Sometimes you’ll see someone in the weight room that looks really strong but doesn’t seem to be able to lift all that much weight for their size. Maybe you know people that are strong in the weight room who are seemingly less so in the “real world.”
Bodybuilders have a tendency, not unwarranted, to use machines with belts, levers, guide rails, and so forth. These devices conveniently target muscles but make contributions to strength that doesn’t translate fully into the real world. In conjunction with moderate load, high-volume routines, bodybuilders can have visually impressive physiques of little practical value since the muscular size increases are predominantly due to larger fluid volumes and non-contractile proteins. Still, some bodybuilders are both visually and functionally impressive.
Free Weights vs Machine Weights
Free weights – dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, etc. –further develop the body’s core musculature, muscular density, inter-muscular coordination (fluidity), flexibility and joint stability. A “heavy” set on some machines may feel grueling, but the rigid range of motion does not demand anywhere near as much involvement of the ancillary muscle areas contributing to balance and to control as do free weights. Free weight exercises demand the lifter concurrently controls “wobbling” or “swaying” in several planes of motion that machines remove through artificial constraint. You might want to check out the differences of free weights versus machine weights.
In this regard, free weights more closely imitate natural, real world movements
But not even all free-weight approaches are quite the same. Weightlifting, currently comprised of the snatch and the clean-and-jerk, is more sophisticated than bodybuilding, and even powerlifting, because it necessitates using momentum and involves more speed, agility, flexibility, timing, and technique. In contrast, powerlifting relies mostly on brute strength and bodybuilding emphasizes strict control. In this sense, weightlifting is arguably a better pursuit for the real world.
Then again, how many people training with weights are competitors in bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, or strongman events? Do they have to be? Not really, a good deadlift would be immensely helpful to an appliance installer just as squats would be to a fireman expected to carry victims out of harm’s way. One person’s real world may be another’s virtual world.
To the military, weight room strength isn’t really the type they consider most functional. Instead, soldier widely follow calisthenics-oriented routines to increase muscular tone and stamina, improve balance, flexibility and agility, and promote overall physical well-being and grace using one’s own bodyweight for resistance. The light gymnastic exercises and stretches enhance the individual soldier’s ability to stoop, reach, push, twist, lunge, climb, jump, and land; exactly the type of actions and functional movements demanded of them when negotiating obstacles and quickly getting out of the top hatch of a tank.
So is it calisthenics that best translate to real-world strength? Gymnasts and acrobats able to mimic the climbing and leaping prowess of an ape are awe inspiring. Is it not practical for an urban resident to be able to scale a wall or land a jump off a rooftop? Parkour practitioners believe it is. Make no mistake: these feats take strength to control fully and finely human bodyweight.
Utilitarian strength in and out of the weight-room setting depends very much on training objectives and approaches as well as lifestyle challenges. Everyone has to decide for themselves what kind of strength they need and how much