Functional fitness for beginners

Currently serving as a Firefighter; former British Army Soldier, former Strongman competitor and Rugby Player.

Team GB Firefighter Games Athlete, Team TNT Athlete.

On a daily basis, I find myself being asked the same question from people competing in many different sports, regular gym goers and normal people who just want to look and feel better. The question; “so what is the key to losing weight and gaining muscle at the same time?” has haunted me for many years. After experimenting with different training regimens and sports, I now feel I am ready to give somewhat of a clear answer. It is important to remember that this article is aimed at beginners and not seasoned athletes; however, there are elements that everyone may find helpful.

Many say it cannot be done, however, I believe I have managed it and here is the key…functional fitness. Weight training alone will increase muscle size, shape, and overall aesthetics and possibly some strength gains depending on your intensity and rep ranges. Yes, it will burn some fat due to the “afterburn” effect of anabolic training (the muscles you worked pulling nutrients and proteins in to aid muscle recovery and ultimately growth). Cardiovascular training is great for heart and lung health and will make you fitter and burn fat at a more rapid rate than weight training. Cardiovascular training is the basis of many peoples fitness programmes, however after regular cardiovascular training, yes you are fit but your body will have burned off quite a degree of muscle mass and some are effectively left with the great fitness levels but not much muscle tone and definition. Obviously not the aesthetic look that many desire, for example, you see many people who want to look like fitness models so they go and run 5-10k every morning for the next 6 months. Over this period, body fat drops, athleticism, lung capacity, and heart health improve, but muscles are not conditioned enough across the whole body to give the typical bodybuilder look that many desire.

But what if you could combine these forms of training to enable the body to do both at the same time? What I’m talking about is a progressive training program in which each workout works the full body, with a greater focus on leg strength and core strength. A training program that uses movements done in daily life to work muscles and create constant movement, enabling the cardiovascular system to improve at the same time as muscles are being used and therefore grown.

Many strongman competitors at under 105kgs use this process to cut body fat and have great results. Farmers walks, lifts, carries, and circuits are all used, albeit at a heavier load than most would use in a normal gym session, this is to prepare for a competition. As an interesting fact, most under 105’s lift the same weights as open competitors; the only difference is they are not carrying excess weight from a pre-comp bulk. Firefighters across the world have also now adopted this training. Many functional fitness programmes used by Firefighters involve movements linked to their work i.e. casualty drags with prowlers or dummies; hose drags using battle ropes and container carries using foam barrels. When we look at these individuals many have low body fat but high cardiovascular ability, enabling them to conserve air from a breathing apparatus set when in a hot fire, yet still have the strength and muscular endurance to rescue a casualty. It also gives them a greater base on which to carry out their daily routines around the station. Interestingly the military have been doing this training for many years, calling it Battle PT. If you were to spend a day on a military camp, workouts such as assault courses, log runs, and weighted runs with intermittent partner exercises, are all the order of the day. Even more proof comes from the rankings of professional Rugby clubs and NFL players investing in functional training facilities, to give their athletes a way of getting the most out of the time they have to train.

So how can I incorporate this into my training? Well, it’s actually quite a simple idea. Obviously, weights and equipment used would depend slightly on ability and base level fitness, but it can be adapted for anybody. Battle ropes, kettle bell squats or weighted walking lunges are all great exercises to start with. A tyre can be used for flips or drags and even hitting a tyre with a sledge hammer works both the muscles and the lungs. Bodyweight exercises are also useful to help condition muscles well. Remain in an active state; incorporate pull ups, press-ups and squats to ensure that you are functional for daily life. Intensity should be kept high, by having say 5-10 exercises done in quick succession. Once these are finished, a short rest period i.e. 30 secs – 1 min rest and then go again, and complete as many rounds of the circuit as you feel you need to. You should feel your heart rate and respiration rate increase as you are working your heart and lungs, but also muscles should start to burn as the progressive overload will tear the muscle, which will absorb proteins, heal and grow bigger. Mix it up, don’t be afraid to try something new and remember to give 100% in every session. Aim to work the full body at least 4 times a week, possibly 5 and ensure that you are hydrated and fuelled properly for every session. Single cardio sessions or weights sessions can also be used in conjunction to help maximise results, but this is not essential.

Diet is the other key element to this training, calories should obviously be kept in a deficit in order to instigate fat loss, but what macronutrients this diet is made up of is essential. My personal preference which I use during my training is to work out calorie deficit depending on my bodyweight and height etc; then manipulate my macros to lower carbs, increase protein and have my fats slightly higher than normal. This enables me to take in protein both before and after a session, to ensure muscle repair is supported. My body should use the majority of carbs for day to day functionality and my body calls on fats for energy once these are used. My body begins to target its fat reserves for energy rather than my pre-existing muscle mass. This is due to the fact that my body is still using my muscles during the full body workout, essentially giving me the best of both worlds; use of muscle, fat burning and cardio vascular improvement, due to the intensity levels of my training.

Supplements are especially useful for this type of training. I find that TNT supplements work to maximise the positive outcomes. My personal preference is to use strong to the core fat burners, combined with the TNT high intensity coffee and a serving of light the fuse pre-workout, before every session. This ensures that I go into my training focussed, fuelled and raring to go. My advice is to ensure that your diet is right before taking supplements, to ensure you get the results you are looking for. However, I do believe these supplements have aided me in loosing body fat, retaining and building muscles and having a better overall level of fitness for daily life.

Below is an idea of a workout plan that I currently use and some pictures of my functional training that I have been doing in order to get ready for this year’s British Firefighter Challenge that will be held in Bury St Edmunds on the 27th and 28th July 2018. Follow my Instagram @strongman_ches for more inspiration and ideas about functional training and the results.

Example Programme

Weights variable on ability, 10 min cardio based warm up either rowing, treadmill or stair master. Other relevant warm up depending on overall fitness ability and health constraints. Exercises can be swapped or changed depending on what equipment your gym has available however most of this equipment is easily found in gyms across the world.

Day 1:

15 X Pressups

20 X Kettlebell Swings

20 X Kettlebell Squats

25m Prowler push

25m walking lunge

15 X powerbag floor to overhead


1 min rest/6 rounds

Day 2:

15 X Upright rows

15 X Kettlebell overhead squats

15 X Pullups

1 min sledge hammer hits to tyre alternate arms (30 secs of each)

5 tyre flips


1 min rest/6rounds

Day 3:

1 min plank

10 X Burpees

25m prowler push

1 min Battle ropes

30 secs rest

60 air squats

30 secs rest


6 rounds

Day 4:

Battle rope drag out 50m

8 tyre flips

50m sprint

25 X Kettlebell squats

50m sprint


1 min rest/6 rounds




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