What is the difference between Bodybuilding and Functional fitness -Lets explore

When I first started my fitness journey many years ago gyms were seen as being for bodybuilding only yet I missed the clear benefits of functional fitness, If I had looked at what is the difference between bodybuilding and functional fitness all those years ago I could have reduced my injury rate and Improved my flexibility.

What is the difference between bodybuilding and functional fitness?

What is Bodybuilding?

Bodybuilding, by definition, is a “cosmetic.” discipline.

Judging In bodybuilding competitions is on how you look, not by how you perform.


What is the difference between bodybuilding and functional fitness?

You can use light weights or heavyweights, slow reps or fast reps, extended workouts or short workouts. It’s entirely irrelevant.

The single aspect that matters is that your physique is visually the best on stage on the contest day.

This solely visual representation means you have to achieve the “perfect package” of low body fat, sizeable muscular size and classical symmetry for a single moment in time.

Therefore, Increasing strength, flexibility and speed is not the aim of bodybuilders.

In competitive bodybuilding, improving performance is a secondary process.

It is only looked into if it helps the bodybuilder build more muscle or stay injury-free for longer.

What is Functional fitness?

Functional fitness emerged primarily from sports conditioning and rehabilitation and has been popularised by “Crossfit” to a certain degree.

The specific movements contribute to better, more efficient and safer everyday activities.

For example, functional fitness would help the average person develop enough strength to open heavy doors, walk on uneven paths, dig the garden or carry a child.

If you’re an athlete, functional fitness will give you performance improvements and reduce injury.

You will improve your swing, push or pull, and even run faster.

Functional training came to my attention because I started seeing CrossFit boxes opening in the local area.

Suddenly, gyms had medicine balls, wobble boards, stability balls, foam rollers and foam pads all over the place. In contrast, just Ten years ago, there wasn’t a single ball found in any conventional gyms.

While watching youtube, I often witness spectacles that stop me dead in my tracks.

People performing Full squats balancing on top of a stability ball are not uncommon. Squats with children as weights again are popular, and all would not be possible with our functional fitness.

Functional fitness can help bodybuilders become better.

To the casual observer, bodybuilders walking topless on the beach or seen on social media.

They represent the pinnacle of health and fitness simply because they “look” like they’re in great shape.

However, a trained coach would likely spot many problems only by looking at them.

A chain is most robust at its weakest link.

Many bodybuilders have developed potentially dangerous weak points due to overuse or underuse muscles.

Functional training can aid bodybuilders in strengthening these weak links, leading to significant injuries.

Bodybuilders frequently get stuck at strength plateaus, while athletes “in the know” with half the muscle mass continue to get stronger and stronger.

These “Lesser ” athletes achieve this feat even though they might not “look” as strong as bodybuilders.

Functional training helps bodybuilders improve strength and power. While not the bodybuilder’s primary goal, it can help them gain mass later on by changing up the muscles in use.

Bodybuilding helps functional athletes become better?

Functional training can help the bodybuilder become a better bodybuilder, but is the reverse also correct? Occasionally yes, bodybuilding training will help the athletes.

E.g.:-, By adding 15-20 pounds (5 – 10Kg ) of muscle, they will require a carefully planned schedule.

This schedule should include a bodybuilding element to achieve the desired muscle gains.

However, functional training directly applies to bodybuilders—most bodybuilders work out with slow, precise tempos that ensure more time under tension.

Bodybuilders can generally be seen to perform little or no explosive exercises, usually opting instead for slow reps such as a 2-3 second in contraction and a 3-4 second relaxation.

However, many coaches are fond of saying, “You train slow. You get slow.” Athletes are not generally interested in cosmetics or muscle mass– they want to be more functional!

They want and need the whole package” strength, flexibility, coordination, power, agility, balance and endurance”.

They want to run faster, jump higher, hit harder and recover more quickly. Suppose the athlete focused on machine work and only worked for the main muscle groups as many bodybuilders do.

An athlete wanting to improve their sports performance should use free weights, explosivity, and functional training techniques specific to their events’.

Therefore, we can conclude that athletes should NOT train like bodybuilders, But should learn from them.

Bodybuilders should incorporate functional fitness techniques.

Bodybuilders can and should train functionally while still keeping a cosmetic improvement goal clearly in focus. There are many ways bodybuilders can accomplish this with functional fitness.

If we come back to the main question

What is the difference between bodybuilding and functional fitness?

Bodybuilders = Visual

Functional fitness = Function

#1 – Unsupported exercise

Perform unsupported exercises, which activates stabilisers and core muscles.

