some, but lighter variations like assisted pull-ups or pull-downs on a machine can be used. The pull-up, besides hitting the full-back musculature, it increases core activation when done properly. This assists in proper posture and stability.
Rowing – seated or standing, bi or uni-lateral, the rower exercise is an absolute must for our sedentary lifestyles. Amazing back exercise targeting all key muscles for straight back and correct posture. Such include back erectors, scapulae retractors, and even mid traps. Absolutely essential for preventing back pain, forward head, or slouched shoulders.
Most Effective Strength Training Routine
Strength and conditioning is quite a complex subject to explain in one article, that’s why you should read multiple. But to outline the most practical stuff for the working population (not athletes) here’s what we think:
- strength training is one of the 3 types of training; besides cardio and mobility
- strength training is vital for overall health, longevity, and performance
- the highest return on investment for strength is 2-4 sessions weekly
- strength training sessions should take between 30-60 min, not more
- compound movements are way more functional and important than isolation
- 8-12 reps (hypertrophy) or 4-6 reps (strength) should be prioritized
Seeking the most practical, and greatest way to incorporate strength training, here’s what our experience tells how a weekly routine should look:
- 2 workouts per week – combine posterior chain and pull on 1st training (deadlifts, rowing, hip bridge, hip thrust, pulldowns) and push motions on 2nd training (squats, overhead press, push-ups, lunges)
- 3 workouts per week – combine legs 1st training (squats, lunges, deadlifts), then push 2nd (overhead press, bench, push-ups) then pull 3rd (pull-downs, rowing, pull-ups) and hit the core once in a while (planks, dead bug)
Based on 4 years of experience training clients, this is what the practical sweet spot looks like. Theory can go a long further, but practicality is of the essence here. Not everyone is an elite athlete, but everyone has the right to be fit, healthy, and strong.
What is the best warm-up before a workout?
The best warm-up must include 4 key elements. First is the aerobic part to increase sweating rate and temperature. Then dynamic stretches and mobility come, to achieve a full range of motion in the joints and loosen tight tissues. Finally, an activation which includes strength or plyometric exercises to prepare the CNS for a workout.
What are the best compound exercises?
The best compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, bench presses, pull-ups or pull-downs, and horizontal rows.
What is the difference between strength and hypertrophy?
Hypertrophy focuses on muscle growth, strength focuses on increasing the maximal load we can lift. The first one requires anatomical adaptation and is muscle-centric, the latter requires nervous system adaptation, to activate larger motor units.
Strength vs Power vs Hypertrophy
- Hypertrophy: The main objective is to increase muscle mass, as hypertrophy entails muscle growth. Compound and isolated exercises are both used in hypertrophy training. Aim for greater frequency and volume at 65-85% of RM for the best possible growth. 8-12 reps, 3-5 sets, and 5-10 exercises comprise the rep range. As the main objective is to break down the muscle, maintain a shorter rest interval of 60-90 sec.
- Strength is the capacity to move heavier loads from point A to point B, which develops due to neural adaptations. Strength training is focused on lifting heavier loads, so it requires less volume and frequency. The number of reps, sets, and exercises is 3-5. The load is heavier, usually, at above 85% RM while the rest intervals between sets are kept at 3-5 minutes. Their primary goal is to perform compound exercises to stimulate big muscle groups and powerful motor units.
- Power training is a more advanced form of exercise with the primary goal of generating maximum force in the shortest amount of time. Speed is therefore the key to power, and as a result, the training method makes use of lighter (0-35% RM) or heavier (40-80% RM), but still submaximal loads, that may be pushed at higher velocities. The primary benefits come from neural adaptation, and for this type of training, explosive lifts, prolonged recovery, and low volume are typical.
Benefits of Strength Training
Physical and mental health can benefit greatly from resistance training in a variety of ways. Here are 7 critical advantages of resistance training that can greatly enhance your general well-being:
- Cardiovascular Health: By enhancing heart function, lowering blood pressure, (6) and raising HDL cholesterol levels, resistance training can greatly enhance your cardiovascular health. It can lower inflammation, (7) reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions.
- Improves Body Composition: Resistance training helps to enhance lean muscle mass (8) and decrease body fat, improving body composition and giving the body a more toned appearance. This change may result in better self-confidence, a positive body image, and a greater feeling of well-being.
- Increase Strength and Performance: Resistance training is a powerful approach to improve strength and performance in both athletic and daily activities. (9) (10) By strengthening the muscles, you can perform tasks with greater ease and efficiency, improving your quality of life and overall health.
- Increases Confidence: People frequently experience a boost in self-confidence and self-esteem when they develop strength and notice gains in their physical ability. (11) Increased success and happiness can result from this confidence increase in various spheres of life.
- Boosts Energy and Libido: Training causes fatigue at first, but the adaptation results in increased energy production. (12) Mitochondria function better, and more oxygen is transferred, so we create more energy. Libido is increased due to the natural elevation of testosterone level, hiking up with self-confidence. (13) (14)
- Greater Bone Density: Resistance exercise can contribute to greater bone density, (15) (16) which lowers the risk of osteoporosis and other bone-related diseases. Due to their higher risk of bone loss and fractures, older people and women should pay close attention to this advantage.
- Injury and Pain Prevention: By enhancing joint stability and muscle strength, resistance training can assist to ward off injuries and minimize discomfort. (17) (18) This benefit is particularly significant for athletes, people who perform physical labor, and people with chronic health conditions.
- Functional Training tailors working out to improve real-life movement. It makes our bodies more functional gaining multiple abilities like balance, strength, control, endurance, and mobility, all at once.
- The main compound exercises are squat, deadlifts, lunges, overhead presses, bench presses, pull-ups, pull-downs, horizontal rows, dead bug, anti-rotation – and all their alternatives.
- The benefits of strength training are increased bone density and muscle strength, injury and pain prevention, increase in libido and energy, boost in confidence, mood, and self-concept, improved cardiovascular health, etc.
- For the average population, the highest benefit, or return on investment occurs at 2-4 strength workouts weekly, mainly done using the hypertrophy (8-12 reps) or strength (4-6 reps) method.
- Training modalities are made to stimulate certain adaptations, Hypertrophy is focused on muscle growth; Strength is the ability to lift maximal load; Power is the ability to transfer maximal force the fastest.
- Strength training is a great way to lengthen our lifespan. It improves vitality, increases energy levels, improves regeneration capacity, and extends our mobility further as we age.