My Encounter with Functional Fitness

By Ryan Williams

I first started training with weights my freshman year of high school. My goal was to have all the freshman girls associate me with being the strongest male in the class. When people thought of my name, I wanted it to depict images of Hercules, the great Leonidas, and the legendary Bruce Lee. Despite my vain intentions I did succeed in this goal. I went from being able to barbell bench press 135 to 245 lbs. in just under six months. I would spend day after the day doing dumbbell curls, machine rows, and presses, and a variety of isometric exercises. Although I became ‘stronger’, my physique looked as though I could have landed a lead role in Planet of the Apes; still I felt indestructible. In fact instead of being nicknamed Hercules, my peers bestowed on me the title “King Kong” (looking back I see how foolish of me to think that meant they were calling me an indestructible force). However, my reign of indestructibility began to rapidly disintegrate and turn to ash like the great city of Pompeii. I began to notice my athletic performance (thorough out track and field, football, and crew) begin to steadily decline. I felt clumsier, disproportionate, my muscles began to fatigue more rapidly, and I essentially began to feel as if I was a walking Cinderblock. Yet I continued to ignore these realizations because I thought, “there was no way my mass and pure bench-pressing capability could deceive me”. It was not until I tripped walking up a flight of stairs splitting my knee open, that I realized something was wrong.

My testimony, is not just intended to serve as comic relief at my blind arrogance and turmoil. It serves as a turning point in my life when I realized that my understanding of fitness as being able to bench-press the most weight, or being able to grunt the loudest as being incorrect. After my injury, I began my rehabilitation process by researching, and learning as much as I could about what it meant to be truly fit. I went through a “triathlon athlete phase”, a “body building phase”, and even a “Pilates” phase (thought to be honest that left more of an impression on the freshman girls than my beginner Ape phase). It was not until I reflected back and thought. what training regime would emulate the physical characteristics of the great names of fitness I originally wanted to be associated with? This is when I discovered the value of functional fitness.

What is Functional Fitness?

Functional Fitness’ core premise is to train for the real world. Functional training implies exercises that prepare your body for everyday activities. It was intended to provide people who are not training to be athletes, or whom are not making a living from exercising, an opportunity to still develop themselves physically. Training in this fashion, would makes activities such as playing with one’s children, or carrying groceries much simpler.

Functional Fitness requires exercises that train your muscles to work together. Unlike traditional isometric training that is geared towards increasing the strength, mass or endurance of a targeted muscle group, functional training teaches your muscles to operate as a cohesive unit. This is important because whether you’re an athlete, a soccer mom, or a C.E.O the daily activities you do require you to use multiple muscle groups at once. Try and picture what muscles you engage when lifting up a heavy box from the floor. You are not just using your biceps, but are engaging your quadriceps, gluteus muscles, and your entire core. Therefore, training to have gorilla like biceps, or horse like leg muscles is not practical for carrying out everyday activities.

Functional Fitness- The solution to be becoming truly fit.

Physical therapists created functional training like exercises to allow any individual to carryout their normal daily activities without causing pain, and discomfort to a new or previous injury. This means that functional fitness is not only geared towards making an individual stronger for their every day requirements, but also is intended to injury proof the individual as well. Functional Fitness exercises require you to work not only on muscular hypertrophy and power (which is the main goal for people who want to increase mass and strength), but to ensure that you focus on all areas of fitness, as to not lack sufficiently in any area that would lead to injury. To sum up, we are essentially creating an individual who is well rounded in all aspects of fitness, as well as being injury proof to potentially unforeseen physically demanding circumstances.

Functional Fitness, isn’t that for old people?

The intended audience for functional fitness seems to be either someone recovering from an injury, your average citizen just looking to stay in shape, or an elderly person trying to make sure they do not pop a hip out any time soon. However, I feel this type of thinking limits the endless implications that Functional Training poses. Functional training can be applied to every category of professional athlete, just as much as it can your every day health conscience citizen. In many instances Functional Training may even improve ones performance in athletic endeavors. Functional Fitness aims at assuring one exhibits enough agility, stability, strength, speed, and endurance at whatever there task may be. From my personal experience, I realized the physique and strength I desired fit along the lines of exhibiting combat fitness. Therefore I applied the principles of functional fitness to ensure I was a well-rounded combat athlete, and I can see the beneficial results in my ability to recover faster, train harder, and endure more in my athletic competitions as a collegiate boxer. In fact, over the last few decades’ military divisions throughout the world, including the United States Marine Corps, and United states Army have geared their training regime of their troops towards being functionally fit. This ensures the troops are ready for the multitude of unexpected challenges presented in combat, as well as prevent injury during the troops execution of their demanding daily lives.

Is Functional Fitness for You?

Obviously, I am a supporter and a follower of training geared towards functional fitness. However, this does not mean I think it applies to everyone. If your goal is to solely increase one aspect of fitness, (whether that be strength, speed, size, power etc.) then training geared towards functional fitness may not be for you. It is not without good reason that isometric training has lasted so long in the fitness world. If one focuses on isometric training they will definitively see an increase in mass and muscular power. Still even in this regard functional training may be useful. Rather than training towards functional fitness, one can incorporate functional fitness exercises into their training regime to ensure they do not fall behind in other aspects of fitness while in pursuit of a singular goal. This will be useful in preventing injury, as well as ensuring you can still operate efficiently throughout all the other activities in your life other than training.

 

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