Gymnastics & Powerlifting are NOT Functional-Athletic-Strength Training

December 12, 2022 by VAHVA Fitness

What is real strength, athletic and functional training? It's not gymnastics, bar workout or powerlifting for sure.

When we first started training over 10 years ago, CrossFit and different forms of Cross-training where you mix different disciplines together had only started to become popular.

The idea was that when you mix different disciplines together, you get the ultimate discipline that builds the most athletic, functional and powerful physique.

At the time, the idea was to do gymnastics for the upper body and weight lifting / powerlifting for the lower body.

This is what we did at the time as well - we were doing heavy deadlifts, cleans and heavy back squats and combining it with gymnastics and calisthenics training that consisted of planches, levers, one arm chin ups and muscle ups.

Not only did this type of training little by little destroy our bodies (powerlifters tend to have lots of knee and back problems, meanwhile the elbows and shoulders of gymnasts tend to be utterly destroyed) but the transference to other activities was just not there.

This was one of the big "wake up calls" we experienced YEARS after we started training. We were forced into a corner where we either had to change or forever live in the shadows of ourselves.

We changed and started doing everything differently which is when our methods took the right direction and our training fundamentally evolved into what you see today.

When you want to define strength training and functional training, this is how we see it today. There are two categories of strength training everyone should do:

1. Universal Strength Training

This is what the bulk of our methods consist of. The purpose of this type of training is to strengthen the body as a whole, work on structural balance, bulletproof the joints (make you less prone to injuries) and focus on developing the internal qualities of the body such as strength, flexibility, mobility, stability, speed and power. 

2. Sport-Specific Strength Training

This is the type of training that should closely mimic the demands and movements of the sports/activities you are interested in.

If you are a basketball player, you should spend a lot of time strengthening your ankles, shins and overall footwork. If you are a martial artist or play football or ice hockey, you should focus more on athletic movements for your core and hip rotation.

Likewise, if you are a grappler or a wrestler, you should spend more time on strengthening your grip and pulling strength so you can better bodylock your opponents.

Ideally, both the universal strength training and sport-specific training should belong to the realm where you want to become the best at. If your sport requires to stand and move on the ground, you should focus on developing the body on the ground.

Why gymnastics, powerlifting and weight lifting are not optimal strength training and should not be considered functional training

Although a lot of strength trainers preach about the conventional back squats and deadlifts with heavy resistance, we do not consider this type of training the most effective unless you are already a high level athlete.

If you look at the history of martial arts and sports, the heavy emphasis on weight lifting is primarily a modern Western phenomenon that has become an accepted dogma.

In China, this type of training was never popular in history - instead different Chinese kettlebells, qigong and many other ancient methods were used. In Persia/India/Pakistan, the clubs were the most effective piece of training equipment.

If powerlifting was the best type of athletic training, the powerlifters would be some of the most athletic people out there. But that's just not the case, rather the opposite is.

Powerlifters tend to be the people with the worst knees and backs and the stiffest bodies you can find. Of course there are exceptions but in general.

Likewise, gymnasts tend to have their upper bodies wrecked as well. Elbow and shoulder problems are incredibly common which we got a taste of as well.

The real problem with gymnastics however is that you are spending so much energy and time on getting incredibly good at hanging on a bar or being on top of gymnastic rings. You become an incredible machine in this world.

The unfortunate reality is that most of this strength is not transferable to the real world where you are mostly moving on the floor or the ground. In gymnastics, you become an expert moving your body in a very specific area.

Of course high level professional gymnasts also master the floor but it's more focused on acrobatics and jumping. Regular people tend to focus on the upper body gymnastics and calisthenics.

Both powerlifting, gymnastics and bar workout are not even strength training although they will develop strength as a side product. In real strength training, the universal strength is the focus and purpose.

Eero explains this difference in detail in The 10 Commandments of Universal Strength Training. Basically all of these disciplines are SPORTS and dominantly skill training, even when you do back squats.

What is Functional Training?

fighting stance eero westerberg

The definition of functional training ultimately depends on what is your goal and purpose of training.

If you want to get good at hanging on a bar or doing tricks with gymnastic rings, all training that focuses on making you better at this will be functional training for you.

However, we consider functional training something that makes us more functional in most real life activities the world has to offer. These include different forms of fighting (striking, grappling, wrestling), playing sports, hiking, daily life activities and so on.

Building primal strength and training that focuses on health and posture is something you could consider functional as well but we consider this universal strength training. 

General functional training that makes you more functional as a whole, should incorporate pulling strength and the ability to climb, but it should not be the focus. We use gymnastic rings and a pull up bar but as a tool in moderation.

In real functional training, the focus should be on training where you are standing up or being on the floor.

Starting a New Paradigm & Ending the Last One

meditation eero westerberg

The last paradigm was about mixing gymnastics/calisthenics with heavy weights for the legs. Over the years of training and research, we have discovered that this is not the way to go.

Like many, us included, we were misled by this idea that worked better in theory than in practice.

The new paradigm of building the ultimate physique should focus first and foremost on universal strength training where you take care of the body first. This is because a broken body is the least functional body.

Second, you should focus more on developing the body in the realm where most activities take place: on the ground and not high in the air.

Third, you should stop focusing on minimalism and trying to find a magic exercise that takes care of all of your needs and worries. The over simplistic focus of powerlifting or weight lifting will leave your body stiff and limited.

The body needs variety and athleticism in general is far from one-dimensional. The hips, legs, core and shoulders need to be properly trained with movements that mimic real athletic movement patterns.

The one-dimensional movements where you move just up and down won't help you much unless you are already athletic. If you do a lot of different exercises, then it will be much better.

In general, the more dynamic and fluid your training is, the better it will be for your athletic and functional ability. The better we get, the more "alive" and multifaceted our training has become. 

Animal Movement Strength Training develops the body incredibly well in very versatile ways because you are moving the body in so many different planes and supporting your bodyweight in so many angles.

Likewise, grinding different athletic drills, developing single leg strength, stability and balance will lead to more athleticism, speed and power than heavy back squats ever will.

Recently, we even discovered Mace Training and Club Training. We've found this to be some of the most athletic and functional training you can do for your core and upper body. 

We always focus on what works and what provides what we need. We didn't have any interest in maces and clubs but we tried them and found them to be extremely useful. 

Maces and clubs are not even popular in the West and from a business standpoint not the smartest thing we can do. They are mostly popular in Iran, India and Pakistan.

Yet, we feel obligated to share this knowledge with you because this is what a lot of people need. We will do this regardless of the fact that the videos won't be as popular.

I hope this video and article helped you, it has been a long road for us to get to this point but we are happy we are here now.

The 20XX Methods continue to stand the test of time because they were designed to focus on the essentials and fundamentals. They contain the wisdom of the new paradigm.

Stay strong.

samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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