February 09, 2009

Fear of Functional Fitness

No, Please No! Anything but That!
Photo credit: kevindooley

In a recent post I poked a bit of fun at the whole notion of "Functional Fitness." But you know how in second grade, little boys often go out our their way to tease and taunt the little girls they find intriguing? And that's because they have confused, conflicting feelings and they're too immature to deal with it?

Well, that's pretty much the story with Crabby McSlacker and Functional Fitness.

Yes, it's true. I'm perhaps flirting with the notion of adding a bit of functional fitness to my workout. Because while I Hate Change, I do know variety is good, and it's counterproductive to keep doing the same things all the time, blah blah blah. However, if I do decide to get more Functional, you can be assured it will be gradually and grudgingly.

And believe me, I still have have some doubts and questions. Can anybody help?

First Off, A Review: What is Functional Fitness Again?

For those of you who don't want to click back to the last functional fitness post, I'll just repeat what they said at WebMD: the idea is "building a body capable of doing real-life activities in real-life positions, not just lifting a certain amount of weight in an idealized posture created by a gym machine." And you're generally supposed to use compound movements rather than working individual muscles.

Since I'm the last health blogger on the planet to think about getting more Functional, you probably are all way ahead of me on this anyway. But, for a little more info, here's an msnbc article on functional fitness. You can also just google and get about a trillion hits.

Why Am I Finally Considering Functional Fitness After Stubbornly Ignoring This Trend for Years?

1. It's getting more and more mainstream and I keep reading about it one everyone else's blog and I feel left out.

2. I'm getting really, really, bored with my current workout.

3. Annoying Old People keep hogging my usual gym machines and I need alternative ways to exercise the same muscles. (When winter's over and it's time to move back to Provincetown MA, I won't have to contend with Annoying Old People anymore! Instead I'll be fighting with Annoying Circuit Queens).

4. Functional Fitness seems to involve toys, like jump-ropes, balls, bells, cones, and inflatable things. This sounds like a nice change from massive pieces of gym equipment and allows for a more portable workout.

5. Theoretically, I will be less likely to injure myself doing ordinary activities. As someone who once severely aggravated a back injury by bending down to tie my shoes, this might be a smart idea.

6.People who do lots of functional fitness exercises seem pretty kick-ass.

7. And speaking of kick-ass feats of functional fitness, did you guys catch that Whobody passed her SWAT test? Here are some of the requirements: "a mile and a half run in 12:18 or under.... Sprint 100 yards and drag a 160lb dummy with a weighted vest on in 28 seconds..." Editorial note: Accck!

8. Because cardio and strength training often happen at the same time, you can get more done in a shorter workout.

9. The final inducement? A friend of the Lobster is a personal trainer whom we visited when we were in San Diego. He knows his stuff, and he's all about functional fitness. He was very persuasive! This also means that the Lobster is interested in functional fitness now, and the Crab has a workout partner to play with. Said personal trainer gave us a starter workout to try.

Why Am I Still So Reluctant?

Here are some of my hesitations and concerns:

1. It's Not Obvious What You Should Do:

With traditional strength training, once you've gone through an orientation at the gym on the machines, you're pretty much set for the rest of your life. You move the pin to higher weights when you get stronger; you move the pins back down when you've been slacking. As to cardio? Put on your shoes and head out the door for a run! Or climb on a machine and start pedaling/pumping/trudging.

But "Functional Fitness" is all about mixing things up; there are endless variations of things you can do. Oddly enough, if you can't afford a personal trainer, all these options may flee from your tiny brain when it's just you and the cones and the kettlebells or whatever.

Alternatively, you can do Crossfit or Monkey Bar Gym or some other organized Functional Fitness Workout delivery system. This is great for people who don't have authority issues and who are enthusiastic, flexible, non-complainers. Um, do I need to point out that I am not one of those people? I don't like someone else telling me what to do if I don't feel like doing it. But I'm afraid I'm too lazy to research and design my own workout. Once we get bored with our "starter workout," will I be motivated enough to move forward on my own?

2. It's Also Harder to Figure Out How to Do It Right

This is another reason so many functional fitness folks seem to start with classes or personal trainers. Form is important; plus the equipment is not as adjustable as a machine in terms of targeting your particular body. You have to make adjustments for your size and strength by doing different versions of the exercises, or by doing a lot more or a lot less.

3. Functional fitness is supposed to make your muscles stronger, not bigger.

I keep reading this "reassuring" information as though I'm supposed to be happy about it. Functional strength training is NOT body building!

