Intro to Functional Bodybuilding with Marcus Filly

Training is great. Yet often there’s a wall that a lot of people hit after a few years. Sooner or later most athletes are faced with either a lack of motivation to train, plateaus, or in the worst cases, overuse injuries. That’s where functional bodybuilding comes in. Training programs like the Awaken Training series have become increasingly popular in the functional fitness community lately, and for good reason.

Marcus Filly - Functional Fitness
Photo credit: Ghitta Larsen Images

So, what exactly is “functional bodybuilding”? To find out I went to an expert on the subject. I had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with Marcus Filly to discuss the benefits of adopting a Functional Bodybuilding program when training for optimal functional fitness. Marcus is a six-time CrossFit Games competitor, team captain for Phoenix Rise(NPGL), health & fitness coach for over 8 years, and head coach at his gym, Revival Strength in San Rafael, CA.

As an active kid, Marcus loved athletics, which soon led to falling in love with training. When he was in his younger pre-CrossFit years, he’d dabbled in many of the movement patterns found in functional fitness today.

After coaching at, and ultimately owning a CrossFit affiliate, Marcus found the OPEX coaching programs. This led him into more personalized training through OPEX’s methodology. Later opening Revival Strength as an on-site training location on top of the remote coaching he offers.

Marcus said that after years of training he began working with Mike Lee and James Fitzgerald at OPEX Fitness. Since then he has amassed 7 years of consistent training, and has a lot to show for it. As he says, “I didn’t just program hop and neither should you. If you program hop you are going to be sorely disappointed.”

Functional Bodybuilding

Functional bodybuilding is a way of training for maximum capacity. Every athlete, professional or recreational, has weaknesses. The problem with most programs is that they aimlessly attempt to improve those weak areas. Everyone loves to copy the programming of elite athletes. Falsely assuming that is how to reach their desired level of performance.

That level of performance, the goal of many, is not attainable without a foundation. This is something that many CrossFit gyms do not focus enough on, and is not fully solved by the recent surge in “accessory work” in the fitness industry. To truly form that foundation, this is where functional bodybuilding comes into the picture.

Forging a foundation

What is seen on TV is a multi-year process of training, and building towards that elite-level of fitness seen on the world stage. As Marcus brought out, “if you want to develop your body properly … you have to start with building awareness, motor control.”  The system of functional bodybuilding “highlights that as a system by which we honor, quality, control, first and foremost, prior to building intensity” he said.

As has been brought out by Greg Glassman, Fitness is Functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains. Marcus rightly argues that “in order to truly do high intensity fitness, you must have a base of strength, and a base of cardiovascular fitness, and support for that. Otherwise you can do some intensity but you will not be able to do it for a long period of time.”

A functional bodybuilding progression for a beginner, to form that foundational strength, is “planks, push ups, elevated push ups, tempo squats. it’s not sexy, and it’s not accessory work, it’s just learning how to move your body. That is as much a part of functional bodybuilding as sets of five in the back squat for somebody with some unilateral work to go with it.”

The truth is unavoidable. Success is attained from sometimes doing the types of movements and workouts that aren’t as fun or as Instagram-worthy. But dedication to these, along with the more fun aspects of fitness is the secret-sauce to long-term fitness success. You have to start with foundational strength.

The competitor advantage

The majority of professional athletes in functional fitness today, although they give it various names, are actually doing a form of functional bodybuilding. When someone is “training at a sub-maximal effort, then we can’t call it CrossFit. They’re not chasing intensity, they’re chasing quality.” Marcus went on to give his own personal example, as a multi-year CrossFit games competitor. “My training for years has always been based in this notion of ‘I need to not train at maximal effort, if I truly want to be able to perform at maximal effort on game day’.”

Functional body building just makes sense. As Marcus recognized, he “needs to come in and approach training with care, quality, and control” if he wants to make impressive feats and challenges like the CrossFit Games Regionals “look easy”. That’s how people like Rich Froning can make it look so easy, that’s because he trains with care, quality, and control in preparation.

Enjoy Training, avoid burnout

Photo credit: Ghitta Larsen Images

A lot of people are patterning their programming after those in the top tiers of our sport. But when you do this, you end up getting crushed by the volume. As Marcus said, when you put their feet to the fire and ask what they want; “they just want to look good, feel good, and they don’t care about winning the Open.”

Athletes who aren’t trying to podium, are tired of aches and pains. Tired of over training. It’s not that the volume is too much. But they haven’t taken the time to build that foundation that will allow for the increased volume.

Having a plan that has a focus and that builds upon itself is important. That’s where programs like the Awaken Training Series and functional bodybuilding in general comes into play.

With functional bodybuilding, Marcus said, “you still get to see all the fun movements that you see people doing, but you’re doing it in a thoughtful progressive way that keeps you feeling good and looking good.” While there’s a small fraction of society out there who really want to make it into a world-class level of competition, most really just want that. To be healthy, happy, feel good, and look good. Using a program like Marcus’ will help everyday athletes “manage intensity and avoid injuries.”

In the end isn’t that what everyone wants? Less down-time means more time to progress, and to feel great.

Learn more

Marcus offers the Awaken Training Series as an entry-level program for athletes to join online, to get a taste for functional bodybuilding. It’s a 12-week online program is a group template. With 60-90 minute sessions that contain a combination of functional bodybuilding strength, conditioning, and accessory work in them.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Awaken Training Series and Functional bodybuilding in general check out their website. On their site, they have a basic equipment requirement list, and are certainly happy to advise on substitutions as well should you be missing any of the items on that list.

Also, be sure to check out Functional Bodybuilding 101 by Marcus Filly and Mike Lee.

For information on Marcus’ gym check out!

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Laskey Hart

Editor at, CF-L1 Trainer | Since day one in the gym, Laskey has been trying to beat the laws of physics. At 6' 5", it may come as a surprise that Fran is in fact NOT his favorite workout, and burpees are NOT his favorite movement. It does, however, mean that every day is a new day to prove people who say "CrossFit isn't for tall people" -- wrong.

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