What Is Functional Strength Training? Get More Out Of Weight Lifting

So I’ve mentioned in the past that a big part of my training is done without equipment.

But I like to think that all of my training is functional.

I also like to think of myself as being pretty strong.

Maybe not super strong in a traditional sense, but my strength is applicable to a lot of situations.

My strength is not limited to how much I can put on a bar and throw over my head.

 I’m strong in real situations, I recently gave rock climbing a go, and while a lot of the techniques were a bit confusing to figure out at first, my base of strength was never in question.
When I first started Jiu-Jitsu I learned very quickly not to rely on strength but I also found it was a great tool defensively, giving me a bit more time to try and figure out what the hell was going on (before the enevitable submission came). 

One more example, the coffee shop my wife and I own has a huge table in it. The top of the table must weigh close to 200kg!

Whenever we have a private function we have to move the table.

 Not an easy task, but so many times now I’ve seen big gym junkies struggle on the opposite end, looking surprised as they see me carry my end more comfortably then them.

Functional strength training is something that’s been thrown around a lot the last few years.

Crossfit is probably the biggest name in functional fitness. But what exactly is functional strength?

Functionality is ‘the quality of being able to serve a purpose practically’.

So, basically its strength you can use in your day to day life.

Being strong enough to push a car with an empty tank, to climb over a wall, to carry some heavy concrete blocks around to yard… You get the idea. 

What is the difference between functional and traditional strength training?

Traditional strength training is kind of a weird concept now, Strength training in general has come a long way, but the general concepts are still there. 

Lift heavy weights X amount of times, eat X amount of protein and gain X amount of muscle.

But the way we are able to do that changes all the time. There really is so many ways to get fit and strong now.

So what does traditional strength training mean?

Honestly, I don’t know.

Is it the old school barbell and dumbbell routine? Is it that, plus cable machines?

How far do we go back for it to be traditional.

Really, I don’t feel we need to overthink it too much, the main thing we’re going to focus on today is how functional strength training is different.

Traditional Strength Training 

So I guess for the point of this article let’s break down what traditional strength training can look like.

Remembering that the main focus in traditional strength training is to make a muscle group stronger.

Let’s look at a scenario for a Leg day, you start off warming up on the bike for 10 minute, You then do a few bodyweight squats and lunges to get your legs ready.

Next up you’ll do big compound lifts:Squats, Lunges or Deadlifts.

You then move on to some more isolated movements like Quad or hamstring extensions.

Maybe you’ll use the leg press doing both or even some single leg press.

And you’ll finish off with one a few calf raise variations. 

And boom!

Just like that, legs are tired and sore, but they’ll bounce back stronger.

That situation is fine, and a perfectly normal leg day.

So now let’s look at what a leg day could look like with more functional movements

Functional Strength Training 

Functional strength training is exactly that, Functional.

You’re training more muscle groups together, sometimes even full body movements.

You train with movements that are applicable to your day to day life. 

One of the main things I love about functional training is you work so many muscles at the same time.

And whats supposed to be a leg day ends up incorporating a lot of your upper body as well.

So, let’s mix it up a little and warm up by doing some jump rope.

We’ll then go through a few primal/animal flow movements to warm up and improve our mobility. 

Next set up a little circuit, because it’s more fun that way!

We do a few sled pushes, then go straight into some tire flips, and then finish off with a farmers carry.

We rest for 30 seconds then we repeat 3 or 4 more circuits.

After our 4th circuit we rest for a few minutes while packing away, and setting up our next circuit. 

The next circuit we set up a 30 second interval timer.

We then do 30 seconds of battle rope lunges followed by a 30 second rest.

We then do 30 seconds of box jumps followed by a 30 second rest. 

After 5 rounds on each movement we fall on the ground, a sweaty, heavy breathing mess.

Our legs are gone, our core is still braced and sore and our shoulders are burning. 

Can you build muscle with functional training? 

Ok, copy out that functional leg session I just gave you and do that every week for 6 weeks.

Eat plenty of lean protein and make sure you hit your calories.

Then tell me how your legs look and feel. 

The vast majority of my training the last few years has been functional so have a look at this before and after photo of me, and you tell me if you can build muscle with functional strength training.

I say it all the time, all fitness professionals do.

If you give your muscles resistance and you’re eating enough food and getting enough protein in, you will build muscle. 

Just like abs are made in the kitchen, so is lean muscle.

Sure you still should be doing some training.

But as long as you are pushing yourself in any sort of training and under eating, you won’t see the ‘gains’ you want. 

I made this mistake for years.

I still know people making this same mistake and no matter how many times you tell them they keep doing it.

Logging your food is still the easiest way to track what you are eating enough.

For more information on getting your food right check out my article on How To Eat What You Want On The Weekend And Still lose Weight

What are the benefits of functional training? 

There are plenty, without trying to knock traditional strength training, or coming across too pro-functional training.

I think this article has highlighted a lot of the benefits of this style of training.


One of the main reasons I got into it.

You can get full body sessions in a few times a week, and still have time to get into some other stuff as well.  

For me, getting into things like BJJ and rock climbing while still keeping up a full strength training routine, hitting all my muscles groups a few times a week has been dynamite. 


This one can go either way really, a lot of functional training gyms can be expensive.

But if you are creative you can do it for free with stuff around the house.

You can even train like that at most commercial gyms, go to my instagram and you’ll see plenty of clips of me training with stuff you can find at your gym.

But if money isn’t an issue then by all means, sign up to one of the functional training gyms (I know they’re not all expensive).

And get into the classes, sign up for some private sessions so you can get you form checked and follow a program just for you and your goals.

And while we’re talking cost, Click this link to get your FREE copy of my Ebook ‘Train Wherever The F*ck You Want’.

I’ll teach you everything you need to know about building muscle and burning fat with my favourite portable gym.

A pack of resistances bands. 


I don’t know about you, but as much as it’s important, I get so bored with the traditional ways of training.

It’s always been so hard to stick to a program, yeh they change it up every few weeks but they always bring me back to the same place. 

There’s just something about climbing ropes, and flipping tires, hitting things with big hammers, and lifting big lumps of stone.

I could go on and on. 

As much as I love the thrill of a big heavy deadlift, flipping a f*** off big tire over and then hitting it with a sledgehammer takes the cake for me.

There’s so many more elements than just, hold on and stand up. 

Don’t get me wrong though, there is nothing wrong with a deadlift.

I do them all the time, and a deadlift in itself is a functional movement.

I just wanted to use examples of some other ways to do similar things.