Archive for Functional Workouts

Functional Strength Wedding

This past weekend is proof that you never know where workout inspiration may be found.

Upon arriving at a close childhood friend’s wedding reception I found myself sitting near a bunch of close friends from high school and one couple I had never met (a friend of the groom.) It turns out my friend had intentionally sat us together because she knew he liked zoo zitsu (her inability to say jiu jitsu after all these years is quite funny to me.) What was also funny was that this guy not only “liked” jiu jitsu, but he owned an mma gym, managed numerous successful up-and-coming professional fighters, and was a personal trainer of all of the fighters. As an engineer by trade he had a very interesting perspective to training his athletes. The conversation was phenomenal and I look forward to staying in touch.

Interesting take-aways from the conversation:

– Every (“non-heavy”/Olympic style lift) performed by his athletes were performed in a state of imbalance. For example, single legged squats were performed on a Bosu ball, lifts using cables were done on inflatable disks, or roller boards.

– Resistant bands were used extensively in explosive exercises to mimic judo throws, wrestling shots, strikes, etc.

– Cable workouts were modified to mimic functional fighting maneuvers. (Ex., cables are pulled cross body to mimic arm drags, and various pressing movements were done while twisting to engage the core and imitate realistic escape from bottom movements like “shrimping.”)

– Looking at your workouts from an engineering and kinesthetic lens keeps your movements safe, effective, and functional. It may seem a little nerdy at first, but it only takes the inevitable functional strength results to quiet those thoughts.

– There is no need to limit these realistic workout movements to combat sports. Want to lift your three year old with ease – incorporate kettlebells or sand bags into your routine. Want to mow the lawn without feeling like you’re bench pressing your Toro? — start doing push-ups with added band resistance (bands held underneath your hands with the band draped across your back.)



Manual Workouts – Buddy System

One of the biggest plateau busters I’ve found in my lifting cycle is using “manuals” or “partner” lifts. Manuals, or at least that’s what they were called in our high school football workouts, entailed either some or all of the workout being resisted by another person (lifting partner).

For example for preacher curls, a manual lift would be when the lifter’s partner would aid the lifter in the concentric portion of the lift and would pull down as the lifter would resist against the added eccentric portion of the lift. This lift is brutal and care needs to be taken by the partner to not pull down too abruptly as to injure the lifter’s bicep.

For rear delts (the muscle in between the shoulder blades) the “lifter” would lay on the bench face down, while the partner would stand straddling their lats. With their arms hanging below the bench, the lifter would press against the partners pressure being applied (with their hands) against the back of the lifter’s elbows. The return to the starting position would be resisted by the lifter, as the partner would push down against the lifters elbows.

Other variations of these types of lifts can be explored in your next lift with a friend. If you come up with other ideas, please list them in the comments section below.

The ERG/Rowing Machine: The Most Efficient of Your Workout Time

I must admit that I have been very disgruntled with the (predictable) influx of new gym goers that have shown up post-January 1st. However, this recent swarm has actually resulted in me trying new machines that I typically avoid when I have free range of equipment.

For example, this past week, I had planned on making a short trip to the gym (I had evening plans) for a quick cardio session on the treadmill. When I arrived, I was greeted by a packed gym, and a waiting line for all treadmills and elliptical’s. What to do…what to do? I could leave, I could wait, or I could lift. — OR — I could visit my long-ignored acquaintance, the rowing machine (or the ERG).

I knew from friends that had been rowers in high school and college that this was a phenomenal workout, but feeling much more comfortable on the treadmill, bike, or elliptical I rarely if ever attempted working out on this foreign contraption. What does ERG even mean? (Turns out after a quick visit to Wikipedia, ERG that ERG is short for ergometer, or a measuring device for the amount of work expended.)

My take on the ERG? It’s my new favorite piece of gym equipment. Being a proponent of quick, cheap, and efficient workouts I am utterly embarrassed by my ignorance of this machine. While I am skeptical of the “calories burned” metric on any workout equipment, I was floored to find that after only 17.5 minutes on the ERG (at the highest setting (10)) I had burnt 777 calories!! Even if this metric was radically off (by 30% say) it is still nowhere near the calories burnt through an equivalent amount of time on other equipment. In addition to the “calories burned” stat, I also felt that it very much complied with my struggle for functional strength gains. After stepping off of the ERG, I felt that I had just completed 3+ sets of shrugs, upright rows, and squats on a typical lifting day. Never have I stepped off a piece of cardio equipment and also felt like I had just lifted.The ERG is an amazing piece of cardio equipment, that I will add into my cardio routine from this point forward. I highly recommend that you at least try it in your next cardio day.

