Video Fitness

Functional Strength

Bonnie Geer

Functional Strength (FS) by Tracie Long Productions (TLP) is a 45-minute functional strength workout. It is part of the same set that includes Core Foundations (CF) and Dynamic Strength & Power (DS&P). For some reason you don't hear too much about FS, although a VF search shows that this workout has its fans.

Like the other TLPs mentioned above, FS shares the same awful budget set but has good music. Actually, the set didn't bother me too much except when the cast is filmed from the side and their black pants totally disappear against the black curtain backdrop. I was more annoyed at some instances where the camera was focused on someone's face when what I really needed to see was their feet.

Equipment used includes a 4-6" step, stability ball, medicine ball, and two sets of weights. You definitely need the stability ball (Core Secrets fans will recognize many of the exercises using the ball). I think the step is optional. It is only used in two tunes, and on the first tune the routine moved so fast I felt more secure doing it on the floor anyway. For the second tune using the step you stand at one end and alternate squatting off each side; you could do this move on the floor, or use the High Step Topper or the top section of the Fanny Lifter.

For the medicine ball I used my old two-pound Firm Ooof ball. On most of the medicine ball sections you can use one light dumbbell held at each end, but there is one tune where the ball is passed rapidly from hand to hand, so if you don't have a medicine ball you should probably choose a play ball or pillow for this part. For weights you need two sets of dumbbells: one 3-lb. set and a heavier set (I confess I was plenty challenged using a 5-lb. set for my "heavier" weights).

Bonnie Geer leads the workout. There are three background exercisers. Although Bonnie occasionally mentions "beginner" moves, no one in the cast really does them (as opposed to CF, where one exerciser often performed a less intense variation of an exercise). The pace is quite quick, including the equipment changes.

FS is different from most strength videos I've seen. The best comparison I can offer is to Core Secrets Accelerated Training Camp (which has some similar moves, but is much less intense and lacks aerobic tunes). The moves in FS are designed to challenge/improve core stability, which in turn facilitates the functional moves used in everyday life. The exercises are usually compound(such as a dip while raising one dumbbell overhead), and are often done with a balance element (like standing on one leg) or with a larger range of motion than usually seen in classic weightlifting exercises.

It should be noted this workout includes many exercises incorporating side and front lunges and also squats (starting right in the warmup). In addition, one aerobic tune includes plyo jumps. Before doing FS I had to do a separate warmup, and throughout the workout I tried to keep everything shallow. Even so, FS pushed the outer limits of my comfort zone for these types of moves. I much prefer to do squats and lunges unweighted, but the compound nature of most of the exercises in FS made this impractical.

Of course, functional fitness should be important to everyone. However, I suspect the people most attracted to this type of workout are either older exercisers and/or ones who suffered some kind of injury. Unfortunately, I think FS is a little too intense of a lot of this audience. FS simply assumes you have healthy knees and joints, and a strong back and core. Having a modifier would have helped a lot in making this workout more accessible to a wider range of people.

I personally own several other workouts emphasizing functional fitness, such as Breakthru Pilates Sculpt, the new Fitprimes, Core Secrets Accelerated Training Camp, and Body Bar Deep Definition, Ripple and Equanimity, not to mention Core Foundations. Every one of these is much less stressful on my knees. I'll be working with those to increase my functional fitness, and bring out FS just occasionally to check my progress.

I don't have DS&P or the Yorktowns, so I can't cmopare those to FS. If you are choosing strictly between FS and CF, I would definitely go with CF.

Instructor comments: I found Bonnie a competent, professional instructor.


July 10, 2005

This workout was one of three original volumes released by Tracie Long during her first post-Firm solo venture, Tracie Long Productions (TLP). All of the TLP videos focus on functional fitness, or training your body to move the same way it does in every day life; furthermore, many of the moves have an athletic feel to them. This particular workout consists of both strength and cardio intervals, and it is led by Bonnie Geer. Equipment used includes a low step, light and heavy dumbbells, a medicine ball (I used 4#), and a stability ball.

