If you go to the gym, and you don’t focus on balance and stability, you are not building true functional strength. By correcting imbalances, and building stability, you will prevent injury and improve your fitness to the next level.
What is Functional Strength?
Functional strength means having balance, core stability, and proper movement. By performing a proper squat, deadlift, and plank, you pass an important test in your fitness journey.
Walk into any popular gym, and you will see the majority of people focusing on building biceps, triceps, and abdominals, thinking big arms and a six-pack means strength.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, and I too at 16 years old, fell into the biceps and abdominals trap.
I started looking strong and receiving compliments from friends and acquaintances, however I was structurally weak.
Although my arms were growing, I was definitely not strong. In fact, I was imbalanced and unstable, the opposite of functional strength.
Functional Strength Prevents Sports Injuries
Internal muscles of the abdominals, hips, and core, are essential in the prevention of injury.
If you study the top athletes, they may appear lean, but their internal core strength is more important than the size of their biceps and triceps.
The Internal Obliques, Transverse Abdominis (TVA) and Glute Medius are integral to preventing injury and performing well in athletics, however these muscles are invisible to the untrained eye.
By neglecting functional strength, internal stability, and balance, the invisible yet important muscles were weak, and I eventually began to suffer chronic shoulder injuries when competing.
Poor training techniques led to shoulder imbalance, and I could have prevented this had I known about functional strength training.
Despite building biceps, triceps, and chest muscles, I was structurally weak, and I lacked a true strong physical base.
The Necessity of Functional Strength VS Big Muscles
Bodybuilding exercises, although great if you want to build muscle, don’t build functional strength.
The reason is because they don’t promote our body to work in unison, a key element of compound movements. Properly performing the squat, requires my hips, thighs, core, and lower back to work together.
Bodybuilders and untrained coaches teach isolated movements, and unfortunately, these movements don’t build true functional strength and stability.
Study functional fitness, balance training, and analyze elite athletes. It will become clear that building a strong and balanced physique is more about internal stability, than it is about big muscles.
Here are The 3 Essential Keys to Functional Strength
If you have ever visited a physical therapist or a knowledgeable personal trainer, they will begin their analysis with a thorough physical evaluation.
The professional will then employ these three keys, in the following order.
Step #1: Correcting Imbalances
Correcting imbalances means measuring the right and left sides of your body and assessing whether the strength is similar. If my right chest muscles are stronger, I will favor my right side, and potentially twist my spine.
After you measure imbalances in strength, correcting imbalances means performing more repetitions on the weaker side until the balances are corrected.
If you are going to perform three sets with both arms, focus 3 sets on the weaker side and just one set on the stronger side.
The next important imbalance to address is imbalances in mobility. If my right ankle is more flexible than my left ankle, I may shift during my squat, and put pressure on my hips.
Correcting this imbalance means stretching the less flexible area until it reaches the flexibility of the more flexible area.
This may mean 3 times as much stretching on the tighter side.
Step #2: Establishing Stability
Your shoulders, glutes, obliques, and deep stabilizing core muscles must all work together to provide a brace of stability, such that you won’t get injured when playing sports or lifting heavy weights.
If you lack upper back stability your shoulder can may come forward, and this results in tightness, inflammation, and/or injury.
If our glute muscles don’t provide enough stability, we may rely too much on our hamstrings or quadriceps, and this can result in knee pain/or injury.
And finally, when our core is not stable, we are more likely to suffer back pain.
Core stability is actually the #1 cause of knee pain, and it is for this reason that I have dedicated an entire course here to address this issue.
Step #3: Building Functional Strength to Prevent Injury
Once we have corrected imbalances and established stability, we can incorporate a program that builds strength and muscle.
This program should have us performing compound movements such as squats and deadlifts, as well as incorporate more advanced core exercises to continue to maintain the core stability that we have previously established.
To address imbalances while building functional strength, incorporate single leg and single arm exercises. Good examples include the single leg Romanian deadlift (RDL), and the single arm row.
To Conclude, Before You Build Functional Strength, Correct Imbalances, and Enhance Stability
If you aren’t seeing the results you want to see, focus on whether you have any imbances in mobility, or any right left, front rear imbalances.
Then focus on the core of your body. Work on stability in a progressive fashion, first with simple planks, then you can add a ball to rest on.
Once you build a stability and mobility throughout your body, then you are ready for the next step.
If you want a step-by-step program that is going to give you the foundation for strength and muscle, I suggest you check out my FREE fitness Jumpstart course. It will give you the exact tools you need for functional strength.