Traditional Strength vs Functional Training: Key Differences & Benefit Skip to content
Traditional Strength vs Functional Training: Key Differences & Benefits

Traditional Strength vs Functional Training: Key Differences & Benefits


You've probably heard the phrases 'functional' and 'strength training' before.

It's the next new fitness buzzword in the industry, and it's what's on the Apple Watch's fitness tracking as a category over a more traditional label like 'strength training'.

But what is functional strength training and what makes it different from traditional strength training, and does its features or benefits mean you should be adding more exercises to your workout routine? Or change it up completely?

That's what we're here to tell you.

Here's the breakdown of strength and functional training's differences

Traditional Strength Training

Isolation Exercises: Exercises that target one specific muscle group.

Strength training is focused on training that builds up muscles. While there can be some overlap here with exercises in functional training that also strengthens you, the prime difference here is the focus on training up your body piece by piece. Like a builder building up a house brick by brick.

Traditional strength training isolates muscle groups and works them out to exhaustion using heavy weights or weight machines. That's what you're doing or what others are doing when you're doing a 'leg day'. This will be doing exercises that focus on the quadriceps, then glutes, hamstrings, calves, etc.


  • Hacking hypertrophy for larger muscles or to build more tone
  • Building strength in specific muscle groups
  • Easily measure and track your progress by focusing on one muscle group at a time
  • Train to exhaustion each time you go to your commercial gym, or garage workout space at home for a real muscle pumping endorphin rush
  • Improve the way your body 'holds itself.' Traditional strength training or bodybuilding builds up the way your body holds up itself by strengthening your bones and muscles


Functional Training

Compound Exercises: Exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once. For example.. Squats workout glutes, quadriceps and calves together in one exercise.

All strength training is technically functional training as it improves your body's health and ability to deal with strain, weight and power. But not all functional training is strength training.

The key difference between the two is functional training encompasses a whole breadth of more dynamic and full-body movements that prioritises compound movements over focussing on one muscle at a time on a machine. You're training your body as a single unit with functional movements. Think running, walking, swimming, deadlifting, squatting or performing jump squats, lunges, pull-ups, sled pushes, or doing the farmer's walk.

Anything that improves functional performance in fitness is functional training.

Functional fitness finds its origins in rehabilitation, where physical therapists would recommend exercises that mimicked these movement patterns (pull, push, squat, lunge, hinge, rotation and gait) so that they could seamlessly get back to life after surgery or getting injured.

For this reason, functional strength training exercises are all about nailing everyday movements so that it is easier to get around, carry things and go about your day without injury.


  • Shock the system with a heavy compound movement to start off any 'leg day' or 'back day' to recruit as many muscles as possible in that muscle group for better gains
  • Improve everyday tasks like carrying items, bending your knees or tackling stairs
  • Improve your form to reduce the risk of injury
  • Improve mobility so that you can move with freedom
  • Build lean muscle mass with high-intensity workouts that ward off age-related muscle degeneration
  • Stabilise your balance and build a faster reaction time against falling
  • Enhance breathing, lung capacity and endurance
  • Training with free weights, resistance bands, cables or with only bodyweight
  • Less time is needed to complete a function focused regime

Who should be doing functional training?

Functional training's benefits are great for everyone. But older adults, athletes, and those at risk of injury or are at a lower physical activity or fitness level can especially benefit from functional fitness.

If you're recovering from injury, or haven't been exercising too frequently, you don't have to go too heavy to start. Begin with bodyweight for resistance or try using lighter tools like resistance bands, before moving on to dumbbells, kettlebells or even barbells when you're ready. Remember to always follow the advice of your physical therapist or remedial personal trainer if you have one.

Functional strength training movements should also be a part of any serious strength training routine. This is as heavy compound functional movements help wake up and activate more muscle in your body, to make sure your mind-muscle connection is active and you are able to achieve maximum muscle usage in your workouts.

Shared Health Benefits - Functional & Strength Training Benefits

  • Strengthen Bones: Any kind of weight training helps improve bone density and keeps bones healthy and strong.
  • Strengthen Muscles: Weighted resistance training both helps improve muscle size (hypertrophy) and muscle strength.
  • Boost Mood: Exercise of any kind helps boost your mood with an endorphin rush that helps soothe the mind and improve mental health.
  • Clear away the Mental Cobwebs: Some studies have found links to regular exercise and improved neuroplasticity, which is the way your brain and the nervous system adjusts and changes to new experiences. It also helps clear away brain fog.
  • Burns Calories and Fat: The afterburn for calories after strength training is phenomenal. More muscle also raises your resting metabolic rate, which means your body will burn more calories while at rest or just while you're going about your day.

Here's what to take away

  1. All traditional strength training is functional fitness
    but not all functional fitness is strength training.
  2. You should include both in your training
    including both helps you build an optimal level of fitness and a well-rounded physique.

    If your goals are strength training, include a functional heavy compound workout at the start of your workout to activate and get the maximum results of your training.

    If your goals are function or performance, traditional strength training provides a great tool to narrow in on any weaknesses.

How to Keep Working Out

What's the best workout? The one you stick to and consistently show up to, physically and mentally. One of the best ways to stay motivated is to work out with a friend.

share some of our blogs to motivate them.

Then register to stay tuned for all the latest equipment that Catch Fitness stocks!

Call our staff on 1300 25 25 09 if you need any assistance with our fitness equipment.

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