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Functional Fitness and You

For me, an exercise program begins and ends with CrossFit. I love it. It is hard, it is fun, it is badassed, it is my community, and I would absolutely hate to give it up. That said, if I have to I will. It is comparatively expensive to other ways of working out, and at the end of the day things happen, and interests change. I’ve also never said that this blog is just for me. There may be some readers out there that aren’t interested in CrossFit. I get it. Really I do. It took me over a year to build up enough courage to go. If you want to read about my first experiences in the box, go ahead and read my article “CrossFit is my Church” . If after reading it you want to give CrossFit a shot, great! If not, read on!

What the Heck is Functional Fitness?

Function fitness is developing a body that does what you want it too, when you want it too, in the way you want it too. It is working towards a body composition that will allow you to climb a mountain, go for a bike ride, take a quick jog, try a new sport, defend yourself from an attacker, slay some zombies, build a shed, play with your kids, or do whatever else you want it to without ending up so sore you can’t move. It is a type of fitness that allows you to jump higher, run faster, and lift heavier things. If you are functionally fit you have the body you were meant to have by thousands of years of evolution.

A functionally fit body is a lean body, it is an efficient body, it is a body that will last a long time. A functionally fit body is an attractive body. When someone who is functionally fit walks into a room, everyone notices, and whether they admit it or not are impressed.

In functional fitness we focus on those exercises and movements that can be directly correlated to things that can happen in the real world. I first really thought about this idea in reading a book called Level Up Your Life by Steve Kamb. In it he mentions the Archetype of the Ranger from fantasy literature who is a generally fit jack of all trades. He mentioned 4 time CrossFit Games Champion Rich Froning Jr. , I looked the fella up, and decide right away how I wanted to look, and the sort of fit I was looking to be.

Where do I find functional fitness?

Well, my preference is CrossFit, but that is certainly not the only path. If you like a class atmosphere, but either don’t want to do CrossFit for some unrelated reason, or don’t have a Box nearby you can find functional fitness classes at most gyms under the title of “Boot Camp”. If you could find a martial arts class that has a strong fitness component that likely would be functional fitness as well. Speaking of Boot Camp, you could also join the military as ALL of their Physical Training tends toward the functional. I imagine that if you tell a personal trainer you are looking for functional fitness they can build you a program. If you are uninterested in classes of any sort, can’t swing monthly fees, or live in an area bereft of health clubs the rest of this article is what your are looking for. Speaking of Personal Trainers, I am not one. Use the equipment and advice below at your own risk. I assume no responsibility for any way you may injure yourself.

The: I like Gear Option

One of the things that makes me happy is gear. It brings me joy. Functional Fitness can have LOTS of fun gear to go with it. If I had a few bucks to spend, and wanted to make my own Functional Fitness program for my garage, basement, spare room, ect. Here’s what I would get and why.

  1. Brute Force Sandbag – If I could only buy 1 thing, this would be it. The internet has a huge number of training resources for it, and it is all around one of the most versatile tools out there. I love this so much that I have compiled a YouTube Playlist of workouts & exercises for it which I will update as I find more stuff. Note: There are other brands of sandbag out there, I like what I have seen of these ones, but feel free to pick an option that fits your needs and budget better.
  2. Suspension Trainer – This is another incredibly versatile piece of training equipment. It allows you do do a large number of functional exercises and scale for difficulty. It essentially allows you to upgrade your body weight resistance workouts. Again, lots of internet resources for workouts. The US Military even has a set of YouTube Videos that goes into detail about suspension training workouts. Note: The market leader in this space is TRX, but the one I link above has worked for me and is significantly less expensive.
  3. Jump Rope – That’s right. The thing you either used or didn’t in grammar school is one of the best tools for fitness in the history of the world. There is a reason that boxers have used these little torture devices since the beginning of time. When I first started CrossFit one of the first challenges I set for myself was to “get” single-unders. Now I’m after double-unders. Buy a rope, doesn’t have to be fancy one like the one I link, but believe it or not the equipment matters here. Again, utilize YouTube for how to do it well.
  4. A Box – This will serve you VERY well if you have a little skill with woodworking. I hate box jumps, steps ups, ect. But they are amazing for increasing your level of Functional Fitness. The box will also allow you to do fun stuff like incline and decline push-ups. Elevated Pike Push ups, and a host of other exercises.
  5. Kettlebell – Man, do I love these things. Putting together a full body workout program that uses a Kettlebell, is incredibly easy. You need to be careful because some of these exercises can mess up your back, but this is another “if I could only buy one thing” sort of option. Start with a weight that you are certain you’ll be able to handle comfortably, and scale up as your comfort level does. Most workouts only take 1 Kettlebell. One of my friends swears by the Simple and Sinister Workout Program by Pavel Tsatsouline. Most of it can be found for free on YouTube, but the book adds some value as well.

