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By Author: Adelyn Gross
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How To Differentiate Between Traditional and Functional Strength Training?

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It is always a good idea to start your training session at the gym with some light cardio, but what’s next? You might want to work out with weights to build some strength. Strength training is a perfect workout even for beginners. It helps you improve your cardiovascular health, reduce abdominal fat, and improve your mobility and flexibility. Besides, it also boosts your mood and energy levels. But should you opt for traditional strength training or functional strength training? If you’re a beginner, distinguishing between the two might not be very clear to you. Your choice, however, should depend on what you want to achieve with your workout.

Let’s try to understand the two types of strength training workouts and how you can differentiate between them.

What Generally Comes To Mind When You Think About Strength Training?

Generally, when you think about strength training, you visualize the following:

Bodybuilding ...
... and Weightlifting: Such training focuses on exclusively working specific muscles to build your body into something huge. You’ll be working particular muscles to exhaustion, but you won’t necessarily be using them all in everyday life.

Circuit and Machine Training: Big gyms have many machines designed to work individual muscles in isolation and can help you with bodybuilding or physical therapy. However, other than bodybuilding, they may not be of much help to you.

Powerlifting: Powerlifting involves various barbell exercises for specialized weight-lifters who are powerful athletes. However, powerlifting may not help you much with your everyday activities or general sports performance. Besides, it’s not the best pick for beginners or intermediate exercisers who are primarily looking to improve their general fitness.

Traditional Strength Training Vs. Functional Strength Training

If you also perceive strength training as one of the above, and it doesn’t sound achievable, you are not alone. These are examples of traditional strength training, and luckily, these are not the only options you have to build strength. Alternately, you can opt for functional strength training. Here’s a complete comparison of the two types.

What is Traditional Strength Training?

Traditional strength training is about building muscle bulk or strength with standard resistance training or weight lifting methods. It involves using free weights, weight machines, and exercise bands for isolating muscles and working them one by one.

This type of strength training uses heavy weights and machines to work isolated muscles to exhaustion. Typically, a traditional strength training session might comprise three to five sets of an exercise with 8-12 reps per set. Targeting a single muscle at a time, these workouts usually involve simple movements such as curls, rows, or presses. The muscles are challenged with heavy weights to build strength.

What is Functional Strength Training?

Unlike traditional strength training, functional strength training focuses on workouts involving movements you perform in your everyday life. It improves the ability of your body to perform routine functions, from carrying grocery bags into the kitchen to walking upstairs.

While strength training is technically functional in all its forms because it improves your bodily strength and ability to do everyday tasks, functional training is about full-body movements that are more dynamic than traditional strength training. It works multiple muscles in just one exercise, encouraging core stability, endurance, and balance while making you stronger at the same time.

Functional strength training also involves more extensive equipment as you can use kettlebells, dumbbells, sandbags, bands, bodyweight, medicine balls, or combine any of them for your functional workout. You can try side lunges, push-ups, and planks for a simple workout session as they all incorporate several muscle groups and build total-body strength. Add weights or opt for more complex exercises such as renegade rows, burpees, or lunges with a rotation to make your workout more challenging.

The Common Benefits of Functional Strength Training

Indulging in functional strength training allows you to enjoy the following benefits:

Builds muscle and strength

Strengthens bones

Burns calories and increases metabolic rate to efficiently burn fat throughout the day

Elevates mood and improves mental health

It improves your cardiovascular health and builds endurance

How Do The Two Differ?

With both the strength training types, you’ll be able to build muscle and strength and boost your mood and fat-burning potential simultaneously. Practically, however, they have certain differences that set them apart.

In traditional training, you work with short sets of precise, targeted movements. On the contrary, functional training involves several muscle groups in a single exercise, and you can do it in sets, circuits, or HIIT.

Traditional training is usually a good choice for beginners because you are less prone to injuries since there is no need to stabilize several joints simultaneously. On the other hand, functional training is more accessible for everyone as it doesn’t require any equipment at all or can be done with simple tools like resistance bands and kettlebells. It doesn’t isolate a particular muscle group to work on and instead improves one’s ability to perform various dynamic movements that help with everyday activities.

How Can You Tell If A Workout is Traditional or Functional Strength Training?

As a rule of thumb, if a workout involves simple yet challenging movements with the help of seated machines, cable pulleys, benches, or heavyweights, it is likely traditional strength training. If it is something more complicated, it is probably functional strength training.

It is also recommended to observe your heart rate when performing a workout. If it gets higher, somewhere around 70-80 percent of your max, you are probably doing a functional strength workout that burns more calories with an elevated heart rate. However, if your heart rate stays in a lower range and you can comfortably have a conversation during your workout, it’s more likely traditional strength training.

Both functional and traditional strength training helps you build muscle and full-body strength. Besides, they allow you to boost your mood, increase the metabolism and fat-burning potential of the body, and improve bone health. Functional training, however, involves workouts that train the muscles to work in collaboration. It incorporates common movements that you use in your everyday life while performing routine activities. Functional training is generally a bit more challenging and aims at developing functional strength. On the contrary, traditional strength training focuses on working out specific muscle groups in isolation to build strength.

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