The term ‘functional training‘ has been thrown around lately in the fitness community. This is a contrast from 10 years ago, when bodybuilding was still the obsession.
The reason for this shift is, perhaps, due to the rising popularity of Ninja Warrior, Spartan Race and CrossFit. Parkour and stunt videos going viral could also play a part in this trend.
This means that people are now training for other reasons than “to look good naked”.
They want impressive yet functional athletic skills. And to function better in everyday life.
The Problem with Fitness for Aesthetics
Although there’s nothing wrong with taking pride in your appearance, you shouldn’t make aesthetics your sole purpose of training.
What do you think happens after you get your ideal body?
Two things. You maintain your physique. Or seek even more.
Most people get bored with simply maintaining their physique. So, they lose the drive and eventually stop.
It’s hard to train when there is no visible reward for training.
As for people who want more (and are too afraid to lose their physique) – they risk getting body-image issues.
When you relentlessly pursue the perfect body, be it to look bigger or thinner, you are bound to damage your self-esteem.
Functional Training vs Aesthetics?
To conclude, training for function is more rewarding than simply training to look good.
Don’t worry. You’ll still look good with functional training. The only difference is your focus on what matters more.
What is functional fitness training?
Functional fitness is all about training your body to perform common daily tasks better. It’s about being fit for your daily life.
Now, I know what you’re thinking…
What if my daily life involves only work with no time for exercise?
What if the most strenuous thing I do is to lift my laptop? Does that mean I’m already functionally fit?
Yes… You are fit enough for a sedentary life.
But, if you are truly happy with such a life, you wouldn’t be a reader of Way Of Ninja!
Functional fitness and modern ninja training
Chances are, you already have a vision of how you want your modern ninja life to be.
Train towards that vision! After all, functional fitness should cater to your needs, purpose and vision.
Way Of Ninja is all about training in skills that are inspired by the ninja. These physical skills include obstacle traversing and self-defense.
Here are activities that trains you in those ninja skills.
Movement & Obstacle Courses
- Free running
- Ido Portal
- Obstacle course races (e.g. Spartan Race & Ninja Warrior)
- Rock climbing
- Traditional martial arts (e.g. Aikido, Taekwondo)
- Modern self-protection (e.g. Krav Maga)
- Mixed martial arts (MMA)
- Street Workout (e.g. Bar Brothers)
Where do you begin? – Calisthenics Training
So, how do you ideally start training for those skills?
What gives you an ideal head start for parkour, obstacle course racing and martial arts?
Answer: Calisthenics training, also known as bodyweight training.
What is calisthenics?
First off, what exactly is calisthenics?
In simple terms, calisthenics is a variety of physical exercises performed with no added weight or resistance. The resistance comes from your own bodyweight.
This means no additional equipment is used, except bars (pull up bars). This is why it’s also known as bodyweight training.
Calisthenics training however, is far from a new concept. It has been performed for literally thousands of years. Between 400 and 600 B.C, Spartan warriors would train using bodyweight exercises.
Common Calisthenics Exercises
- Push ups
- Pull ups
- Leg raises
Which is better – calisthenics or weights?
As a reader of Way Of Ninja, you obviously (intend to) train in one of these:
- Parkour/Free running
- Martial arts
- Rock climbing/Bouldering
- Obstacle course races
You need to be able to understand your body mechanics and support your bodyweight effectively for these activities. So, calisthenics training is ideal.
But, how about weight training?
Weight training works your primary muscle group in isolation, and neglects the surrounding muscles. This is true even for compound movements.
Of course, this means quicker results with weight training, if you only want to look good physically. But for functional activities, isolation is a problem.
Training your primary muscles in isolation creates imbalances. When this becomes a habit, you will find it less easy to learn certain moves in martial arts and parkour.
So, even though weights can be used to supplement bodyweight training, I do not think they are necessary in the beginning.
Why choose calisthenics for modern ninja activities?
Here are specific reasons why bodyweight training is better for modern ninja activities.
1Strength, Fine Muscle Control & Balance
First, bodyweight training builds strength, balance and fine muscle control. These attributes help you comfortably lift and hold your body in various positions and are useful in:
- Martial Arts
- Obstacle Course Races
- Rock Climbing
- Street Workout
2Awareness & Coordination
Second, bodyweight training helps you understand body mechanics. It trains you to engage the correct muscle groups, at the right time. It also trains you to be intuitively aware of your limbs’ position.
This makes you more effective at coordination.
- Parkour – Coordinating wall pass techniques with muscle ups to climb high walls
- Martial arts – Coordinating various muscle groups in an instant to kick or punch effectively
- Rock climbing – Intuitively knowing where each limb is, so that you can move your foot to footholds without looking
3Using Muscles as a Group (not isolating to primary muscles)
Third, when you train with your bodyweight, you learn to use your surrounding muscles, and not just rely on your primary muscle group.
- Rock climbing – Less likely to injure yourself
- Obstacle traversing – Less likely to tire out as you are relying on surrounding muscles
4Explosive Power and Strength
Next, calisthenics exercises that trains your fast-twitch muscles will help you develop explosive power.
- Martial arts – To generate powerful kicks and punches
- Parkour – To generate powerful jumps to gain height for wall passes
Also, grip power is something that can be effectively strengthened with bodyweight training, namely pull ups.
- Martial arts – Better grip to grapple and throw opponent
- Obstacle courses – Extended grip strength when switching to different climbs
- Rock climbing – Stronger grip power to hang on with one arm when needed
6Wall of Protective Muscle
Finally, training your muscles as a group, helps build a wall of protective muscle to withstand impact.
- Martial arts – Helps you withstand punches and kicks to the core
- Parkour – Helps you withstand roll impact with bicep
Getting Started with Calisthenics Training
No matter what ninja activity you choose later, bodyweight training is a great way to start. To repeat, it helps you learn quicker by helping you understand your body’s mechanics. And it builds your strength and fine muscle control with no imbalances.
Here are a few useful resources and training programs.
The Ultimate Guide to Calisthenics (TOP PICK)
The Ultimate Guide to Calisthenics is my top pick for fundamental calisthenics training. It’s similar to Convict Conditioning in that it removes the guesswork from training. It also focuses on a few key exercises for a full body calisthenics workout.
What made this the top pick is its added instruction on skill-work by making the planche and horizontal row essential exercises. Many beginners tend to focus on strength and neglect skill-work. This makes it longer for them to progress later on.
The many progression levels makes it suitable for people of all levels. And the ease of tweaking each session to even as little as 10 minutes, makes it suitable for busy people.
Most importantly, it contains a nearly exhaustive list of bodyweight exercises and variations, all of which have photo instructions.
This is a must-have if you want a full understanding of calisthenics.