From time to time, we here at TTMJ receive tongue-in-check questions, while most are easy to dismiss, sometimes they are thought provoking.

I received one recently, asking if I thought constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity was a solid programming philosophy.

Yes, without a doubt.

When you hear the phrase spoken, visions of athletes huddled together in a garage or dingy warehouse doing pull ups comes to mind. This phrase comes directly from the CrossFit playbook, as CrossFit teaches functional movements and increased work capacity over unknown times and unknown circumstances.

But lets take a step back and examine this.

To me, the term “constantly varied” refers to a conjugated method of training. Zatorsky states, “If an athlete trains a certain lift above 90% for more than 3 weeks they will experience a negative training effect.” To combat these effects, Louie Simmons uses the conjugated method outlined by Zatorsky in Science and Practice of Strength Training, where a lifter will change the training stimulus of key movements every 1-3 weeks to avoid accommodation. Thus allowing the athlete to train with constant near max intensity week in and week out. By changing the movements or bar a lifter can continue to get stronger over a long period of time.

Westside lifters will rotate max effort, or 1 RM, movements every week. Rotating between various squats and presses with various bars to various box heights and boards. They pull sumo and conventional deadlifts and do countless types of good mornings. On their speed days they will change the accommodating resistance, bars and box heights. This is all done to avoid accommodation by the body.

Olympic lifters will use the same method by varying their cleans, snatches and pulls from the floor, below the knees, the high hang at various percentages and rep maxes. They will perform partial lifts from boxes of every height; do full lifts, power and partial versions. They will use many types of squats and step-ups to avoid accommodation.

In contrast, much of the training we see in functional fitness is a concurrent method of training, where all the abilities are developed in a given time period. A system where strength and endurance are trained simultaneously.

I hate the term “functional movement,” it reminds me someone talking to a farmer at the turn of the century about organic foods. The only term more abused via cyber training gurus is the term “core.”

What is a “functional movement?”

For most, a functional movement boils down to anything not machine based. However, I find exceptions to this rule everywhere.

Is the WSB Reverse Hyper Machine a “functional movement?”

Is the Versa Climber or C2 Rower a “functional movement?”

Yes. The only people that would say no have probably never used a Reverse Hyper and surely have never suffered the effects of a Versa Climber or a C2.

And lastly, “performed at high intensity”. When 99% of the population hears the word intensity they think of an NFL football player lining up on the goal line or a girl grunting during a backhand on match point at Wimbledon. In functional fitness community, intensity is related to the speed and effort in which the workout is performed. This helps to support the CF definition of fitness, “Increased work capacity of broad time and modal domains.”

In contrast, when I hear the term intensity, I think of heavy weights, and more specifically, rep maxes. A repetition maximum or RM, is the most weight you can lift for a defined number of exercise movements. A 1 RM, for example, is the heaviest weight you can lift for a single maximum effort. A 5 RM would be the heaviest weight that can be lifted for 5 reps.

A 10 RM would be the heaviest weight you could lift for 10 consecutive exercise repetitions. And if after the set you could do another rep max matching the weight and reps, then it was not a rep max. A rep max is one set and done.

Zatorksky describes high intensity as being any lift over 90% of your 1 RM. If you head to the gym to perform a 2 RM at 95+% of your 1 RM back squat you are training a functional movement at high intensity. If you come back next week and perform a 1 RM at 97.5-105% of your single rep max in the front squat, you are performing a constantly varied functional movement done at high intensity.

Lu Xiaojun
In contrast, if you are head the gym and load up 35% of your 1 RM snatch and perform 100 reps as fast as possible no matter how fast you go, this is not training with high intensity. This is just doing a ton of low intensity volume as fast as you can. The attempt to decrease time domains with high speed, low intensity, high volume training to failure lives in the land of muscular endurance. Strength and power reside on the other side of the spectrum with speed, heavy weights and low volume.

Don’t confuse high effort with high intensity.