Functional vs. Simple Exercises

Functional exercises have you move, and at times with a weight, as humans never did in the past. They fail to build much muscle. They take away from how hard you can work and could hurt you as well. You may have to learn skills to do them well but these will not help you in sports or in other parts of your life. They may lead to a poor route for progress.

Any exercise that needs great skill to do, such as an Olympic lift, is complex. To do them well, you may need to have a good sense of balance. They use free weight tools such as kettlebells. They may look like tasks we could face in our lives. If you would call it functional then you can be sure it is complex.

The logic seems to make sense that you would want to train in a way that helps you to move better. They also may feel fun to do. These two ideas have helped complex exercises spread to the masses the most.

They also tend to draw on cheap and simple tools, making it easy to work with large groups. This will let someone work with many people at once so that they can make more money for the same amount of time.

A group allows friends to talk and train with each other. They allow for variety to keep your interest. These help you to stick with the program.

None of this shows that complex exercises are safe and best though.


If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

– Anatole France

  • You will not get as fit.

These exercises use the whole body in a way that does not help you to reach any goal best.

Too much balance needed for an exercise will stop you from using your full strength. For instance, you do a lunge while placing your lead foot on a ball. You may work the stabilizers but also work the strong muscles in the legs far less since you must use less weight.

The small muscles are there just to help the big ones. They get trained well when they brace you when lifting heavy.

At best, you may breathe more as you use more muscles to move. In these cases though, you still lack the work to the large ones to raise the heart rate much and to take in more air. These are the main signals that cause your body to get in better shape. Options such as when you sprint for intervals would work better and these will hit the small muscles too.

These exercises can fail to work each muscle in the chain well enough. When doing a clean and press, the arms will get worn out long before the legs work hard. A bench press would train the muscles that push better. The squat would train the lower body better. No muscle works best on a clean and press.

Stay stable. You will use more weight and still train all of the muscle. To raise the heart rate, move in a way that uses the whole body with effort. You will get more fit through this plan.

  • The need for more skill has you work less hard.

Simple tasks let us get more aroused to work harder. Though learning form on these still must take place, you should do fine after a few sessions. Make a cue list if needed to keep good form.

Too much skill forces you to waste energy on thought. You have to learn endless cues. They have you think on these rather than just to push or pull with all of your might.

You may come to feel you need a coach to teach you how to lift. You do not though. The best choices feel easy to learn.

  • They can harm you.

The more things that can go wrong, the more of a chance that something will. Most trainees will end up using bad form when they have to think about too much. In the rare case in which they do learn and use good form, they still could get hurt since the exercise by nature is unsafe. They make the mistake of trying to improve a bad exercise.

On a Turkish get-up, you need to round your spine and place shear on your rear leg to stand up. When you stand, you risk the weight falling on you as you switch the weight over to the other hand. You risk all of this for an option that does nothing better than the other choices.

A power clean uses too fast of a speed to have much control, while also working nothing best.

The complex ones tend to need open space. This stops you from training to failure or even just staying safe if your form breaks down. Simple ones let you use a tool such as a power rack to avoid this issue.

Our bodies are meant to move in specific ways. Some muscles move with speed and not strength, such as when you raise a hand over your head with your shoulder or lift a leg while you run with a hip flexor. You take a risk when doing these actions with a load. A push, a pull, and a squat let you lift heavy weights. They use lots of muscle and keep the joints safe.

Complex exercises have you do what would never come about normally. Everyday life, in this case, does not mean how it is today. It comes from what our species did over many thousands of years. We may play sports like baseball that bring the arm overhead many times over and with great force but this not natural. This will harm the shoulder.

  • The skills you learn do not help you in sports or other parts of your life.

Complex exercises may aim to match the skill of a sport. For example, you may see trainees working on their golf swing by twisting with a cable machine. This brings two big problems:

  • They fail to use the muscles as they would in the sport. They just load the joints poorly. A golf swing done with speed works the muscles differently than a twist with a load.
  • The new skill gets in the way of the old one. A twist done with weight may have you move poorly when you return to the swing with a club.

A bad motion used by a good athlete does not make it a good motion. Keep lifting simple. Play your sport to improve your skills. Do not mix the two.

  • They may lead to poor progress.

Those that teach complex exercises may make them tougher by adding more of a need for balance or through worse leverage. These have you use more skill or put you in unsafe positions. This plan will have you use even worse movements as you get better.

Keep the same good movements. Make them harder to progress such as by adding weight to build strength and size. Do more work in the same amount of time to raise the heart rate.

There is no need for variety in your choices.

Avoid Functional Exercises

You do need to learn good form to do your best. The idea that you can make any exercise safe though just by learning good form is a mistake. Bad choices will harm you no matter how you go about doing them. They may not hurt you now but perhaps someday.

Injuries when lifting, even more so when training for sports, often go unreported. Many trainees then use these statistics to say these lifts are safe. They fail to use common sense.

Use the bench press, the squat, and the row. They allow the best lengths for tension. They have you move in straight lines. This places more compression over shear on the joints to keep them safe. Isolation exercises may be simple and therefore seem like good options but they use the body unnaturally.

Avoid functional exercises.

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