Residents of Chanhassen, Minn., have a couple of options in terms of functional training. They can stay at home and lift sand bags, walk up and down stairs or do squats and pushups. Or, they can visit Life Time Fitness’ Chanhassen location, which boasts an impressive outdoor functional training space called “Alpha Training Grounds.”
The two-acre space boasts a variety of obstacles and tools that members can use to test their strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, coordination, balance and flexibility. Retrofitted with a 60-yard sprinting and sled-pushing area, as well as an eight-station obstacle course that includes climbing ropes, Olympic rings, monkey bars, cargo netting, peg boards, balance beams, climbing walls and more — there are countless ways in which Life Time Fitness’ members can test their functional abilities.
Jason Stella, the director of education for Life Time Fitness’ personal training program, Life Time Training, explained that the company created the Alpha Training Grounds due to functional training’s impact on members’ day-to-day lives.
“This type of exercise (functional training) is gaining in popularity because of the impact it has on overall health and wellness,” said Stella. “It also has a huge impact on improvements in activities of daily living and sports performance. Sitting on a machine and doing isolated exercise has a place in bodybuilding, or in some rehabilitation instances, but more people want to become lean and functional in life. Whole-body, functional movements offer this benefit, along with offering a more mentally stimulating and fun experience.”
That stimulating experience is evident at Life Time Fitness’ Birmingham, Ala., location, which boasts a functional training space similar to the one in Chanhassen. However, it has something the Chanhassen location does not — a two-story, steel tower, on which members can climb and pull their way to functional strength. Eventually, Stella said that all Life Time Fitness locations would boast dedicated functional training spaces.
“Exercise is becoming a way of life, and is reverting back to the days when you could play outside at parks with monkey bars and jungle gyms,” Stella said. “This requires people to perform movements that require open space to perform safely. It could become a safety hazard, and you will not be able to effectively perform the exercises, without having dedicated space.”
Creating these dedicated spaces came at a cost, both financially and in time invested. Stella explained that several teams of people worked together to make the Alpha Training Grounds in Chanhassen. However, for Life Time Fitness, providing members with a unique and dynamic way to train functionally was worth it.
“We believe that this is absolutely worth the investment over time,” said Stella. “Especially as more programming occurs, and we have opportunities for community outreach, to offer a space for people to train for rising events like Tough Mudder, Alpha Showdowns and other competitions.”
—At Santa Barbara Athletic Club in Santa Barbara, Calif., members who train functionally do so mostly through the “Functional Training Center,” a small group training space dedicated to functional exercises. According to David Kivitis, the athletic director of Santa Barbara Athletic Club, small group training is where functional training truly becomes profitable for health clubs, in addition to being beneficial to members.
“The price of a small group training class is one-tenth that [for the member] of one-on-one,” said Kivitis. However, “if you’re going to do a small group training class centered around functional training, you’re going to need the space for it.”
Created in 2009, the “Functional Training Center” at Santa Barbara Athletic Club is 3,000 square feet and boasts AstroTurf®, battle ropes, TRX® Suspension Training, tires, kettlebells, BOSU balls and more. “It provides a great option for those members looking for a great functional workout,” said Kivitis.
Although the space is open to members year round, it’s mainly occupied by “Swell Group Training,” which is the name of the small group class. Members pay $149 for six months of unlimited access to the small group class (in addition to their club membership) or $99 for 12 months of access. According to Kivitis, Swell Group Training has been very popular. “We have over 100 members committed to the small group program,” he said.
The class was created due to the increasing emphasis in the industry on functional training. “We recognized that was the movement in the industry — that’s what was hot,” said Kivitis. “We pride ourselves on being exceptionally current and providing a world-class, functional experience.”
—The Canton Club’s mission is to improve the lives of the residents of Baltimore, Md., through fitness. To do so, providing members with a way to train functionally was paramount, said Jacki Dalsimer, the fitness director of the Canton Club.
As a result, Canton Club’s members have a variety of functional classes and tools to choose from, such as TRX Suspension Training, FitWalls, monkey bars, kettlebells, medicine balls and physioballs. Instead of boasting one area in which functional training is the focus, functional pieces are emphasized throughout the entire club.
“[Functional training] is the root of our training philosophy, and is illustrated throughout the gym by the equipment offered at the club,” explained Dalsimer.
Although tools like the TRX Suspension Trainer and kettlebells are readily available at the Canton Club, Dalsimer explained that traditionally larger pieces of equipment within the club could be used for functional purposes as well. For example, the Versa Climber “provides a total-body workout in a non-impact environment,” said Dalsimer. Or the The Woodway Curve, which “recruits more posterior chain muscles than standard treadmills, making them more effective and functional.”
When looking at equipment that can be used functionally, look for “equipment that emphasizes the body’s natural planes of motion,” Dalsimer continued.
Over the years, Dalsimer explained that functional training itself hasn’t changed. “However, the awareness of the need to perform functional training has increased,” she said. “More and more people are coming to the gym looking for functional training options.”
If they do inquire about functional training, the Canton Club uses its knowledgeable staff or personal trainers to educate them on their options. “We explain to them why [functional training] is more beneficial to them, with the main reason being improving the quality of their lives by getting their body in better shape,” said Dalsimer.
Whether your club has a dedicated functional training space, or functional pieces are scattered throughout the entire club — make sure members know about their options to functionally train. After all, “Everyone needs to do functional training to improve their lives,” emphasized Dalsimer.
By Rachel Zabonick