Just one problem: unlike most women, and many men, I want bigger muscles! Call me weird, but I like a "buffed" look, whether on men or women. I'm in no danger of ever, ever, approaching that exaggerated body-building-champ non-human look. But I worry that if I substitute running around flinging kettlebells and using my body's momentum, rather than slowly and miserably hefting conventional weights, I'll lose what little definition I've managed to gain.

Also, frankly, I'm strong enough for my regular life doing the old-fashioned kind of weight training. I can carry groceries in from the car and put my luggage in the overhead bin. If I need to move a large piece of furniture up and down many flights of stairs? I'm gonna hire a freakin' moving company!

4. The "Toys" are more expensive than you'd think! We went to a sporting good store and found out what ONE GODDAMN KETTLEBELL cost. We're seriously looking at the big plastic 14lb container of Kitty Litter with the handy handle and thinking... hmmmm...

But I'm Still Kinda Psyched to Try Something Different

I'm under no illusions that I'll totally embrace this functional fitness thing and abandon my traditional routine entirely. However, I'm willing to try swapping out one or two of my old workouts a week.

Because even I'm getting tired of hearing myself whine about the dreaded gym. It's definitely time to freshen things up a bit.

So the Lobster and I have tried a few functional workouts. There seems to be more of an inertia problem than when we stick to the tried and true: we keep finding excuses to pick a different day to do our Functional Fitness workout. But then when we do actually get out there and do it--it's, um, kinda fun!

Anyone else contemplating a change in your routine? Or got any advice on getting more "functional?"


  1. With the "toys" issue: you might be able to get some of it at Target for cheap: I found an 8 pound rubber medicine ball with a detachable handle (making in at fake kettlebell) for under $25.

    And you need to really try to get the handle off of it. Sadly, 8 pounds was the heaviest I could find (maybe use it for single arm exercises).

  2. Love functional fitness (no secret there).

    Why don't you try substituting one of your regular routine exercises with a functional one every day for a week until the majority of your workout consists of functional exercise woohoo!...just to see how it feels...change is good...change is good..keep chanting that to yourself Crabby...change is good...


  3. Remember the best part about functional fitness, a lot of the grueling workouts last less than 30 minutes.... One of the most painful and rewarding ones I have done lasted only four minutes!! (But I felt it for days!!!) Plus, it only required a stopwatch and a lot of air squats.

    Thanks for the props on the SWAT process... Im still hanging in there with the boys!

  4. I'm with you Crabby. The problem with "functional fitness" is there's no rules. I need someone to tell me that this is how you do something and this is why. Machines and pumping aerobic music fit in my comfort zone. (Speaking of music, there's a CD giveaway on my blog today) Sorry my mind wandered and that's also the problem I have with this function stuff.

  5. WTG Crabby & Lobster! I think you will love FF. And you totally can still bulk up using it. Have you seen the kettlebell queen on YouTube? Google her. You'll see what I mean:) This was my fave line tho "If I need to move a large piece of furniture up and down many flights of stairs? I'm gonna hire a freakin' moving company!" SO TRUE!

  6. I was going to mention Target, then I saw that Tricia did. But in addition to her post I'll also mention that I saw kettleballs there this weekend, if only I could remember how much they were. I know they were cheaper than I've seen them elsewhere but that's all I remember. I'm probably heading back there today so if I happen to think of walking past that section I'll make a mental note of the price and come back.

  7. We-ell - you could always come here for a visit - I can show you some functional fitness.... :)

  8. Or you know... there's always this wonderful thing called the INTERNET. lol

    I need more coffee.

    Their website has them listed from $19.99 and up, depending on the weight you want.

    Also... that should be kettlebell in my previous post, not kettleball.

  9. Sigh, I think I *am* functionally fit; I'm just not gym fit. All I seem to do these days is tote large piece of furniture from room to room or carry things that I shouldn't be able to carry because there isn't anyone else to do it (did that sound whiny enough).

    (Quite seriously, it amazes me how really functionally fit one can actually be while still being not at all fit-into-my-jeans fit.)

  10. FUnctional fitness seems like a great idea - anything I can do at home I"m more likely to do.
    I'm saving up for some kettle bells to try and work some basic exercises into my workouts...altho I wish there was a video I coudl watch to see someone do it right once, so I'd know what I'm doing...
    Change is good.

  11. I'm with you on this. My main problem with functional fitness is the boredom factor. Just like when I do bootcamp training, I get incredibly, intensely bored doing this workout. Can't do it. Pass the free weights.

