7 Unique Benefits of Adding Functional Muscle
by Dave Thomas
Whenever we talk about muscle, there are always three distinct crowds we’re addressing. The first crowd gets it. They know muscle is healthy and they know they need it.
The second crowd understand the benefit but is hesitant about the pursuit of muscle because they don’t want to “get too big.”
The third crowd? This is the crowd that secretly fears anything more than light weight because they are convinced in their mind that just by looking at a loaded barbell, they will turn into a nationally ranked bodybuilder.
First, it helps to understand just what we mean when we talk about functional muscle, the kind of muscle that we build in the PSC programming. This is muscle that is the result of total body, compound lifts such as squats, presses, deadlifts, rows, cleans, even push-ups and pull-ups. This is muscle that develops very slowly and is typically spread out across our entire body in a slowly accumulating manner.
An example of adding functional muscle might be someone who comes to the gym for three months, drops eight pounds of fat and adds four pounds of muscle for a net reduction of four total pounds, but healthy addition of four pounds of muscle. This isn’t “getting to big”, “bulky”, or anything else along those lines.
Be honest about which crowd you are, and head into this list with an open mind if you’re somewhere in the second or third crowd.
Here are a few reasons why adding functional muscle will help you.
You Will Live Longer
The amount of lean body mass you have (a friendly way to say muscle for those of you who freak out at the thought of adding it) is directly proportionate to our life expectancy. While much of the science is centered around an older population, the easiest way to thwart off the need to have it when your older?
Develop it when you’re younger.
Having functional, lean muscle improves your daily vitality, makes you more resilient, more able, extends your life.
Soft Tissue Function & Symmetry
Isolation work and sub-maximal work on the big barbell lifts in the range of 40 – 60% of your one rep max can improve the health and function of our joints, tendons and ligaments. This goes a long way in keeping us healthy as we continue to age and incorporate the rigors of training into our daily lifestyle. Further, isolating muscles also creates better symmetry in the body, and we know that a leading cause of sports injury is asymmetry among large muscle groups.
You Burn More Calories
Muscle is the most calorically active tissue in the human body. There is the old adage that one pound of muscle added to your frame will burn an extra fifty calories per day simply existing and looking awesome. That’s often debated and honestly, I don’t really know or care if that’s true or not. The point is lean muscle is very metabolically friendly and will go long way towards a healthier, more active metabolism. The more lean body mass we have, the healthier our metabolism, and the more calories we burn. That’s fact.
Ever wonder why you’re lean friend can devour food and never seem to gain weight? Chances are, they have a relatively low percentage of fat on their body relative to their amount of muscle.
Building muscle is going to allow you to sustain higher fitness outputs for longer. The more muscle we have, the more phoshocreatine potential we have for immediate power use. If you recall from our 9 Steps to Measure a Complete Athlete, the first source energy system we used is the ATP-PCr, or the Phosphocreatine System. This is where we use burst power, and our body stores creatine in the muscle.
Creatine is largely responsible for repeat, high-power muscle contraction so by adding more functional muscle to our frame, we’re able to improve our creatine storage capacity and our strength and power endurance output.
More muscle gets you stronger. Not only that, but the further you progress along the curve, the more important hypertrophy work becomes in order to continue progressing. At the onset of a program, I’d say around one to two years, most of your strength gains occur at the neuromuscular level. That is, our body and brain working together more efficiently to perform heavier movement. However, once you’re past a certain point your body is no longer going to adapt like it once did and you need to focus on strength from a structural level, that is, building the muscle and soft tissue.
Think about it like this. At first, the soldiers you have are being trained on what to do. Then, they get really good at their task. However, at some point they’re as good as they’re going to be and you simply need more soldiers to take on more weight.
This is the process of adding muscle as you progress along the curve.
Assistance Lifts in Disguise
One cool aspect of adding muscle is that it usually comes in the form of assistance lifts for your strength work, for those of you who never miss a chance to hit the performance side of the board.
For example, a bicep curl is meant to develop a larger biceps. However, this has the added benefit of helping your pull-ups, as well as helping your tendons and connective tissue become more resilient and less prone to overuse injury like tendinitis. Extending the triceps in an isolated fashion (skullcrushers, kickbacks, pushdowns, etc.) will benefit your bench and press lockout. Rows help build the back and strengthen the deadlift. The list goes on.
You Look Hawt
Aside from the functional benefits listed above, adding muscle is just plain fun and rewarding to see the visuals of your labor. You fill out your clothing better, you’re more confident and you have more of an athletic look to your frame. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to add muscle out of vanity. Don’t let any functional snobs tell you otherwise. While we will always believe “go” trumps “show”, the reality is you can usually have both.
No need to get your maximum pump on every time you go to the gym when it comes to adding functional, spread out muscle. Challenge yourself on the major barbell movements, pick up a heavier kettlebell or set of dumbbells, focus on getting more protein, and before you know it you’ll notice your health, physique and physical ability all remarkably improve.