09 Jun Strength Training for Function vs. Aesthetics
There’s an idea that has long been floating around the fitness world when it comes to strength training:
You can do it for functional movements, or you can do it for aesthetics and looking good, but you can’t have both because you’ll need difference exercises for each goal.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Strength training with compound movements like squats and deadlifts allows you to develop functional movement patterns that improve total body performance while preventing muscle imbalances that could lead to pain and injuries.
At the same time, you won’t find better exercises for burning calories and fat, building muscle, and looking amazing.
Let’s take a closer look at where most people go wrong along. I’ll also discuss the benefits of functional strength training and the best resistance training exercises that tap into both functionality and aesthetics.
Most People Make This One BIG Mistake in the Gym
The main problem that I see in the gym is well-meaning people without a plan wander from machine to machine, doing what they think will get them the best results as far as aesthetics.
In reality, these well-meaning people are running for a bit on the treadmill then targeting glamour muscles like abs and arms only and leaving.
They haven’t raised their heart rates to a level that will promote fat burning.
They haven’t challenged their muscles in the proper way to encourage lean tissue development.
In other words, they haven’t really worked out.
And it’s not their fault. Without proper guidance, it can feel overwhelming to step onto the gym floor.
This unplanned focus on aesthetics can lead a lot of people astray.
When you couple that with the uncertainly of how to perform functional movements like squats and deadlifts, is it any wonder people spends months or years essentially maintaining a physique they aren’t happy with?
The Solution is Functional Strength Training
Functional movements should always be the foundation of any fitness program, especially if you’re a beginner.
But what exactly is functional training?
Functional training focuses on exercises that activate or target the greatest number of muscle groups at one time.
These exercises are referred to as compound movements. Here are some of the best-known examples:
- Bench Presses
- Overhead Presses
- Hip Thrusts
These exercises all have one thing in common: They demand a lot from several muscle groups at the same time. Let’s look at the squat.
You don’t need a barbell on your back to reap the benefits of this exercise. When you perform a bodyweight squat, you are activating your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, abs, obliques, and lower back.
Benefits of Functional Strength Training for Beginners
Stronger Neuromuscular Connections: When you begin to exercise regularly, it can feel like your upper body doesn’t know what the lower body is doing. Functional strength training improves your movements (through neuromuscular connections), and you’ll feel more in tune with your body. This will lead to feeling more athletic inside and outside of the gym.
Increases in Strength and Muscle Simultaneously: Beginners tend to see the greatest improvements in the shortest span of time. Studies show that inexperienced people tend to burn fat and build more muscle simultaneously. Just a heads up, this rapid rate of change tends to go away, so you have to be realistic with your expectations.
Burns More Calories: Compound movements activate a large number of muscle groups, and this heavy workload demands more energy in the form of calories than isolation exercises. Compare a squat to a bicep curl. You’re working one muscle with the curl, but with the squat, you’re using almost all major muscle groups.
Decrease in Injury Risk: If the bulk of your gym experience has focused on isolation exercises and a treadmill, there’s a good chance that you have a muscular imbalance. For example, if you always work on your chest but never exercise your back, your anterior chain (front of your body) might be over-tight and your back could be weak. This increases your chances of a strain or injury. Functional movements can reduce this risk by targeting all of the major muscle groups, ensuring one doesn’t pick up the slack for another.
Improves Other Forms of Physical Activity: Finally, compound movements tend to improve your movements and performance outside the gym. You might notice that you’re able to keep up with your kids. Or maybe you can go for longer bike rides than before. Sunday chores don’t wipe you out like they did before. Whatever it might be, you’ll notice a difference outside as much as inside the gym.
Where Most Gyms and Classes Go Wrong
These benefits sound great, right? Well, there are two important catches to all these benefits…
- Proper exercise performance (e.g., set-up, form, and execution)
- Using the right variables (e.g., sets, repetitions, intensity, etc.)
First, it’s important to remember that an exercise isn’t functional if it’s not done properly. In other words, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you won’t see results.
When you join a standard commercial gym, you are left to fend for yourself. A group personal trainer, for example, can help you with each part of the exercise, allowing you to go at your own pace. Having a world class coach (like we have at Faster Fitness) is vital to benefiting from these exercises.
Second, you’ll need to change up your workout as you adjust to your current workload. This could involve increasing the weight you use or the intensity of the exercise.
This is vital to make progress towards your goals of losing body fat, shaping your muscles and improving athleticism.
Having sufficient exercises, resistance loads and intensity, and the right training variables are the difference between average and phenomenal progress.
Most group classes focus on using very light weight to ensure the risk of injury is almost non-existent.
But the problem here is that if you’re still using the same five pounds from six months ago, you aren’t going to see the changes you’re looking for.
Your muscles love predictability. They prefer a state of homeostasis. This is why introducing changes to your sets, reps, and intensity is so important. Your body won’t change if you don’t challenge it responsibly.
There is a time and place for light weight with high repetitions, but if you want to see continual progress, you need to consistently perform exercises with weights that you can only do 8-12 times.
Then every week or two, try to go up in weight to continue to make progress – even if it’s only one pound more than the week before.
Progress is made up of these tiny incremental improvements.
Look Good Being Strong: Have it All at Faster Fitness
As I mentioned above, if you want to see consistent progress in both your performance and looks, you’ll need the knowledge of what to do AND the motivation to stay dedicated to your goals.
Your average gym membership gets your credit card information and lets you off into the wild of the weight room. In other words, you’ll keep doing what you’re doing now: roaming and using your best judgment on what to do.
But at Faster Fitness, we take functional strength training in a different direction – A proven direction.
Our Group Personal Training Program focuses on true strength training that is both functional and body sculpting.
We also take into consideration that not everyone is performing at the same level, so we offer plenty of customization exercise substitutions.
At the same time, our Group Personal Training coaches are there to challenge and motivate you, ensuring you’re not using the same five-pound dumbbell every week.
If you would like more information on how we can help you get faster results, click here to learn how you can experience our program.