“Strength is the product of struggle.” This is a favored quote among power lifters, but it also stands firm with functional fitness gurus in the same. Power lifters usually train for one specific lift, meaning they will set up their training routine around moving weight in one direction, usually up. Functional gurus, however, train to move themselves and weight in any direction with balance and speed. These training styles follow many of the same philosophies such as consistency, hard work, and will power; there are a few major differences. While pure power training is excellent for raw power, functional training is far more important for overall movement and quality of life.
Power training has always had a firm footing in every gym all around the world. In the late 1800s, Eugene Sandow started everything by moving heavy rocks around creek banks, and to this day, most gym-goers are only concerned about how much weight they can lift. Functional training actually began in rehabilitation clinics. Physical therapists designed some of the basic movements to help their patients with joint stability and muscular balance. This method was instantly picked up by athletic trainers and sports trainers to improve movement and minimize injuries in professional athletes.
Power athletes also lack two very important skills: mobility and flexibility. These are requirements for everyday life because human beings need to move and bend efficiently for smooth movement and injury prevention. Most competitions for power lifting require participants to complete one specific movement they have trained for, such as squat or bench press. Functional training exercises focus to provide full range of motion and body movement. By training for functional competitions, such as Martial Arts or obstacle course races and mud runs, improvement of everyday life is simply a side effect because every contestant moves through all ranges of motion efficiently to save energy for the next task.
There are practical uses of power training as well. Even though someone may be training for one exercise, the rest of the body will have to grow and strengthen somewhat to maintain a balance. This means that the body will get stronger as a whole but will only have full force in one track of movement. This can become a problem if the lifter gets off balance during a different motion; the rest of their body may not be strong enough to keep them from falling. Functional training, on the other hand, is to have strength in the full range of motion and control of balance during the process. In turn, this method makes the body much more efficient in everyday movement and even emergency situations where someone would have to be strong, balanced, and fast on their feet.
Power training and functional training seem to be so close yet so far away when broken down into movements and goals. Though they may share some of the physical and mental benefits of being physically fit, they are very different in their results and ways they are applied in life and competition. No matter which path is chosen, growing stronger makes everything easier.
ACSM Certified Fitness Professional