Fitness is Functionality


By Jim Frith

January 2011

If you believe that the only reasons to take good care of your body are pride and vanity,

think again. In the Bible, the Parable of the Talents instructs us that we must be good

stewards of the Master’s assets entrusted to us.

Whether or not you believe in the Bible, and whether you believe that your body is His

asset or yours, you should take care what you have.  After all, when your car is not running

properly, you take it to a mechanic.  How much more important is your own flesh and blood?

A wave of change is sweeping aside old notions of exercise in this nation.  How and why we

exercise is rapidly evolving no matter our ages.  It is enabling better health and less pain

among mature adults, and it is yielding higher levels of performance among athletes.

Some people pride themselves on letting their bodies fall into disrepair.  It is easy to feel

superior to those who toil at fitness by telling ourselves that we are not vain enough to worry

about our bodies.  Allowing your mind to be confused into neglecting your health is a poor

way to rationalize poor choices and a sedentary lifestyle.    

Unfortunately, mass marketing in the mainstream fitness industry has confirmed this

deception by catering more to vanity and pride than to health, wellness, and function.  The

time has come for serious change if bodies are to be restored to optimal health. 

Decades ago, personal training began when financially successful men began to ask body

builders to teach them how to exercise in order to build muscles.  This began the fitness

industry down the path of training for appearance, not function.  The result is that thousands

of health clubs across the country are seas of heavy weights and exercise machines

designed to increase muscle mass. 

Later, but still long ago, the Jane Fonda revolution brought millions of women into awareness

of aerobic exercise.  This was a bit of a backlash against the body building school of fitness. 

It was a welcome change, but still the focus was primarily personal appearance.  Don’t get me

wrong, aerobic exercise can be very beneficial.  But by itself it cannot produce an optimally

functioning body.

Now, at last, functional training is redefining fitness.  In short, a fit body is a functional body. 

The ideal functional body is one that works optimally.  It has little or no chronic pain, and its

risk of injury is minimized.  Its joints work smoothly and with minimal restriction.  Its owner

has excellent balance and stability.  A functional body coordinates the use of its muscles,

central nervous system, and skeleton to produce maximal strength for any given amount of

muscle mass.  A functional body has excellent stamina, excellent cardio respiratory health,

and a healthy body composition.  A functional body is superbly trained to carry out the

purposes of its owner in daily life and/or athletic competition.

Functional training is designed to work toward achieving a functional body.  This is the way

of the future.  This is how Olympic and professional athletes are trained now.  It is also the

way that top personal trainers guide formerly sedentary clients toward greater health and


When the training focus moves away from vanity and pride and toward functionality,

everything about how you build an exercise program changes.  For example, old school

training is primarily straight ahead.  Functional training incorporates side-to-side movement

and rotation.  Why?  In life, our bodies must move in all directions. Often, the worst injuries

come when people are rotating or changing directions.

Old school aerobics work mostly lower body, but sometimes allow upper body musculature

to weaken or to be burned for energy.  Functional training incorporates aerobic exercise with

resistance training in movements that imitate real life.  This approach helps to preserve

musculature all over the body.

Old school trainers would tell you “No pain, no gain” while you constantly nurse old and new

chronic pains.  Functional training helps you to rid your body of many chronic pains to enhance

range of motion and strength.

Old school weight training emphasizes muscle size and non-functional measures of strength

such as how much weight you can bench press.  Functional training teaches your nervous

system to fire all the right muscle groups to make your body more coordinated, stronger, and

more competent with the muscles you have.  Of course, if you want bigger muscles, you can

get them with functional training too, but they will be more functional as well as bigger.

Old school weight training is typically done in the seated position or lying down, and it typically

isolates specific muscle groups.  Functional training is more often done standing, and it

generally incorporates the entire body in movements that would be used in sports or daily


Functional training raises metabolic rates to more efficiently burn away excess fat than

either traditional aerobics or traditional weight training.

In short, whether you feel called to service or would simply like to appreciate and care for

the gifts you have been given, you should adopt a fitness plan that enhances your body’s

functionality.  This means that it should help you to address any chronic pain, and it should

bring your body into patterns of movement that minimize injury, maximize usable strength,

increase range of motion, improve body composition, and generally enhance your health. 

And, as your fitness progresses, you need not feel shame that your appearance may

dramatically improve, too.  Consider that a gift as well.

Jim Frith is a certified Master Trainer with the National Federation of Professional Trainers. 

He is also a Certified Personal Trainer and a Corrective Exercise Specialist with the National

Academy of Sports Medicine.  He is owner of Ascending Fitness, a personal training studio

located in Black Mountain behind the Pizza Hut.  See for more