Friday, November 14, 2014

Functional Fitness

Functional Fitness

Crossfit. Gym Jones. Military Athlete. Combat Conditioning. RAW, MARSOC Prep: What do they all have in common? They all work in some fashion to be functional for survival of every day life with a focus on making you stronger. Certain programming sets will set you up for more Military/Law Enforcement specific fitness, others, general fitness.

What is functional fitness? This was best defined by the author/blogger “John Mosby” as:
“Physical conditioning training is only functional if it fulfills one simple performance criteria: will it help you improve your ability to do what you need to be able to do, for the duration of how long you need to be able to do, it on demand. If not, it's not functional fitness, it's... Retarded."

Functional Fitness will have buzz words you will hear that will be outside the normal weightlifting lingo, and the non fitness oriented worlds’ lingo.  I will use some of these terms throughout the post:

·      WOD – Workout Of the Day
·      Movement – Anything done on the workout. Weightlifting, Calisthenics, Gymnastics, etc.
·      Bodyweight Movement – anything done with only bodyweight – push ups, air squats, pull ups, etc.
·      1RM – 1 Rep Max
·      PR – Personal Record

I used to do the stereotypical “Monday is Chest day, Tuesday is arms day, Wednesday is Leg Day (Frequently skipped by the weak girly men in the world), Thursday is Back Day, Friday is something else day” workout plan. What I found was that I was spending anywhere from 1 hour to 2 hours at the gym each day, which left me with no time to do any running, which is a personal relaxation tool. I noticed that yes, I did slowly get stronger on the typical workout routines, but that I didn’t have the same endurance nor did I have time for this important thing called life.

For a while, my goal was to switch to a “Functional Fitness” style workout routine and finally had no choice when my local gym shut down over 2 years ago. A co-worker agreed to set up a garage gym at his place and we bought equipment for it. Kettle Bells, Bumper plates from Rouge, squat rack, bar bells and some dumb bells. I quickly found that this was all I needed to do basic Functional oriented workouts.

In January of 2013 I had the opportunity to receive some basic coaching in Olympic style lifting from a couple, who had become close family friends. This helped greatly focus my workouts with more lifts being applied, and mostly proper form. A garage gym will allow you to slack off on form because nobody is there all the time to critique your form. This is a negative to a garage gym, but one you can work around by attending coaching sessions as well as videoing your lifts for critique. The form matters, not the weight or reps. The family friends would send us their WOD each day allowing us to have no choice but to do the assigned movements each day. This helped stop me from picking my workouts based on the movements I liked or was good at and skipping those I needed to work on.

As I progressed from a beginner, to more “experienced” with the WOD’s I realized my body was getting rapidly stronger. The WOD’s shifted from beginner level to more difficult. 
Example Beginner:
·      For Time:
·      21 Pullups (with or without rubber band assistance for those needing assistance)
·      21 Kettle Bell Swings (53# is usually the minimum men’s weight and 35# the women’s)
·      Run 400 meters

Example Current:
·      10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Front Squat. 
o   Work towards your 1RM if not set a new one.
·      Then
·      5 Rounds for time:
o   7 Muscle Ups
o   21 Sumo Deadlift High Pulls at 95#s.

There is a huge fitness level difference in what is required to push through the beginner level one and be on your back afterwards and sore for the next two days, and 12 months later doing the Second example and walk out the door a little sore and exhausted but ready to go to work.

Can you do “functional fitness” workouts when you do not have access to Kettlebells, Olympic Lifting Bumpers and Bars, Squat Rack, etc? Yes. You won’t get as much strength improvement out of it necessarily, but by being creative and utilizing your environment and what junk is lying around your house/yard/shop, you can find some weight to lift. To do pull ups, you can spend $20.00 at Home Depot and build a frame for a piece of scrap metal tubing to do pull ups from. Used large tires – tractor or semi-truck size – can be used for tire flips or attach a rope to them and do tire drags. Use of sand bags for one handed snatches or carries as well as weighted squats. Also you can do ruck marches or “rucking.” Plenty of resources available on that online.

I really have noticed the benefit from changing workout styles in the more physically demanding aspects of life. Especially telling was an incident where what was supposed to be a 6 mile trip in full kit (30-40#’s) turned into a 13.2 mile desert walkabout. Interestingly, those who do functional fitness styled workouts, were fine and kept going during this. Those who did the bodybuilding Arnold/Weider stuff, sucking wind and needing breaks frequently. A trip to the Harvard of Gunfighting, DARC, sure showed the benefits. There fellow students who did some variant of functional fitness, all were kicking butt thanks to a more intense training regimen as found in Functional Fitness.

How does one measure the results of their “functional fitness?” There are many ways to do this. Tracking the 1RM on various lifts, finish times in running to overall times for so called “benchmark” workouts (Fran, Murph, Grace, etc.). There is also the ultimate test of being able to do perform on demand. I found that Mosby put it well when he described this:
“It doesn’t matter how big your biceps are, or how fast you can run 26.2 miles; if you can’t get your self and your gear to the fight, under physically challenging conditions; and engage the enemy with well aimed rifle fire, then you are fundamentally, functionally useless.”

Hopefully all of my readers as well as myself will never have to run the performance on demand test, but if you do, you better be able to perform. It could be your life, the life of a family member or the life of an innocent victim.

For more reading:
Crossfit Football:
Ranger Athlete Warrior – RAW:

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