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Guest Post: The Superiority of Functional Strength Versus Gym Strength

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By Mike Westerdal,
the Founder of Critical Bench

“Personally I’m not against the gym. I love bench pressing, squatting and deadlifting and I’m not going to give that up to perform strictly hybrid cardio workouts by themselves. What I am doing is replacing boring ass traditional cardio (like the stationary bike and the treadmill) with resistance conditioning so I can burn fat and build muscle at the same time.” -Mike Westerdal

Mike Westerdal

You know, going to the gym and working out isn’t the only way to get strong. There’s actually a huge difference between being gym strong versus real-life strong.

It’s completely possible to be in good shape and strong (I mean really strong) without ever having stepped inside a gym.

How is this possible? Are these guys just genetic freaks? Let me tell you that it is possible and no, you do not have to be a genetic anomaly to be in great shape and what I like to call “real-life strong.”

My own dad is a great example of a guy who is really strong and yet he’s never worked out a day in his life. He has however, done a lot of manual labor.

He was always working on things outside in the yard, building stuff, working with wood or any number of other things. Then on the flip side… there’s me! I have been working out since I was in high school in Connecticut.

When I really started to get serious about training, I finally started growing and getting stronger. By the time I hit my senior year and was playing football I was able to bench 275 pounds and was really proud of myself.

It was all put into perspective one day when my dad needed my help to get rid of some large rocks and boulders sticking out of the grass.

The area where we lived in Connecticut was kind of mountainous with these huge rocks just about everywhere. In our yard, they  even seemed to multiply every so often and then we’d have to dig them up and haul them away in a wheelbarrow.

One year, my dad decided to get rid of some especially big rocks on the property so we got to work digging.

Heavy Rock Carry

Once the dirt was removed I went to move the boulders. Knowing how strong I had been getting lately, I figured I could take care of the bulk of them by myself.

I was shocked to find out that I could hardly even budge them, yet my dad (the guy who had never worked out a day in his life) was able to move them all by himself.

I was shocked!!! I could NOT believe that this “old man,” which I knew I could beat on any machine in the weight room, was still “stronger” than me when it came to real life functional strength.

I started to refer to it as “old man strength.”

Today, I’m a lil older, a bit wiser and I realize that my dad hadn’t developed “old man strength”, but had actually developed “hybrid strength” without even realizing it.

The activities that my dad did daily around the house gave him a physical edge that is very difficult to duplicate in a gym.

Most ordinary training routines isolate specific muscles, which is NOT how our bodies are really designed to work.

The kinds of things my dad did, however, recruited multiple muscle groups simultaneously and more importantly required both strength and endurance… just like a hybrid workout.

Old Man Strong

What he did in the process of doing these activities was to develop hybrid type III muscles, which is really an “optimal” adaptation to muscle fiber based on this type of training. Not only does it produce strength, you’re also able to sustain that strength for extended periods of intense effort. Ordinary type I or type II fibers just can’t do that… they basically sit at opposite ends of the spectrum (endurance fibers/explosive fibers.)

Typical gym workouts focus on developing the type I, type IIa and type IIb fibers and not developing hybrid muscle. Because my dad was developing type III muscle fibers, he had a lot more real life functional strength than I did. Surely I could have beat the snot out of him at the gym, yet in the real world, there was no competition… I was licked.

Of course my dad isn’t the only example of someone who was engaging in hybrid muscle training (either by accident or by design) and in the process developed hybrid type III muscle.

The movie Rocky IV provides another great example of the superiority of real world functional strength versus gym strength. In the movie, Rocky trains in the mountains focusing on building his real world strength. In reality he was doing hybrid workouts and developing hybrid type III muscle.

Conversely, the Russian guy trains in this futuristic high-tech gym using scientifically-designed treadmills and exercise equipment. Yeah, the guy looked pretty muscular but when it came time to fight, his gym-engineered muscles were no match for the real-world strength of Rocky.

So you see, although science has tried to come up with all sorts of interesting ways for guys to get bigger, stronger and leaner, when it comes down to actual results, basic functionality and real-world functional strength still triumphs every time.

This is exactly the type of Real-World, Functional Strength that is produced by my Lean Hybrid Muscle Training Program:

Lean Hybrid Muscle

If what I’ve been talking about in these guest posts sounds interesting to you, then CLICK HERE to take a quick look at all of my clients and customers who’ve tried my system and gained lean muscle too.

You can see my personal results and my co-author Elliott Hulse’s results from using our “Hybrid Training” methods below:

Mike Westerdal

Elliott Hulse


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6 Responses to “Guest Post: The Superiority of Functional Strength Versus Gym Strength”


  1. chris cook Says:

    Great post! It is so true that you can’t just be strong but you have to know how to use that strength in real world situations. Unless you are a professional powerlifter you’re probably not going to be doing a maximum benchpress as part of your day job. You need to know how to use that strength to hammer a nail, hold up a framed wall, lift timber up to someone above you or in your case carry some boulders. I personally think what happens sometimes is that as we get stronger, if we don’t use that strength in real world activities we lose some of our coordination. Our body is not used to having that new level of strength and using it in real life activities. I saw an example of that when I shot a basketball after not having done it for about a year. In the time I hadn’t played b-ball my strength levels had shot up. Now my body wasn’t used to using that new strength in this real life situation. I completely overshot the basketball on the first attempt, and from there on out it was like I had to learn to shoot all over again. Granted you don’t use much strength to shoot a basketball, but I imagine the same could happen with other situations where you do need to use more brute force. Once again thanks for the post.


  2. Musclechronicle Says:

    I have suffered from this myself, despite being able to deadlift, squat and bench press respectable numbers, my functional strength is terrible.

    For example, i can close a Captains of Crush #3 FULLY on both hands, yet carrying a simple fence panel down the garden saps my grip completely, while guys much smaller than me are there easily shifting the garden equipment lol.


  3. flex lewis Says:

    I see and know many skinny guys who have been builders for years etc and can carry heavy loads all day long. I been hitting the gym for few years now and 5minutes picketing a wall on a house and my arms were gone!! totally different strength.


  4. Brandon Says:

    Interesting perspective and experience Flex. So many blindly pump away in the gym without considering whether they are improving their strength and athleticism in the real world… all show and no go. I used to do the same, but have begun switching to more functional and athletic based training, including bodyweight training.


  5. Joey Says:

    Never a truer thing has been said, there is such a dramatic difference between guys who lug around heavy loads all day and work for a living to the bros who hang down in the weight room 24/7. Also, hells yeah for the Rocky III reference!


  6. Brandon Says:

    True that, Joey! Thanks for commenting… GO ROCKY!!!!!!!

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