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Functional Fitness: Getting the Most Out of Your Workout

Being physically fit means being able to move for function. Your workout routine should reflect a functional level of being physically fit. Let us show you how.

Pop your head into any gym or scroll through any fitness hashtag archive and you are bound to find evidence that we, as health junkies, are moving away from traditional fitness methods and moving toward something with a bit more functionality. Athletes are jumping on and off boxes, CrossFitters are doing pull-ups into the one-hundreds, and climbing a rope that has taken on a life outside your middle school gym class. This all makes sense when you really think about it. It brings us back to a single question: why do we work out?

Previously, the answer would be simple: To look good. It is no surprise that only a few years ago, the elliptical machines and treadmills would fill up around this time of year (May) and then empty out near the end of September. People were trying to burn off those last few pounds for the swimsuit season. But now, the gyms I frequent are loaded with fitness enthusiasts throwing medicine balls up in the air while they do a burpee, slamming sandbags against walls, doing high-intensity interval training punctuated with push ups and sit ups. Being in the military, I might have some bias, but if you asked any of my battle buddies, the main reason why we train hard is to make ourselves hard to kill. I think this is a cause for the seemingly sudden shift in the way we train with using full body weight exercises and more functional fitness routines. It is not necessarily to make yourself a more versatile adversary, but to better equip yourself to handle the stuff life throws at you. A perfect example: In nature, you will most likely never have to use your biceps to curl something in order to save your life. However, you just might have to pull yourself up a branch to escape a territorial bear.

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All of this has me thinking about the APFT or Army Physical Fitness Test. This test consists of two minutes of push-ups in order to evaluate your upper body strength, two minutes of sit-ups to evaluate core strength, and a two-mile run to see what you’ve got cardiologically. While the test is not perfect, it does function as a pretty accurate yardstick to measure a soldier’s physical fitness and readiness. What is interesting to note is that the United States Army is this country’s oldest organization and its test to measure fitness is all centered on body weight exercises. There is no bench press event, no preacher curls to failure, and even no military press. Not to say there is no benefit to these exercises because there certainly is, just that there is something to be said about body weight exercises, their effectiveness, and their growing popularity.

With all that being said, I would like to encourage anyone with a lack of bodyweight movements in the current regimen to give it a try. And if you have made it this far, I would like to provide you with some insight into my routine to train for the month or so leading up to a PT test. If you practice what I preach, I won’t guarantee (as results always vary) but I do believe there is a strong possibility that you can add nearly thirty push-ups and sit-ups to your repertoire.

This routine should be implemented for at least a month in order to maximize results. After a while, it becomes an effective ancillary warm-up to larger and more complex training sessions. So here it goes:

Start with a bit of math. So, start on a Sunday and perform a PT test. Time yourself doing two minutes of push-ups and two minutes of sit-ups. We are going to use these numbers as a baseline. Let us say you were able to do 60 push-ups and 60 sit-ups, merely for the sake of working with whole numbers. Now that we have our data, Monday through Saturday will be our working days, with Sunday left over as a recovery day. As always, begin each routine with 10 to 15 minutes of dynamic stretching and mobility movements in order to prime your muscles for stimulation and growth.


Perform 3 sets of push-ups for 20 seconds, with 10 seconds of rest in between. Using the figures from your PT test, take your maximum amount and divide it in half (60 will become 30) and then divide that number in half. For every set, in this example, your goal should be to hit 15 push-ups in every 20-second set. Do not quit; do not go to your knees. Struggle through each rep and reap the benefits.


Perform 3 sets of sit-ups for 20 seconds, with 10 seconds of rest in between. Similar to the push-ups, use your number from your initial PT test and use it to determine your sit-up range (i.e. 60 sit-ups in two minutes will result in 15 sit-ups per 20 second set). Attempt to do these sit-ups without having someone or something hold your feet. Nearly every unassisted sit-up equates to two assisted sit-ups.

In addition to these exercises, you will end each training session with a set of three planks. Do 30 seconds of side plank, 45 seconds of regular plank, and 30 seconds of side plank (opposite side).

Will all of these movements, it is imperative to focus on form in order to maximize results and prevent injury.

I hope this routine inspires you to forget about vanity muscles and archaic methods of bodybuilding and dive deep into that which gives your fitness a purpose other than a tank top or a day at the beach. Get to work and knock out your push-ups and sit-ups.

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