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An Introduction to Functional Fitness
Functional fitness is what has separated the leaders from the rest since the beginning of our time on this planet. It has determined our history, mapped our discoveries, been forged in stone, and frequently decides who gets to live the life they really want, and the legacy they are able to leave.
It’s about building strength, flexibility, mobility, power and being able to outperform on the sports field, battlefield, and in the boardroom.
Learn to implement it, and master it now.
About This Guide
In the following sections, you’ll uncover the roots and history of functional fitness. You’ll find out the role it has played among early bodybuilders, ancient warriors, and the modern military. We’ll look at how it is vital for athletes, fitness competitors, business professionals, and everyone else.
Then we’ll dig into how to do it, what you need, and how to integrate it into life and measure results.
- What is functional fitness?
- The benefits of functional fitness
- How functional fitness got started
- Fighting fit
- Getting started with functional fitness training
What is Functional Fitness?
Functional fitness, as the name suggests is at its core – training for functionality. To become superior in performing various functions. That can run the gamut from everyday work, to looking better in a suit (business or swim), to getting the edge in other types of training, physical sports, and just being in elite shape to take on the occasional home invader or terrorist in your neighborhood or travels, to being ready to epically survive and dominate in the zombie apocalypse.
- Training in a more natural and practical way
- Training to perform better in real life
- Achieving sustainable gains
- Boosting real health and preventing injury
- Looking like a badass, and being able to back it up
- Opening up an exciting new set of flexible workout choices and experiences
While functional fitness can and does certainly improve looks, is it differentiated from workout fads in that it is a practical way to train, that most often integrates multiple movements and muscle groups, for a superior end result.
The Benefits of Functional Fitness
Health & Safety
While missing a workout may seem like the end of the world to real fitness heads, what’s far worse is an injury that can take you out of training or competition for weeks, months, or even more than one season. Unfortunately, too many conventional workout concepts of the last 100 years have sacrificed health and safety, for artificially enhancing specific body parts and muscles, unnaturally. You swagger out of the gym swole and pumped like a badass from putting up 400lbs on the bench press, only to fumble your phone in the parking lot, bend over to pick it up, and throw your back out. Crazy, right. Or you feel that pop in your shoulder on an isolated weight machine, and just know you aren’t going to be lifting much of anything for the next 6 weeks. This is where functional fitness really kicks ass. It trains you in natural and combined movements, that mimic real life, so that your core is strong, your joints and ligaments grow strong in alignment with your other muscles, and you can actually support yourself doing one legged squats, and lift, rather than barely being able to hold your balance when you are off the bench. It will keep you on track, and training longer and more consistently.
Have you ever looked around the gym, and realized that everyone you’ve seen there, training daily for the last two years, just looks the same? Some may have even lost definition, and gained fat. Then you start to wonder whether you are still getting any gains. Or maybe you’ve just been frustrated by not seeing more improvements in your physique, or breaking a personal record, even though you’ve been on a rigorous training regimens and diet. That’s the plateau effect. You just top out, and get stuck there. You just stop getting a good return on your time spent training. Functional fitness is ideal for preventing and breaking through plateaus. It provides a strong foundation, on which you can build bigger gains, and shrink wrap your skin around for a more ripped look. It provides a variety of easy ways to keep stretching yourself. It’s also a highly versatile way to add and integrate new workouts which support growth of other specific functional athletic needs.
Holistic Training & Return On Investment
Functional fitness workouts generally incorporate most of the body in one session, and improve the body’s ability to work together. Via WebMD, Kinesiologist, Paul Check, who has advised the US Air Force and Chicago Bulls adds that “Functional exercise is much more neurologically demanding than machine exercises.” You gain improved balance, a stronger core, lean muscle, fat burning, and mental benefits all at once.