With all of that gear you’ll never run out of new things to do, and that’s the important part. The biggest difference between training for Functional Fitness, and training for what the fitness industry tells you  is variability of movement. You should not do the same workout twice in the same month. In order to keep your body progressing you need to keep it guessing. The tricky part with going it alone is doing your own programming and tracking, but if you are motivated enough you can be successful.

The: I don’t like gear, or have a Gym Membership Option

The no gear option is comparatively easy to describe. This involves a lot of work on your part, but comparatively little money. This is the body weight exercise option. The age we live in is truly amazing in that we can learn to do almost anything we want to for free. If this lady built a house by herself from YouTube videos you can research a body weight workouts for functional fitness. Literally just search that, and poke around a bit. The same is true with a Gym Membership. Research, research, research. Also, look for apps. My favorite is WOD Generator. It also happens to be free.

Okay, I get it. I found the exercises, but how do I do it?

See I was hoping you ask that. Here is how you make your boring old workout a Badassed Functional Fitness workout. They need to be short, High Intensity, and Varied. In functional fitness we do the following types of workout.

  • AMRAP – This stands for As Many Reps As Possible for a given amount of time. Typically 10, 15, or 20 minutes. Find 2-3 exercises from your research, and pick a number of reps for each exercise. Examples of rep numbers are widely varied. If you want simple just do 10 reps of each movement, then start over. There is no resting in this workout, you go as fast as you can for the time allotted. If you need to rest for breath, do so. You’ll record the total number of reps of all movements you completed.
  • EMOM – This stands for Every Minute On the Minute for a given number of minutes such as 10, 15, or 20. Here you’ll pick no more than 2 exercises of 8-10 reps. Each minute you will do those exercises as quickly as possible, and rest the rest of that minute. If you are doing something that involves weight, you can go a little heavier here, but do less reps. Finishing one of these is all you need to record.
  • Tabata – This is a time based workout, and is used to really concentrate on specific movements. 1 round of Tabata is typically 20 seconds of a particular movement followed by 10 seconds of rest. This is another where you want to go fast. For a full Tabata workout you will typically do 1 movement for 1 minute, then in subsequent minutes do different movements. I really wouldn’t try Tabata workouts lasting longer than 10 minutes. Again record the total number of reps of all movements completed.
  • Rounds – In this workout we pick 2-5 different movements and do them in sequence for 3, 5, or 10 rounds without resting. After we’ve completed all movements we record the amount pf time it took to get through the workout. You can do whatever numbers of reps per set you’d like, but for simplicity nothing beats 10.

Now, you’ll no doubt notice that these workouts all take between 10 and 20 minutes to complete. So, what do you do for the other 40 minutes of your workout, you may ask. Well, you pick less intensive movements that hit the same muscles as the workout you designed and spend 20-40 minutes doing those, this is called a specific warm-up.

If you chose a 20 minute specific warm-up you can spend the other 20 minutes doing slow, low rep strength training like a 5×5 (5 reps for 5 sets). Again, I’d work the same muscles I was going to work in the Workout Of the Day WOD. Alternatively, if you are so inclined it will not be terribly detrimental to do 20 minutes of Cardio. You can go hard or easy on the Cardio depending on how you feel. The Workout Of the Day (WOD) is the most important part though, so, don’t kill yourself on the warm-up. Structure your workout like this: Cardio or Slow Muscle, Specific Warm-Up, WOD.

Since the workouts combine both strength training and cardio you can do them for every workout. No more boring 40 minute elliptical sessions! At the moment I am doing 5 workouts, 1 treadmill day (but only because I am training for a trail run), and 1 full rest day per week.

I hope this helps you do some good solo training. If you want to level up, get some community, and get a better workout then I’d still suggest CrossFit, but if it ain’t your thing at least exercise that way.




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