I was also surprised to find that an ERG is actually reasonably priced (when compared to standard cardio options) when I looked on Amazon. Maybe when I get out of school (i.e., I am back making money and not spending it) I will grab one of these to add to my future home gym (a dream of my future home owning experience.)

Enjoy your rowing!

Plyometrics For Variety

Recently, I was in the gym and I found the New Year Resolution’ers taking up all of the equipment I planned to use in my leg workout. I decided to reach back to my ACL-rehab days and incorporate more functional, body-weight exercises and plyos. I found my workout ended much quicker than usual, and I ended with a more “athletic” feeling after my lift.

My workout included two- and single-legged squats on the flat portion of the Bosu ball (i.e., the bouncy portion was on the floor); plyo box jumps, and plyo (or jump) squats. In addition to these exercises, I also did walking lunges for roughly 20 feet per rep, and hamstring curls using a Swiss Ball (this entails laying on your back and pulling the ball to your butt with your heels…aka: exhausting.) I also did the inner and outer thigh machine to activate my hip muscles.

After my shower, my legs felt fatigued, but “springy.”  I look forward to including more plyo exercises into my functional workout days.


Modified Pull Ups

Want a quick change up for your average pull up?

I’ve found that draping two towels over the pull up bar and using them to perform your pull up activates your forearms much more effectively than the standard form. The bigger the towels you use, the more difficult the pull up will be to perform.  Oftentimes, I will simply use the towels that are laying around that are used to wipe off the equipment if I don’t bring my own (seeing this written out actually makes me realize how grimy that is…so you will probably just want to bring your own.)

In terms of reps and sets — look to be able to perform far fewer than using your standard grips. I don’t even attempt to fight for a certain number, I just go to grip failure…but feel free to experiment with your own rep/set combos.


Garage Workout (Quick Workout)


Because Tyler and I are both trying to get strong, but we’re on a tight time budget (Ty works full-time, and I’m a full-time MBA) we are attempting to create a quick workout program that is effective, but also fast.

Tyler has a garage, so we are able to use this in any weather. Listed below are a number of workouts, of which we perform seven. We do each workout for one minute, with one minute break in between…for a total of 14 minutes. Sounds easy, but it’s terrible…so we’re guess it works.  We will follow up with our findings. First I will list possible equipment you can use:

  • jump rope
  • mats (if your garage has concrete floors)
  • chair
  • punching bag (~100lbs) hanging or on the ground)
  • pull up bar (we use the exposed cross beam 2×4’s in the garage)
  • kettlebell (we use 45lbs)
  • boxing/mma gloves

Now pick 7 of the workouts below and do each of them for 1 minute with a 1 minute rest between workouts. If you’re a beast, do more. If you’re new to working out…do less.

  • Kettlebell Stiff Legged Deadlift (with upright row)
  • Kettlebell curls (both hands on the outside of the handle)
  • Kettlebell two-handed swing (look it up on YouTube (we’ll probably post our own video later))
  • Kettlebell squats
  • Pullups (do as many as you can, and then do negatives for the remaining time. negatives will require a chair, so that you can jump up to a finished pull-up position and slowly let yourself down (think 5-7 count))
  • Pushups
  • Ground & Pound on punching bag – lay the bag on the ground and hit it until you get tired. If you’re a wrestler/jiu jitsu-er you can just do “top control” drills.
  • Bag flip – with the bag laying flat on the ground, grab one end and flip it over. Run to the other side and repeat.
  • Jump Rope
  • Burpees
  • Running Man Lunges – think doing a lunge in one motion and then jumping into a lunge on the other side. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  • Dips – on the chair, or if you have a dip machine use that. (If you have a dip machine you have a badass garage and I want to visit.)

We then follow up our 7 workouts with crunches to wrap it up. We do 5 different variations, for 30 reps a piece…150 crunches total. Looking back on it, that doesn’t seem like a lot, but I remember them not being fun.


Listed below is a list of potential things from Amazon that can be used for the workout. (If you buy them through this site, we get a small percentage, but it may be possible to find cheaper options used through Craigslist. Tyler and I are also exploring ways to make some of our own equipment to keep costs down. When we do this, we will let you know.)