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Mark Laws: Bodybuilding Is Not Functional

Mark Laws: Bodybuilding Is Not Functional


For the last ten to 15 years the term ‘functional’ has been used everywhere. If you have had anything to do with any part of the fitness/gym industry during that time, then there is no chance you would have missed it. Every gym in the land will have either a functional zone, functional classes, functional trainers or
functional products.

You get the idea. The mistake people have made is that they associate the particular zone/class/trainer/product as ‘functional’ regardless of what it does. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest mistakes the fitness industry has made, and continues to make.

Bodybuilding is something that is regularly referred to as NOT functional. The theory is that the increased muscle mass reduces the person’s ability to perform large movements – which is logical and certainly true of 99.9% of cases.

However, a true bodybuilder doesn’t care about performing large dynamic movements, because they are not as relevant in helping them to achieve their goals.

The most important point I am going to make is that the basic definition of the term functional is ‘fit for purpose’.

So, although we may have referred to zones/classes/trainers/ products as ‘functional’ for around 15 years, that is extremely misleading. The industry has been using ‘functional’ as a noun (which refers to people, places or things) whereas it actually should be used as a verb (which indicates actions).

If the term is used correctly, then a zone/class/trainer/product can NOT be classed as functional… but they can ALL be used in a functional way.

By saying that, I might ruffle a few feathers, but think about it for a second… if I have a piece of equipment that we are told is ‘functional’, what happens if I use it incorrectly and get injured?  Is that functional? If someone attends a class that they are told is ‘functional’, what happens if they work on things that are detrimental to their goals? Is that functional? Of course not, because neither scenario is ‘fit for purpose’.

The bottom line is that if you are a bodybuilder, and you like bodybuilding, and your main goal in life is to be a better bodybuilder… then training like a bodybuilder is fit for purpose for you.  It doesn’t mean it is fit for purpose for everyone. It doesn’t mean that your golf swing will get better and your ability to touch your toes will probably not increase, but it doesn’t matter, as neither of those are what you are training.

For the vast majority of those who do not want to look like a bodybuilder then by the same logic it would not be functional for them to participate in that style of training.

Functional training can use any equipment, take place anywhere and be delivered by anyone…as long as it is helping the end user to achieve their specific goals.


Once you’re nice and warm, select a decent size dumbbell and find a space in the gym in which you could swing a cat.


Place the dumbbell on the floor horizontally and stand with your big toes on each foot just touching each end of the weight. Hinge at the hip, keeping your back straight, and take hold of the handle with your left hand. Hold on tight, squeeze your bum cheeks together tightly and drive the hips forward aggressively until you return to a standing position. Then push the hips back towards the wall allowing the weight to return to the start position. Not only is the posterior chain working hard, your core will also be doing overtime.


Start in the same position, but this time bend at the knee and allow the hips to lower down towards the floor into a squat position until the left hand can reach the handle. Drive your body up towards the ceiling but not allowing your feet to leave the floor. If you do this explosively enough the dumbbell will travel up to around waist height. If you start to drive the left elbow up towards the ceiling at the same time, then the weight could smoothly come up towards chest/head height.


Start in the same position again, perform the same movement as the upright row except this time you are going to work a little more explosively. This will help you create enough force to drive the dumbbell overhead, allowing you to lock out the elbow in an overhead position.


Perform a snatch with the left hand so the dumbbell is in an overhead position. Don’t take your eyes off the weight when it is in an overhead position, place the right hand on your right thigh then squat down towards the floor. Get the right hand as close to the floor as possible. Don’t go any lower than you feel comfortable and remember to never take your eyes off the dumbbell. As the depth of your squat increases you might find it easier to allow your chest to turn towards the hand with the dumbbell in it.


Perform a snatch again in the left hand and keep the dumbbell locked overhead. Keep your eyes on it as usual. Lunge back with the right leg so the right knee touches the floor. Bend to the right slightly so the right hand touches the floor. Bring the right leg in front of you so that the right bum cheek touches the floor. Then slide down so that the right elbow touches the floor. Then right shoulder blade to the floor. Then lay flat on your back with the
dumbbell still directly above your left shoulder. Reverse this movement until you are back in the start position.

Once you have tried one rep with the left hand, repeat the same exercise with the right hand. Start off with a light weight around 10-20 per cent of your bodyweight. When, and only when, you can perform each exercise with good form should you increase the weight. If you can get over 50 per cent of your bodyweight then you have very good strength and mobility.


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