How Functional Fitness Got Started
Survival of the Fittest
Since the beginning of human history, function fitness determined the winners and the losers. If you were going to survive dinosaurs, mammoths, and sabre tooth tigers to live long enough to eat and reproduce, you had to be in great shape. There were few treadmills or bicep curling machines around in those days. You had to be able to move fast and nimbly, be physically strong, and eventually to have the mental fortitude to secure food, innovate, and develop rudimentary technology. You had to look decent enough to attract a mate too.
Despite all the evolution and developments in technology since then, not much has changed really.
Look at these shots of Elon Musk, before and after he really became the hot shot innovator, icon, and billionaire he is today.
Yes, that’s really the same guy!
Ancient Health & Fitness
Dating back as far as 3,600 BC there are Chinese texts showing that the emperor of the times required subjects to train daily. Other wall paintings show evidence of body weight (functional) training dating back to at least 1,850 BC.
In, 2007 the Office of the Surgeon General and American Medical Association launched a global initiative to get people to begin exercising again; citing inactivity as the biggest health problem facing us in the 21st century. Yet, it is established from medical texts that ancient civilizations had connected the dots between exercise and health, and dominating civilizations had been prescribing exercise as medicine since between 1,500 to 600 BC.
It is believed the first book completely dedicated to exercise was published in 1553. The ‘father of gymnastics’, Friedrich Jahn, got his start in the early 1800s. It was his response to having survived the Napoleonic invasion, and believing that having a physically fit nation was the best way to keep up moral, and deter future invasions. He is known for leading others on cross country expeditions, gymnastics, and calisthenics.
The Loss & Rediscovery of Fitness
Somewhere between then and the early 2000s we lost our way. We got the Olympics, bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger, LA Fitness, and a whole bunch of other gym franchises and infomercial products, as well as Fitbits. We might be looking better than we have for a long time. Though, some might argue we aren’t necessarily as healthy as we used to be. We aren’t as functionally fit as we used to be.
Fortunately, this began changing a few years ago. We rediscovered the paleo diet, endurance and obstacle races, and found a new love for nature, vitality, and functional fitness.
Functional fitness has always been, and will be a staple of military training. That’s true for nations in peace times, times of internal oppression or invasion, as international deterrents, and for future and in the field combat readiness for active troops.
We have Tae Kwon Do and various styles of karate and other martial arts which have been methods of survival for civilizations for hundreds of years. Often they have proven vital in oppressive periods where they were forbidden from owning or possessing weapons. These are all examples of functional type exercise.
We have legends like the Spartans, the Roman legionaries, the gladiators, and David versus Goliath, which while they may have benefited from weaponry, certainly wouldn’t have made it as far as they did, or still be remembered without a great amount of functional training.
If you want to be good in a fight, a race, a javelin throwing competition (where your life depends on it), or the UFC cage, you aren’t just going to rely on having used a squat machine or chest press machine in the gym. You want to have trained specifically to be in shape for that competition, and to ensure those muscles are all working together for the desired results.
Although today’s military victories may appear to rely more on mental fitness and agility than physical prowess, it can’t be overlooked. Plus, we can’t forget that functional fitness is crucial for health and mental strength and performance. Even if you are just sitting in a tank, or in a shipping container in the Arizona desert, operating a drone on the other side of the world; your physical fitness will make a world of difference.
Military training protocols have changed and evolved over time. Yet, there is increasing awareness of the advantages and a return to essential functional fitness.
In the past the military was accused of relaxing fitness requirements during peacetimes, with expensive consequences. According to The Art of Manliness, when World War II started, 50% of the first 2 million troops called up, were found unfit to serve. 90% of those were due to health and fitness. In 2013, an army major at Fort Bragg had begun to institute a new training program for his soldiers. A functional fitness program which began to incorporate things like kettlebells. This wasn’t just about improving fitness, but eliminating injuries. As many as 45% of non-deployable troops were found to fail because they were injured during old training routines. After this new military training, far fewer reported issues.
The US Marines began instituting a new HITT or HIFT (High Intensity Functional Training) in 2012. Scientific studies by the National Institutes of Health conclude that HIFT was highly recommended for the military. Among the findings were a need to spend 25% to 80% less time training, improved metabolic conditioning, muscular strength, and physical preparedness for the unpredictable demands of combat.
