Functional fitness for today’s Warfighters and families

Warfighters and their family members can benefit from “functional fitness,” an exercise method especially popular with the military community. But what exactly is “functional fitness”? The “functional” part of the term refers to a focus on the way in which someone works or operates on a regular basis.

Functional fitness defined

A functional fitness program involves performing exercises at a speed, movement pattern, and intensity similar to the tasks you perform on a regular basis, specific to your daily activities and/or job-related tasks. For example, a Warfighter might need the ability to squat, push, pull, rotate, and carry heavy loads to meet the needs of his or her military occupational specialty (MOS), so the kind of physical training should mimic those types of movements. Examples of functional fitness exercises specific to a Warfighter’s performance might include plyometrics, squats, overhead presses, and medicine ball throws. In addition, a Warfighter’s spouse or child might need similar capabilities to excel in his or her respective occupation, hobbies, and sports. However, the demand for some of these skills might not be the same for every individual within the family.

Functional fitness and HIT

It’s also important to understand that the terms “functional fitness” and “high-intensity training” are not always the same. Some high-intensity (HIT) programs incorporate functional fitness exercises, but HIT programs often (1) perform exercises at higher intensities; (2) are not always designed to be progressive; and (3) yield results different from those of programs conducted at low- to medium-intensity for longer duration.

A comprehensive program

A comprehensive functional fitness program includes both aerobic (long duration) and anaerobic (short duration) exercises. A well-rounded plan includes exercises focused on improving strength, endurance, mobility, and flexibility and core strengthening (lower back and abdominal muscles) exercises to enhance performance levels. Proper rest, recovery, and nutrition also are critical to optimize performance gains and reduce the risk of injuries.

Debrief

The purpose of functional fitness training is to improve your ability to perform the tasks you do regularly, whether that’s sitting and getting up from a chair or lifting artillery units into a truck.  A safe and effective functional fitness program can be applied to various occupational specialties, age ranges, and skill levels. Exercises should mimic and reinforce the movement patterns specific to your daily tasks, so give special consideration to that when choosing your functional fitness exercises. By implementing a functional fitness training program specific to the tasks you perform on a regular basis, whether you’re a Warfighter or a family member, you can enhance and optimize your performance while reducing the likelihood of injuries.

Be on the lookout for HPRC’s next article on core strength—the foundation of functional movement—associated with functional fitness. In the meantime, check out the Navy’s NOFFS program and USMC’s HITT program for examples of functional fitness programs that are currently being utilized throughout the military community.

References

Greenlee, T. A., Greene, D. R., Ward, N. J., Reeser, G. E., Allen, C. M., Baumgartner, N. W., . . . Barbey, A. K. (2017). Effectiveness of a 16-week high-intensity cardioresistance training program in adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(9), 2528–2541. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000001976

Kraemer, W. J., & Szivak, T. K. (2012). Strength training for the Warfighter. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26, S107–S118. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825d8263

Nybo, L., Sundstrup, E., Jakobsen, M. D., Mohr, M., Hornstrup, T., Simonsen, L., . . . Krustrup, P. (2010). High-intensity training versus traditional exercise interventions for promoting health. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42(10), 1951–1958. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181d99203

Peate, W. F., Bates, G., Lunda, K., Francis, S., & Bellamy, K. (2007). Core strength: A new model for injury prediction and prevention. Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, 2(3), 1–9. doi:10.1186/1745-6673-2-3

Roy, T. C., Springer, B. A., McNulty, V., & Butler, N. L. (2010). Physical fitness. Military Medicine, 175(8S), 14–20. doi:10.7205/milmed-d-10-00058