When most people think of Functional Fitness, they picture a muscular guy going all out at the gym and possibly hurting himself during the process. While there are instances of individuals getting injured in the Functional Fitness space, just as there are with any other sport or activity, Functional Fitness generally gets a bad rap. Why is that?
For Functional Fitness athletes today, many feel that their sport is misunderstood. This is partly because the Functional Fitness movement is still young and forming an identity the average person can understand. Unlike team sports such as football or soccer, Functional Fitness is not about two teams playing for a final score; it’s measured by numerical improvements (weight, reps, time, etc) over time, and it involves multiple disciplines. At the heart of it all, Functional Fitness is about working towards becoming the best athletic version of yourself, so that all aspects of your training are balanced to make you stronger.
For the elite sphere of the Functional Fitness world, the competition is extremely intense and the athletes are arguably some of the best in the world. What many don’t realize is that full-time Functional Fitness-ers exemplify Olympic-level talent in strength and conditioning and display athletic well-roundedness that is often unheard of. The irony? Many of them are right in your backyard, and they’re training to compete on a national level of world-class fitness.
Meet the Elite
Say hello to the Team Back Bay athletes in Boston, just minutes from the WHOOP office. Recently, Team Back Bay came in 1st place at the East Regionals in Albany, NY. This qualified them for the Games in August, when the “fittest on earth” gather to test their physical limits during a week-long series of competitive events including gymnastics, lifting, running, and more.
The Girls (from left to right):
Briana “Breezy” Hamilton: 7:39 2k row time, 195lb snatch
Jessa Lemoine: 30 Strict Handstand pushups in 1 minute, 225 Clean & Jerk
Molly Abgarian: 19:38 5k run, 185lb power clean
The Guys (from left to right):
Dan Melzar: 19 unbroken muscle-ups in 1 minute, 385lb Front Squat
Tola Morkinyo: 6:28 mile personal best, 340lb Snatch
Mike Abgarian: 50 Toes To Bars in 1 minute, 430lb Back Squat
Justin Wright: 500lb x 5 rep deadlift, 285lb thruster
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of Functional Fitness-ers across the globe and new gyms popping up everywhere. At its core, Functional Fitness is about a community of people who have found a way to turn strength and conditioning into a team effort, complete with a support system, ongoing competition, and athletic well-roundedness. This is why people come to Back Bay.
“It has brought the world of true strength and conditioning to the masses,” says Joshua Plosker, a former D1 football player who opened the Boston gym back in 2012. “Working hard, sweating, and suffering through workouts with other people in the gym tends to form a special bond between people. We train together and compete together, and from that it drives a lot of pride within the community.”
For Sara Lombardi, a 2012 U.S. Olympic rower and Functional Fitness coach, Functional Fitness made her realize just how much strength she lacked, and revealed to her what her body was capable of. She now uses it in her training regimen as part of an elite rowing program and coaches athletes at the gym alongside Plosker. Collectively, the gym with its host of knowledgable coaches is helping Team Back Bay achieve their fitness goals as they prep for the Games.
Data as the Ultimate Empowerment Tool
For elite Functional Fitness-ers, training is a 24/7 lifestyle that involves prioritizing diet, sleep, and overall health to perform their best all day, everyday. The Functional Fitness philosophy values data; therefore, numbers and scoreboards drive the competition, the records, and standards for performance.
In March of 2017, Team Back Bay started using WHOOP to monitor their bodies’ physiological responses to workouts, track their Sleep, and become more aware of their overall Recovery trends. Since getting on the system, the team credits WHOOP for giving them valuable insights they wouldn’t have known otherwise, which in turn has improved each and every athlete’s approach to training.
Together they use the data to hold each other accountable, analyze their performances, and monitor Recovery as they work to peak their fitness for upcoming competitions. So, what’s it like to train like an animal to become one of the fittest athletes on earth? Read on to find out.
All Day, Everyday
The elite Functional Fitness lifestyle isn’t for the weak. It involves serious routine, proper fueling, and making smart training decisions to keep up with the demand of the day. Consequently, 24/7 performance monitoring is a must. Especially Team Back Bay.
