One of the more recent phrases added to the fitness lexicon is something called Functional Strength. I’m not sure who actually coined this phrase, or I would give them their due credit.

So what exactly is Functional Strength?

In the simplest of terms, Functional Strength is strength that allows you to do everyday things with less physical effort/energy expended.

Here are some examples:

  • Carrying the groceries in from the car using less trips back and forth.
  • Picking up your child and putting her on your shoulders so she can see the parade better.
  • Walking up stairs carrying a loaded suitcase because the elevator is too slow or broken.
  • Moving a piece of furniture to make your spouse happy.
  • Changing a flat tire–just removing the lug nuts can require a significant amount of strength, and then you have to lift the spare out and put the flat back in the trunk.
  • And many many more.

If you think about each of the above examples, every one of them is you working against the forces of gravity or friction.

So the next logical question is: How do we develop this Functional Strength?

It might be easier to start with what doesn’t do a very good job at developing Functional Strength

  • Elliptical machines: this is a lazy man’s way of doing cardio with the least amount of effort. There is NOTHING in our real world environment simulated by this machine.
  • Most machines with cables attached to plates: I’m not saying these machines are useless. There are some cable machines that are pretty good at simulating exercises like pull-ups, dips, etc. that are ideal for those not yet strong enough to do these with their bodyweight, but they don’t do a very good job of developing functional strength as we defined above.
  • Smith Machines: This machine does use gravity, but the big problem with the design is it is two dimensional in the way it works the body. We live in a three dimensional world last time I checked. Any machine that doesn’t require our bodies to move in three dimensions will not strengthen things like tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues around our muscles. And most importantly leaves our core unworked.

Functional Strength is developed using these types of exercises (list is not inclusive):

  • Compound exercises that use multiple muscle groups in three dimensions:
    • Squats (barbell, goblet, dumbbell, bodyweight, etc.),
    • Deadlifts of any kind (done properly of course),
    • Cleans (lifting something from the floor to the shoulders, like a child for example)
    • Pull-ups (any variation),
    • Dips (between bars)
    • Push-ups (all variations)
  • Sprints–running hard for 10-20 secs duration
  • Walking up stairs
  • Walking carrying a load
  • Walking in general at a faster than normal pace is excellent, especially if you can incorporate some hills.
  • And many others

Hopefully now you have an idea of what Functional Strength is and how you can develop it to improve your health and fitness, but mostly how having Functional Strength will improve your life.

Time is valuable. Don’t waste it doing things that aren’t helping you improve your life.


  1. What exercises are you doing that are helping you develop functional strength?
  2. What exercises are probably a waste of your valuable time in the gym?

Happy New Year everyone, and please feel free to leave a comment or question!!!