How Bodybuilding and Functional Fitness Differ
The goal of Functional Fitness is to increase the amount of work someone can do in a given amount of time, or how fast they can finish a given amount of work. The prescription is functional movements that exert the most power in a shorter amount of time. An example of this could be completing as many rounds as possible in 10 minutes of 10 Burpees, 10 Box Jump, and 10 Dumbbell Lunges. The goal is to get as much work (rounds and reps) done as you can in 10 minutes. Another example could be complete the following as fast as possible; 40 Burpees, 40 Box Jumps, and 40 Dumbbell Lunges. Now the goal is get the work done as fast as you can. This type of exercise program teaches the body to exert power with functional movements (movements that transfer to other aspects of life outside the gym i.e. moving furniture, picking things up, running, jumping, climbing, etc).
Where bodybuilding differs is the idea of training one or two joints at a time with the intent to grow and strengthen a specific muscle. And I’m assuming you can think of what this looks like. This is picking out one muscle or two muscle groups and training that for the day, most commonly known as the “bro split”: chest and triceps day, back and bicep day, shoulders and traps day, and leg day. Sprinkle in some core workouts and some cardio and you’ve got a full training week of bodybuilding. The intent is to maximize muscle growth for bigger muscle fibers and more contractile potential.
How They Can Work Together
As you can see the intentions of each program seem contradictory. But what most functional fitness gyms and coaches are seeing is the benefits of mixing the two in a way that uses bodybuilding as a tool to benefit the athlete. In the functional fitness world this is mostly known as accessory work. For the most part, the exercises selected for accessory work are bodybuilding movements that help the athlete get more strength work at a single joint/muscle group. This can be task specific (front squats for a stronger olympic weightlifter), or athlete specific, (dumbbell lateral raises, and barbell shrugs for an athlete who needs more muscle mass around the shoulder blades). In either case, bodybuilding can help improve the athlete.
Reasons Why Bodybuilding Can Help the Functional Fitness Athlete
Working on the Weak Spots
Every athlete is different. We have our strengths and weakness. Bodybuilding is used to build up the weak points in the body. Similar to the example above, adding muscle mass to an area that feels weak compared to other areas. This could be adding muscle mass to the glutes for someone with weak hips, or adding mass to back to build better stability in the deadlifts and squats. When programmed correctly, bodybuilding can set the athlete up for more success by adding muscle size and contractile potential to areas where the athlete is weak. When these weaknesses are addressed, the athlete is better prepared to train the functional movements.
Structural Hypertrophy (“Body Armor”)
Building muscle in places where you need the body to be stable. Developing this “body armor” acts as a protective structure around your joints. Through hypertrophy (muscle growth) training we increase, bone density, connective tissue health, and better motor control. Focusing on the muscles that surround the elbow joint can strengthen and help stabilize that joint. The same can be said for any area you feel you could use some more “body armor”.
Safety and Movement Efficiency
With the increased motor unit recruitment and motor control the athlete can move with better efficiency. This is commonly seen when someone is too quad dominant and is unable to engage the glute muscles in the bottom of a squat. Their weight shifts forward towards the bottom of the squat which can lead to increase stress on the patella tendon. You can see how that can lead to some aching pain and maybe injury down the road. However, when the athlete spends time doing some bodybuilding exercises that isolate the glutes it improves their ability to recruit those motor units during a squat. The same can be said for so many other complex lifts that benefit from bodybuilding exercises.
Look good and feel good. People like feeling better about their body. Bodybuilding exercises can be focused on muscles you want to look better. Use your fitness workouts to become a healthier fitter person and use some bodybuilding exercises to build some muscles you personally would like to see grow. For the majority of us, the reason we started lifting weights was to look good and feel good.
When and How to Implement
Assuming you doing a functional fitness group class, I would recommend doing this after the workout. Rest for as long as you need then pick one or two exercises that will strengthen and grow the muscle you want to train. For hypertrophy it’s usually advised to stay in the 8-15 rep range for 3-6 sets depending on the rep range chosen. Although some research is beginning to show that hypertrophy can occur from a wider spectrum of intensity and rep ranges, I feel the 8-15 rep range can be added to a proper strength and fitness program for good results. The movement should be smooth and controlled with a focus of contracting the desired muscle group.
Please don’t take this as “more training is better” and “I need to start bodybuilding for an extra 30-60 minutes after my group class workout”. This should only take 10-15 minutes. The goal is not to destroy your body with all this extra bodybuilding work. The intent is to give the muscle the minimum effective dose to adapt and grow.
If your curious about the specific exercise selection for your body and your goals let me know in the comments or shoot me an email.