“Since getting on the WHOOP system, all of us are extremely pleased with the information we’re learning,” says Molly Abgarian, manager and coach at Back Bay. “For me, the Sleep tracking has been invaluable in helping me understand why I might be feeling good one day in my workout, and not so great the next. I check how much time I’m in bed and all my Sleep stages every morning.”
On top of checking their individual stats, Team Back Bay compares numbers on their team dashboard in the WHOOP app. The screenshots below display a roundup of each athlete’s Recovery, but on two different days – one after a day of rest, and one after a day of hard training together. The difference between the Green and Yellow percentages show just how in sync the team is with their training.
With over 230 classes offered each week between their two locations, Back Bay is a constant hub for first-timers, experienced elite, and existing athletes looking to get stronger. Everyone is welcome, and everyone contributes to the community pride. On average, the Team Back Bay athletes coach twice a day. Classes start as early as 5:30am, which means these athletes are up before the sun rises. After a Paleo Power Meal breakfast, which is typically a veggie omelet or scramble, the coaches are ready to get started.
In total, the gym offers 9 different classes. The Fundamentals class, for example, teaches newcomers the basic movements and skills necessary for Functional Fitness strength and conditioning. In the Olympic-Style Weightlifting class, athletes can practice everything from a front squat to a snatch while learning proper technique and safety measures.
While coaching differs from doing an actual workout, it still takes a lot out of you both physically and mentally. “We notice on the days when we’re coaching a lot, our Strain is actually higher than the days we’re not coaching and just doing workouts,” says Lombardi. “It just goes to show that being on your feet, yelling, adjusting peoples’ form and having your voice elevated for an hour simulates doing a workout. Your heart rate is elevated, and it takes a lot out of you.”
Team Training Sessions
After a morning coaching session, the team meets up for their own personal training time. During this segment of the day, the team runs through a series of strength and conditioning exercises to help them prepare for the Games. For Team Back Bay athlete Jessa Lemoine, the gymnastics exercises are some of her favorites. This involves ring variations, bar variations, handstands, pull-ups, and air squats. All movements rely on using your body weight to improve strength, mobility, and balance.
For gymnastics, it’s less about the cardio and more about the core strength and stability. Jessa’s WHOOP data registers her heart rate during the 2-hour session, where she alternates between the 40th and 60th percentile of her max heart rate.
For each workout Jessa logs, she can go back and see her Strain for the workout and for the total day. This helps Jessa keep track of all her workouts and how they correlate to her Sleep and Recovery. Additionally, it allows Jessa to monitor trends in fitness over time by going back up to 6 months to review all her data. Below, the graph combines the Strain of each of her workouts along with Strain from other stressors of the day for a total Day Strain. She can click on any day to see what activities she’s done, how recovered she was that day, and how much effort the workout took.
Hitting the Recovery Button
Workouts are for breaking down muscle.
Nutrition helps them refuel.
Recovery allows you to build muscle to get stronger.
Recovery is by far the most important aspect of Functional Fitness training because it allows all 7 athletes to get stronger while avoiding injury and preventing burnout. In addition, it helps the team wind down and mentally prepare for the next day. When you coach handfuls of members throughout the week while maintaining national-level fitness, it can get pretty exhausting. Recovery measures include:
- Refueling with Paleo Power Meals
- Meditation/Breathing exercises
Recovery also involves checking their WHOOP data to stay on top of their performance monitoring to make sure they’re avoiding burnout:
- Workout Strain: Athletes check the strain for each of their workouts to see how they performed. Strain can be a light, moderate, or hard effort.
- Day Strain: Combining all stressors of the day, athletes see their total output on a propriety scale from 1 to 21.
- Sleep Need: WHOOP tells each athlete exactly how many hours of sleep they need for optimal Recovery the next day.
Eat, Sleep, Do It All Over Again
Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, improving fitness requires you to be an athlete 24 hours a day — not just during your workouts. For Team Back Bay athletes Briana, Mike, Molly, Tola, Jessa, Justin, and Dan, Functional Fitness is a lifestyle, not a trend. It’s about optimizing all aspects of their performance to be the healthiest, strongest version of themselves, and pushing their bodies to limits many of them didn’t know they were capable of until now.
Use code BACKBAYFENWAY to get $75 off WHOOP and get started on your performance optimization journey, just like Team Back Bay. Or, if you’re a team looking to collectively use WHOOP, reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
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