  • Dumbbell curls instead of barbell curls
  • Bent over barbell/dumbbell row instead of machine row
  • Squats instead of seated leg presses
  • Free-standing barbell or dumbbell presses instead of seated dumbbell -presses with back support.

Workouts can be made functional by getting off the machines and picking up unsupported free weights, Kettlebells and even bodyweight gymnastics.

To make further improvements, include Stability ball work into your workout plan.

#2 – Stability ball

Using the Stability Ball will activate the core with every move.

When you first use the stability ball, expect it to feel awkward and unnatural. After all, it’s supposed to be unstable!

Trust me to start with light weights and build up gradually ” you only need to fall over a couple of times to learn the hard way”.

You’ll benefit from a stronger core, and as an added benefit, you’ll also get a nice increase in muscle growth.

This growth is because such movements shock your muscles and central nervous system, mainly performed the first few times.

#3 – Isolate your abs

Perform isolated movements; remembering not to forget rotational ab movements is essential. Coaches will make statements such as, “Crunches are worthless.”

I wouldn’t go that far. Crunches are not “worthless;” their over-used particular is you’re a regular on social media.

Crunches can be an excellent addition to any bodies ab routine.

However, You miss the benefits of working the other muscles if you complete nothing but crunches with your knees bent at 90 degrees.

Bodybuilders could also generally perform more rotational work such as Russian twists with a kettlebell, twisting sit-ups or the “Wood Chop.”

Functional fitness athletes ensure they work all the abs due to the different workouts they need to perform.


This exercise tends to build the sides of the waist and ruin the symmetry required.

#4 – Dumbbell work

Do more dumbbell work.

Bodybuilders use too many machines, yet functional trainers use anything they can lift.

Don’t forget that dumbbells can be performed single-handed or alternatingly.

One arm dumbbell movements add functionality and require stability while still doing a great job building muscle mass.

Coach Charles Poliquin states, “Dumbbell work is the foundation of strength.”

However, This statement is true not just because dumbbells often allow a superior range of motion but also because dumbbell work is functional and requires more stabilisation.

Throw thick bar dumbells and kettlebells into the mix, and you should never get bored.

#5 – Free Weights

Using free weights over machines has a definite place in a bodybuilder’s routine, yet devices have limited functional fitness.

Machines should not come first in a list of importance. Devices will help hit the muscles from various angles – which bodybuilders need – but they are generally not functional.

They lock you into a fixed path.

If used correctly, free weights are safer than machines and are good in recovery.

#6 – Move

Move freely through space rather than through a fixed path, 

Vertical crunches or using an ab roller/Mat on the floor can be part of anyone’s routine.

However, these exercises lock you into a fixed path and decrease the abs stabilising muscles.

Do not be restricted by a machine. 

Remember, the more muscle’s you use, the more intense the workout is. 

Bodybuilders need to isolate muscles to enable local growth. Yet this does not aid functional movement and use if the small stabilisation muscles are necessary for an actual full-body workout.

#7 – Large muscle usage

Using compound, large muscle rather than multi-joint exercises often provide the finishing touch that gives bodybuilders the “polished” look that many functional athletes lack.

As such, bodybuilders should certainly use isolation movements such as cable flyes, leg extensions and lateral raises to round out their routines.

However, doing primarily isolation movements is a mistake.

Compound, multi-joint exercises like squats, presses and pulls are unrivalled for strength building, muscle mass and power and must remain in a bodybuilder’s program year round – even before competitions.

#8 – Add speed

Incorporating Hiit or time-based workouts will remove the slow and steady mindset.

It will also shock muscles further by placing them outside the “normal ” workout.


Many bodybuilders have become closed-minded to trying new functional exercises or working on a ball.

As a result, they find themselves developing imbalances, getting injuries and falling short of their muscle mass potential.

This article gives you an overview of the difference between bodybuilding and functional fitness.

The aim is that athletic strength coaches will stop wrongly accusing bodybuilders of inadequate training.

However, bodybuilders are doing precisely the exercises they should be.

For the most part, Strength athletes should train as athletes, and bodybuilders should train like bodybuilders.

However, as an “old school” bodybuilder once told me, functional training DOES have a place in the bodybuilder’s arsenal.

Bodybuilders could undoubtedly learn a thing or two from the athletic and functional fitness community.

If you have any experience or comments upon the differences shown above, please drop me a comment below.

Author Profile

Owner and author at shortandintense.com , 25 years as a quality and health and safety professional with an in-depth knowledge of functional and corrective exercises. IHoS registered,lead auditor, personal trainer and human movement specialist.

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