Do a web search of “Functional Fitness,” F2, and you will likely encounter a plethora of definitions, systems claiming to be the be-all, end-all of the term and even rants deriding its overuse.
Chances are, those involved in one or more forms of exercise, or have seen the workouts of the cast from the “300” or “Man of Steel” may have heard this phrase, and possibly had friends or family try to convince them to embrace a form of F2 over their chosen means of fitness.
But what does F2 actually mean? How does it compare and contrast to other forms of exercise? Is it for you? Let’s examine what the functional movement is about, how it differs from other methods and associated pluses and minuses.
This column is not for or against F2, but is an examination of it as a concept.
One F2 system, popularized in televised competitions, summed it up as “life is cruel to a specialist and rewarding to the generalist.”
I get the point. An example is a 125-pound elite marathoner who is probably not equipped to carry a rucksack two-thirds their weight while also porting a heavy weapon and ammo while doing dismounted land navigation. Sure there are outliers everywhere, but by and large, this means if one’s focus is only on cardio or strength/appearance training, then they may possess a gap in agility, flexibility, stamina or other areas, referred to as modalities.
Many aficionados of F2 state they are more concerned with performance versus aesthetics, although the physiques of many champions in F2 competitions seem to belie this, but advocates cite their solid appearances are a result of fitness and not the objective.
How is F2 different?
So, how is F2 different from other approaches to fitness? Much of it involves intense, versus longer duration, cardio interspersed with gymnastics moves, mobility drills, some strongman/power-lifting moves and Olympic lifting, designed to use the entire body versus isolation exercises. F2 is not cherry picking a few select moves from a system designed as a holistic approach, such as performing a few repetitions of a ball squat and believing one has completed a total body blast to achieve elite fitness (Author’s note: I threw that in there as I frequently observe this).
Proponents of these systems state it trains all the modalities through constant variation and total body involvement. Most F2 systems involve scripted workouts often done for time, number of rounds or both, under the guidance of a coach which some claim makes them dig deeper and prevents boredom as well as takes the guesswork out of developing their own path (although many of the top competitors are now doing their own programming). However, it is possible to perform the workouts on one’s own or with a partner versus the formal workouts at a center, but sense of community and the ability to compare one’s performances on specific workouts to others are viewed as strengths of some F2 systems.
Critics cite that many of the gymnastics moves and Olympic lifts are complex maneuvers which are not optimal for longevity in regard to fitness, especially without a background in either. When done for time or speed, form can break down or be thrown out the window which may invite injuries. They also see a failure to develop proficiency in any one skill and cite the one-size-fits-all approach of the workouts du jour may do more harm than good by failing to program around injuries or pre-existing imbalances in a trainee’s current level of fitness.
So is it for you?
Remember, the purpose of this column is to inform, educate and maybe even inspire, and so only you can make that determination, notionally in the form of an informed decision.
People should ask themselves “is my current fitness program suitable for reaching my goals?” Are they perhaps focusing solely on cardio at the expense of strength/lean muscle development which speeds your metabolism? Or are they only focusing on training show muscles, the arms and chest, with a gap in stamina, flexibility and total body strength? If so, can they correct by changing their blend of cardio to strength training, or training their entire body versus just a few muscles? If yes to those things, will it achieve their goals?
Many enthusiasts would be well advised to broaden their approaches to fitness. In fact, there are a growing number of endurance athletes, fighters and others who have turned to F2 training for this reason. However, they remain specialists in their chosen sport, using F2 to augment their fitness, and not solely rely on F2 to take them to elite levels in the upper echelon of other sports.
As always, I encourage those curious about the F2 approach to be autodidactic, doing their own research to see if they are interested in learning more, or perhaps even try it.
Those who join a group or a center for F2 training should take the time to talk to the coach and explain that they want to learn proper form first, regardless of how long even the timed workouts take. Certain zealous types seem almost proud of their badge of honor — injuries, which can happen while doing anything, even with the utmost caution.
Why court this through poor form on complex movements which are new to most trainees? One of the more sensible and laudatory approaches to F2 at a dedicated center involves what the coach terms “foundations” to ensure those new to this type of exercise develop the tools necessary to fully benefit from the demands of total body and multi-modal training.
Good luck — train as if your life depended on it, for one day, it might! I welcome questions, comments and suggestions at TierFiveFitness@hotmail.com.