I’m glad you asked that question, imaginary person I just made up!
So if you Google “functional bodybuilding,” you’ll find an interesting article on T-Nation
essentially outlining a hypertrophy program for athletes.
It’s “bodybuilding functionally,” so to speak, and that’s cool but it’s not what I’m talking about.
The way I’m looking at it is more like “functional training bodybuildingly.”
And we’re going to pretend that “bodybuildingly” is an actual word.
(“Bodybuildingly: ‘bah-dee-bill-ding-lee’ [adv.] In a manner similar to that of a bodybuilder.”)
Let’s call it FTB.
Okay, so bodybuilding functionally means your #1 goal is gaining muscle mass
in a way that ultimately benefits sport performance.
FTB means your #1 goal is improving performance in sport and/or life,
in a way that enhances mind-muscle connection and ensures that
movements are being trained in an optimal pattern.
THAT’S what I’m after.
Not that there’s anything wrong with going about it the other way,
of course…it’s just a different mindset and program approach.
First, we need to establish the premise of what an optimal movement pattern is.
For our purposes, it’s loading all joints through a movement’s kinetic chain
in a manner proportionate to their maximum safe capacity.
(Don’t worry, I’ll translate.)
My litmus test for strength movements is this:
The way up should mirror the way down.
If there’s significant deviation from that, compensations are occurring and the movement is suboptimal.
Why, you ask?
In a controlled eccentric contraction – lowering weight – the body defaults to its strongest positions
since muscles can produce more force eccentrically than concentrically
(which makes sense when you think about it).
If the muscles can’t replicate that force through the concentric part,
other less-ideal muscles will jump in to help complete the movement.
For example: Say you’re doing a squat.
The moving joints in that kinetic chain are the hips, knees, and ankles
(in addition to the static loading of the spine), with the ankles and knees especially
going through their maximum available range.
Put into our context of functional bodybuilding, this means the thighs, hips, and calves
do their proportional amount of work without dumping any of the load elsewhere.
The crux of this movement is really the quads, but the calves have to stabilize the ankles too.
If the quads and glutes are too weak to pull the knees and hips out of their deepest range of motion,
the load is shifted to the lower back as the joints open up to a stronger position.
This is why oftentimes when you see someone struggling with a heavy squat
(especially if they’re good at deadlifting), they’ll be leaned over almost like a good morning.
We want to avoid this and keep the loading on the correct musculature – quads & glutes.
Maintaining anatomically optimal positions is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING
when you’re training your muscles for strength and size.
Make sure you’re using the right muscles for the job without compensating during strength training.
Dial the weight back until you get it right.
Start from scratch if you have to.
Lifting the weight “just to lift it” is training only one thing: Your ego.
Bodybuilding and strength training are not contradictory, merely two sides of the same coin.
Regardless of what your ultimate goal is for improving your body,
you will need to incorporate both mentalities to achieve it.
It took me three years of very little progress, plagued by setbacks, to realize and accept this fact.
Please…be smarter than I was.