  12. Two ideas:

    1) I learned the speed bag because I wanted a new fun workout.

    2) Zumba! Salsa on "roids!" You will be A-Rod on the dance floor when you take it out of the gym to the clubs :-)

  13. I think I'm afraid of FF too. I'm afraid the exercises will be so hard that I won't be able to do them at all and then my morale will be crushed. I'm afraid I'll do it wrong and hurt myself. And yes, I'm afraid I'll get more buff than I'd like. (I've heard thate CrossFit can help you build big muscles).

    I know intellectually all these fears are silly. I can do the moves as best I can and slowly improve over time. I can be sure I'm using proper form at all times. And from what I've read about building muscle it happens so very slowly that I'm sure I could stop or modify the program before I start getting mistaken for Arnold.

    But it's intimidating - I feel ya! That said, I've messed around with compound exercises, body weight exercises, and some of the toys and I love it all. It's very fun. So I think a slow integration of these sort of exercises is the way to go for me.

    Good luck and let us know how you do!

    P.S. I got a 15 lb. kettlebell at Target for $40 and it came with an instructional DVD.

  14. I think some functional fitness is a fantastic idea! (the wheels are tuning on this end)

  15. Having a would-be industrial engineer for a father, I grew up well aware that a gallon of water weighs eight (and a smidgen) pounds. I am quite capable of grasping the handles of two gallon jugs in one hand. So why do I want to buy weights for home, now? Water is so adjustable.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  16. There is something about a workout like this that gives you such a high compared to a typical gym workout.

    One caveat - you'll start looking at everything in your environment as a possible challenge - "Can I jump over that bench?"....And to your partner - "I bet I can carry you to that fence and back."

  17. Crabby,

    I am with you 100% on wanting bigger muscles, but also being frustrated with boring workouts. After some experimentation though, what I have found that works well for me is doing CrossFit workouts in replacement of my traditional cardio work.

    Many (if not most) of those workouts are designed to be done as quickly as possible, often with bodyweight only, so they get the heart pumping, the metabolism revving and the fat burning.

    If you take a look at their site and look at some of the routines, you should be able to find one that compliments your normal weight routine, and will give you something to spice up your workouts at the end.

    Hope that helps,


  18. Wait. I'm confused.
    If this is functional fitness, does that mean I've been doing dysfunctional fitness all this time?
    Actually, that does make sense now that I think about it.
    And April, I love that you spell kettleball er, I mean kettlebell the same way I do. Maybe we could start a movement! Not a functional one, though.

  19. I'm really interested in hearing how this experiment in functional fitness works out! I'm trying to change up my workout as well and anything that can be done from home is a bonus.

    Keep us posted!

  20. Thanks for these great tips!

    And for the record, I can't help calling it a kettleball either. Bells ring, right? These things don't ring and have no right to be called bells.

    I think a Kettlebell should refer to a Southern hostess who is always at the ready with fresh tea and coffee. Oh wait, that would be a kettlebelle.

    Anyway, I will try to keep you folks posted if I actually do keep up with it. Otherwise, it may be one of those things that I bring up with great fanfare and then never blog about again...We'll see!

  21. i've been wanting to incorporate functional moves into my workout for a while - just waiting for PT clearance!

  22. I think my dislike for "functional fitness" began at a young age, when my dad used to scoff "Go out for the track team? Why waste your time running around in circles when you can be mowing the lawn and carrying firewood?" But your workouts are fun? Really? Hmm...

  23. I don't think you have to worry about losing size and definition with functional workouts. Take a look at gymnasts. Their workouts are all functional, yet both the men and women are ripped.

    - Dave

  24. You know what's holding me back? The name. "Functional Fitness." It sounds so bland and serious. I want to rebel against it already.

    That record cover made me sigh nostalgically. I miss elementary school gym class where we did stationary aerobics to the classic tune of "Go You Chicken Fat Go"."

  25. Functional fitness has sort of become the only kind of fitness I do... can't remember the last time I was in a gym!

    When the weather is nice, the possibilities are endless. Skating/cross-country skiing/walking/biking/hiking if you've got some neat trails or a park nearby are my favorites. Also in addition to all those fun toys, you can also be really childlike and start climbing on buildings. I do that occasionally. It's lots of fun! And then you get to see what the world looks like from a rooftop. But do it at night when you're less likely to get caught hehe.

  26. It's only because my Mama raised me right that I don't comment on your dysfunction, and functional movements!

    I do think we could take it on the road and fill the house on comedy night, however :-)

  27. Try the crossfit.com website, they have workouts, demo videos of the individual exercises, and lots of exercise inspiration!!!

