Weight lifting is a key component of fat loss and body composition change, but not all weight lifting (and fitness in general) is created equal. Most importantly, not all results are created equal.
For example, there’s a difference between strong and functionally strong. There’s a difference between looking a certain way and performing a certain way. Psychologically, there’s a difference between healthy training and obsessive training.
The Rebooted Body platform and programs are dedicated to helping you finally get a body and life you love. The goal is to nurture your body and mind for authentic, sustainable results. That means we’re not creating athletes, body builders, or fitness-obsessed Instagram users.
This is a platform for every-day people who want amazing results without obsession, a spare bedroom at the gym, and a what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger mentality.
We’re going to show you how to use weight lifting to drop fat, improve your body composition, increase your real-world strength, refine your agility and coordination, increase your flexibility, and move better in ways that matter.
Oh, and while some women are turned off by the “weight lifting” monicker, it’s an especially important activity for women to engage in consistently. Trust us, follow our lead and your body and life will never be the same.
What is functional weight lifting?
The easiest way to help you see the difference between traditional weight lifting and functional weight lifting is through exercise comparison and the results one might achieve from each strategy.
Let’s use the “bicep curl” exercise as our example.
In a traditional weight lifting approach, the bicep curl is used to grow the size, definition, and strength of the biceps brachii muscle.
There’s a lot of variations of the technique, but the common theme is “curling” a weight through an arch with your palm facing you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a free weight or a machine, the goal is the same.
This is a very isolated and targeted technique. It recruits a very small group of muscles and isn’t representative of a real-world movement.
Off the top of my head, a real-world movement that most closely relates to the bicep curl would be lifting heavy groceries out of the trunk of a car. You’ll use the same grip on the bag handles and a similar curling motion.
However, if you pay attention to your body when you lift a bag of heavy groceries, you’re recruiting far more muscles, specifically in your legs, shoulder, abdominal core, and back—muscles that have not been prepared by doing the isolated bicep curl exercise.
In a functional weight lifting approach, exercises tend to be compound exercises rather than isolated exercises. Just as we are required to do in the real world, functional weight lifting requires the recruitment of multiple major muscle groups.
A much more functional way to challenge the biceps while recruiting and challenging other key muscle groups would be with a Chin Up technique (opposite grip from the pull up).
During testing, muscle recruitment for the Chin Up was as follows (represented as a percentage of overall contraction):
- (Lats) Latissimus dorsi: 117-130%
- Biceps brachii: 78-96%
- Infraspinatus (helps stabilize the shoulder joint): 71-79%
- (Traps) Lower trapezius: 45-56%
- (Pecs/Chest) Pectoralis major: 44-57%
- Erector spinae (muscles that extend the vertebral column): 39-41%
- External oblique: 31-35%
The Chin Up also recruits the abdominal muscles in order to stabilize the core if the technique is done properly.
You can see how many muscle groups are targeted in a functional movement like the Chin Up, versus an isolated movement like the Bicep Curl.
The same holds true for fitness in general. Walking, sprinting, climbing, yoga, and jumping are all examples of functional fitness while steady state long distance running is very isolated (and destructive).
Which brings us to another important point…
Just as is true with real-food nutrition, it’s not movement alone that’s important, but the diversity of movement.
If you move in the same way all the time, certain key parts of the locomotion chain will atrophy.
For example, if you only walk on flat, stable ground, your muscles, joints, and ligaments will not be prepared for navigating unstable ground. You’ll get tired faster and be at greater risk of injury.
If you only lift heavy things in non-functional ways, you’ll atrophy real-world function. You’ll appear strong, but you’ll be functionally weak.
Another aspect of functional movement is understanding how to stabilize your body in compromised positions.
In traditional weight training, special machines, belts, and techniques are used to avoid compromised positions, especially when isolated techniques are being used.
Functional fitness philosophy doesn’t recognize this as an inherently good thing. The result of training in “prime conditions” with traditional weight lifting is having biceps that are sexy as hell from months of bicep curls, only to hurt your back lifting groceries out of your trunk.
When you’re doing functional weight lifting like picking up a sandbag, throwing it over your shoulder, doing a 50 yard sprint, and then doing it again, you have to understand and be aware of proper body mechanics and stabilization. It works your brain as much as your muscles and prepares you for movements you’ll encounter outside of that square building you like to work out in.
That’s the core difference between “weight lifting” and “functional weight lifting.” They’re both concerned with “lifting weight” but the philosophies are completely different (and so are the results).
Feel the Difference.
You can easily FEEL the difference between traditional weight lifting and functional weight lifting by doing a simple experiment.
On day one, do 5 sets of Bicep Curls with a weight that only allows you to perform 6-8 repetitions.
That’s it. Don’t do anything else. Over the next three days, journal where you feel the muscle soreness.
On day four, do 5 sets of 8 Chin Ups.
If you can’t do a chin up unassisted, use an assist system (all gyms have them), but set the assist weight so that you’re barely capable of doing that 8th rep on each set.
Don’t do anything else. Over the next three days, journal where you feel the muscle soreness.
It’s quite easy to feel the difference in the amount of muscle groups recruited to perform the Chin Ups.
Note that when using the Chin Up assist systems, the position of your legs can often turn off the need to use your glutes and core to stabilize the movement, resulting in less recruitment. But it’s still better than doing curls.
Also note that you don’t need a gym or fancy equipment to do anything we’re going to be doing in the future, which is the beauty of functional weight lifting. I know I mentioned special equipment in this specific article, but it’s only for demonstration purposes.
Over a series of articles, we’ll dive deeper into the how and why of functional weight training and functional fitness.
How does functional weight training and functional fitness impact fat loss? Hormones? Bone density? Athletic performance? Which exercises are best? How many do I do and in what combination? What equipment do I need?
We’re going to cover it all.
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Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s helped tens of thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and now offers all of his signature programs through a “pay what you want” model.