Bonnie begins the workout with a 6-minute warm-up using light weights (the only other time I've seen weights used for the warm-up is in Jari Love's videos). The moves are very different from the usual aerobic warm-up and include "functional" (shorter) lunges performed in a clock-like fashion and combined with controlled punches. All of the stretches are dynamic, including a kick/rear lunge series and an inside kick/squat series; there is also a squat/hamstring stretch (dead lift) sequence. After the warm-up comes the first cardio segment which uses both the medicine ball and the step. The section is fun, with upbeat music and moves such as chugs, l-step, v-step, and plyo jacks.

The strength work starts next: the first segment uses the stability ball for back work (rows and supermans), and the following segment continues with the stability ball for pec flyes, glute squeezes, russian rolls (for abs), ribcage pullovers, and push-ups with legs on the ball. Standing strength work follows using medium to heavy weights. This section starts with a Statue of Liberty exercise (also seen in one of Tracie's newer videos, Strength in Movement) adding one-legged and then a full dead lift and finishing with a lift onto the toes combined with a v-reach. In-between sides, there is a fun cardio series that consists of side lunges off the step while passing the ball back and forth; this segment also includes rear lunges and kicks. You then repeat the Statue of Liberty series on the other side before moving into what Bonnie calls the "matrix": hop forward from side-to-side with fast hops to move back. This is combined with front lunge/knee lift and side lunge/overhead lift. Additional lunges are included in the strength segment which comes next, this time a side lunge with knee lift as well as bicep curls.

Up until this point, all of the above segments (with the exception of the warm-up) are featured on the TLP compilation video, The Whole Shebang, which I own, but the last cardio and strength segments were new to me and just as fun. For the cardio, Bonnie again uses the medicine ball for a side-to-side squat, eventually adding a rear leg extension and a side overhead reach. The cardio also includes rear cross-back steps, plyo jacks (slow and fast), and a tick-tock move. The final strength segment includes more side lunges, this time with a single-arm row and then a straight-arm lift; it ends with a 1-legged squat that includes arm and torso rotation. Core work follows, including arm roll-outs and tucks/pikes on the stability ball and then side plank work on the floor. The workout finishes with a quick (3.5 minute) stretch which mainly addresses the shoulders, quads, and hip flexors.

Overall, I really enjoyed this workout; one of the best things about it was that the 43 minutes FLEW by. I also found the segments to be fun and enjoyable, both the ones that I was familiar with already (ie, the ones included on TWS) as well as the ones that were new to me. With keeping my weights relatively light, I felt like I got a great full-body workout, and I usually feel some soreness in my glutes in particular the next day. Although I do like Bonnie as an instructor--she is quite serious and no-nonsense--I do find her cueing difficult to follow at times. Not only does she often fail to break down the move ahead of time (ie, she just jumps right in and expects you to follow along), but also she usually cues while performing the move rather than to give you any advanced notice. Still, I like this workout better than one of the others in the series, Dynamic Strength & Power, as I found the exercises to be more fun and the impact work to be less exhausting (I haven't tried the third video in the series, Core Foundations).

In summary, I give this workout 4 1/2 stars, and I would recommend it to those who enjoy unique exercises, like cardio/strength circuits, like working with the stability ball for cardio, are familiar with functional fitness and like Tracie Long's style, and finally, who don't mind having to go through the workout several times to learn the unfamiliar moves. Personally, I'm sure that this quick, efficient, and fun workout will have a regular role in my fitness rotation.

Instructor comments: As mentioned above, Bonnie tends to be pretty serious; personally, I like her demeanor, but others might find her somewhat lacking in warmth. Furthermore, I do generally find her cueing relatively hard to follow. I think that this is partially due to the nature of functional fitness workouts (ie, many of the moves are quite different and thus unexpected), but as stated above, I think Bonnie could also do a better job of cueing in advance of the move as well as breaking down the movements a bit more.

Beth C (aka toaster)

December 13, 2007

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