  28. I am totally in love with functional fitness. I spend way a lot of money for a trainer who comes three or four times a week and makes me run for ten minutes for a warm-up, then spends the next 45 minutes making me do evil, evil things with weights and bands and balls and little spots on the floor.

    I'm more defined now and stronger than I've ever been. I'm a nurse, so lifting patients is a big part of my job--and I haven't been hurt since I started working out with Attila the Trainer. I'm still fat, yes, but my balance is excellent and I'm very, very tough.

    Plus, I don't fall down nearly as much as I used to. I'm so much more coordinated, it's scary. That alone is enough reason for me to keep going with this. LOVE it.

  29. crazy day here :)

    did my functional fitness by hoisting the electric garage door open sans 'tricity when the power was out.
    A mama DOES have the strength of 10 men when she is desperate to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE with a whining Toddler.

    may I count that Oh Cranky?

  30. Groan. Something else I have to worry about not doing? Except it does sound kind of neat. I was hoping, though, that it was about actually doing some kind of work that would result in clean kitchen cabinets or something.

    Anybody want to talk about Fat Bets? I'm trying to get a discussion going over at my blog.

  31. Combine working with a functional fitness trainer with your usual "body building" routines. I like being buff too and find combining them accomplishes all the goals.

  32. I have a kettlebell and I hurt my knee using it. Or that's part of my excuse anyway. I'm finally going to the doctor on Thursday to find out exactly what's wrong with it -- My knee, not the kbell. I liked using it while I could. Now I pick it up, dust it and set it back down.
    Is that FF enough?

  33. "We're seriously looking at the big plastic 14lb container of Kitty Litter with the handy handle and thinking... hmmmm..."

    HAHA, I just started kettlebell training, and was floored by how much two 15-pounders cost. Seriously! Maybe I can strap a handle to my little 15-lb pug and swing him around. (j/k of course. I'm pretty sure cruelty to animals is not part of the routine.)

  34. for me functional fitness has made a big difference on the scale compared to when I'm trying to workout.

    Like weekends we spent doing yardwork, I lost a lot of weight. Or if we have a party coming up and I'm on my feet all day running around cleaning, shopping, etc. the same thing happens. I have no idea why this is!

  35. hmmm...i don't know about ff but i laughed my butt off when i saw the bonnie prudden album-i had flashbacks to jr. hi PE on rainy days!!!

  36. Hm. I've never tried functional fitness. Although I like throwing the medicine ball back and forth with my friend. Does that count?

    But I really, really like weights. I like the precision of knowing how many more reps I did than last time, how much more weight I've added. It makes me feel like I'm improving, you know?

  37. Sorry, I can't get past the fact that you managed to dig up an image of Bonnie Pruden. Flashback!

  38. I've begun adding some functional to my strength program. (I wonder if it's easier because I use freeweights instead of machines?).

    I actually like playing around and figuring out how to do things a bit more functionally...

    And if you and lobster are truly uninspired - and since you claim to be in the bay area - you can always join me at my gym in the 510 and play together...

  39. Functional fitness has no doubt become quite a buzz word! Hey, the lovely squat is a functional exercise , start with that!

  40. Although I abhor catch phrases, I try to incorporate "functional fitness" exercises into my workout. For me though, its a matter of practicality. I try to keep my workouts inside of 30-45 minutes. In that case, something's gotta give.

  41. My partner is one of you insanely fit people. She cycles to and from work every day and goes on cycling tours covering long distance. She started doing CrossFit about 8 months ago and has built up some amazing muscles from it so have no fear that you will lose your muscles from using the machines at the gym.

    As for doing the WOD every day, maybe just see if the WOD for that day appeals to you, if not go for a run or do something else for that day and if it does then do it and see how you go.

    I am planning on starting CrossFit once I finish the 30 Day Shred.

  42. HA! This is great! Haven't tried it yet, but already feeling less cranky!

  43. I find that functional fitness gets a lot in for a shorter space of time. Its a trade off between my lazy self, and my fit self

  44. it's so true you can get into a fitness routine rut.. .guaranteed to make ya cranky :) Forget about the buzz word.. just mix it up with what calls to you...
    when in doubt.. hit the trails, you'll either find the answer or forget the problem :)

    git'r done
    gp in montana

  45. Functional fitness seems like a good idea to me. I like to save time by working out at home.
    I've bought some kettle bells to try and work some basic exercises into my workouts...
    I'm going onto Youtube to check for some VIDS of someone doing it right, so I get it right...


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