It’s also highly efficient and effective to implement and stick to as well. The above mentioned study found functional training very scalable, and useful for all fitness levels, as well as rehabilitation. Then consider the equipment and time involved in preparing for and engaging in training. Outside of exercises themselves soldiers around the world can use these training techniques, without having to have a full gym worth of weights airdropped to them at foreign bases. They don’t have to spend so much on equipment, at the sacrifice of other essential supplies, like food and water. They can do it anywhere, anytime.
Getting Started with Functional Fitness Training
Key Elements of Functional Fitness Exercise
- Based on functional tasks and real life activities
- Personalized for the individual
- Progressive training
- Frequently repeated
- Real life object manipulation
- Performed in context environments
- Integrated exercises for core, balance, strength, and power on multiple planes of movement
- Tracking and measuring improvement
Assessing Functional Fitness
Improvements and effectiveness in functional fitness is generally measured in terms of:
- Reaction time
- Body composition
- Cardio respiratory fitness
- Neuromotor fitness
Common Types of Functional Fitness Training & Equipment
Functional fitness training often starts with basic movements and body-weight training to provide a solid foundation and ensure users are prepared and fit enough to progress with equipment and tools safely.
Common exercises and gear include:
- Body weight exercises
- Suspension cords
Integrating Functional Fitness Training
A functional fitness training regimen can be integrated as a part of your daily and weekly workouts, cycled to spur new growth or for cutting phases, or used to upgrade or replace old workout habits.
20 to 45 minute sessions of functional exercise can provide intense fat burning benefits, improve mental performance, and help energize you at different times of the day. For example; if you’ve been hitting the gym to do weights after work in the evening, you might begin with a 25 minute rucksack run first thing in the morning to wake you up, and get in an extra workout. If you have a competition or photo shoot coming up, you may want to ditch the heavy weight for 6 weeks, and get lean and cut with sandbag runs and suspension cord workouts. If you are planning on traveling, you can take resistance cords in your backpack, or a deck of ideas for simple bodyweight exercises, and stop stressing about finding a gym, or exorbitant day pass rates. If you’ve run into an injury in CrossFit, MMA, or weight lifting, you can use the above strategies to keep in shape, and actually rehab yourself back into the game, without making a torn muscle or bad joint worse. Or if you are just looking to shake up your workouts and keep it interesting; make it something fun you do on your weekends with someone you love or care about.
Tracking Progress & Results
You can work with a coach, use some kind of digital fitness tracker, an accountability partner who does it with you, or just record your progress with a notepad or spreadsheet.
You can select a variety of ways to measure the results you want most from the previously mentioned items. You can record volume of workouts, the weight and reps you can do, your speed and reflex times, body fat, and more.
As with any form of exercise or diet it can take a couple of weeks for something to kick in. Don’t look in the mirror on day 2 and quit because you don’t see massive results. Those are the results of what you were doing to your body two weeks ago. Don’t take too much time off before recording results either. You can lose your gains in just 6 weeks. So, don’t start it for 2 days, go on vacation for 2 months, and then blame you fitness plan when you get back, if you haven’t been working it. Do measure consistently, do keep pushing yourself to improve on your own personal record, but give yourself credit for how you feel, as well as what the scale says.
Functional fitness is about creating REAL, direct results in performance, that you can really use, and keeping you in the game longer. The data backs it up. Even though we fell off course for a while, our military, and leading fitness thought leaders seem to be back on track with ideas, tools, and training routines that really work, can get you that toned body, improve your strength, keep you healthy, in top mental gear, and in combat ready shape. It’s fast, easy, and affordable to get started too. Hit the deck, the road, or pick up a sandbag and carve your own trail.
It’s not just a matter of surviving, but thriving, and living life at your peak, no matter whether that’s on the track, the mat, the battlefield, or the boardroom.