Voted by many blogs as one of the top fitness trends of 2016 and 2017, functional training has been increasing in popularity for a number of years. But what is it, actually? The basic idea is to build overall strength that makes everyday movements easier. These exercises help you learn how to move your body in the day to day in order to minimize pain and injury over time.
As an Equinox member, I have access to many different types of functional training classes, as well as its “cousins” bodyweight training and HIIT. After a few months with my all-access membership in New York City, I was able to develop an effective routine that’s both fun and has helped me get into shape. Since joining Equinox, I’ve lost about 13 pounds and went from 31% to 27% body fat — and I’m still making progress!
The diversity of classes that Equinox offers allows for a truly balanced routine. I wanted to lay out what I do in a week and highlight some of my favorite classes. This schedule has worked well for me, allowing an adequate amount of rest time and never getting boring!
sunday: fully loaded
what it is
A low-intensity class, Fully Loaded is designed to help students gain more mobility and strength through movements like lunges and squats with light weights and a ViPR.
Throughout the workout, you’ll pick the ViPR up over your head, thrust it diagonally, and move it side to side.
This class also has a substantial stretching component, with each round including side lunges and spinal twists.
why i like it
It’s impossible to cheat this class. The ViPR forces students to keep their form on point by encouraging awareness of the body. You definitely won’t lean forward while squatting if you have a 6 kg ViPR over your head. While this class can be painful at times, the feeling afterwards makes it 100% worth it.
This is probably the only class at Equinox that doesn’t have any real substitute. The closest you’ll come in terms of effect is probably Trilogy Barre. Even if you hate Barre, like I used to, Trilogy Barre provides a great stretch and will engage some micromuscles that you didn’t even know you had, while maintaining a flow that goes fast enough that you won’t get bored.
monday: firestarter + core conditioning/best abs ever
what it is
Firestarter is HIIT in its purest form. The only equipment students need is a bench with about two risers. After a dynamic warmup, the class is divided into three pyramids. Each pyramid contains two exercises that students alternate for intervals of 15 seconds, 30 seconds, and 45 seconds, moving back down to 15 seconds. The moves are modifiable but are typically at least somewhat plyometric. A typical pyramid can consist of alternating switch kicks and burpees with a lateral jump over the bench.
Like many classes, the quality of this one will depend on the instructor’s energy. While there are set Firestarter routines designed by the powers that be, instructors have some wiggle room to play, especially in between pyramids.
Some Equinox locations will offer either Core Conditioning or Best Abs Ever following a Firestarter class. If this is an option for you, I highly recommend it. Both are half hour long classes that focus entirely on — you guessed it — core exercises. It provides a helpful counterpart to a half hour of jumping and hopping by concentrating on slow and steady movements designed to aid stability.
why i like it
This class goes by fast. Only thirty minutes long, you barely even feel the time pass. If you’re just looking to get an efficient workout in, this one is a great option – particularly if you don’t have a lot of time to work out on weekdays. I particularly like doing this class on Mondays because it’s a great way to ease into a regular week of workouts.
This workout will also vastly improve your endurance. While 45 seconds sounds like a short period of time, it can feel endless when you’re pushing yourself to your max. Good HIIT classes should make you feel breathless and like you physically can’t do more. Anything else, and you’re doing it wrong.
Tabata is also a great HIIT workout, but I personally like to close my week with it – you’ll see why below!
Tuesday: The Playground Experience
what it is
Taking circuit training to the next level, The Playground Experience is only offered at select Equinox locations and will require some socialization with your classmates. The class is divided into three sections after the warmup – Power/Strength, Metabolic Play, and the Cardio Pit. The Power/Strength section has students move around between four different stations, with each station being 90 seconds long. For the first 60 seconds, students do a “power” move. Examples of this are wall balls and box jumps. For the next 30 seconds, students do a “strength” move, such as a TRX row or a team Russian twist. Metabolic Play consists of four stations, each being some kind of game or childhood playground move, such as dodgeball or monkey bars. The Cardio Pit is four stations – a rowing machine, an air bike, a ski machine, and a rock climbing machine, each for 90 seconds.
This class is a full hour long, but goes by very quickly. The instructors give students colored wristbands at the beginning of class, which dictate your team. It’s helpful to find a partner who’s at a similar fitness level at the beginning of class, who you can work with through the different stations. Sometimes, with exercises like box jumps, it’s helpful to be with someone who will need the same equipment.
why i like it
At a full hour long, this class is more of a time commitment than Firestarter. The games and constant change in activity really liven up what’s often the worst day of the week. For me, it kind of parallels my work schedule. While Monday is the day that I usually catch up on emails and set myself up for a productive week, Tuesdays are when I truly dig in and get to work!
Even in New York, playgrounds are few and far between – only at East 92nd and 43rd. If you’re looking for a different but also dynamic circuit workout, I highly recommend Whipped or Atletica. Like Playground, Whipped also has some partner work and plenty of stations, which will stop you from getting too bored or exhausted at any particular one. Atletica is more strength-focused, but will still leave you drenched in sweat and sore for days.
wednesday: rest day
We all need one, amirite? But seriously, if you’re the type who can’t take a rest (even though I highly recommend it!), Equinox offers many different types of yoga, Pilates, and Barre.
thursday: Ropes and Rowers
what it is
Another circuit training workout, Ropes and Rowers takes students through four stations two times. This class actually requires a partner, so make a friend at the beginning! In the first round, each station is four minutes long, and this gets shortened to three minutes in the second round.
There are two stations that stay the same every week – the ropes and the rowers (hence, the name of the class). At the ropes, you will do one of my favorite moves — ten rope slams, and then pulling a 90 lb. sled to you and pushing it back. There is always an option to put gliders under the sled if the weight is too heavy. At the rowers, in the first round, you just row for four minutes straight. Theoretically, this is supposed to be a competition among all of the men and all of the women in the class, but I never win, so I just try to beat my own records. The second time around, this station becomes a relay, with you and your partner alternating every 150 meters.
The other stations are respectively mobility and strength focused. At the mobility station, you switch moves every minute. Some examples of exercises here are jumping jacks with a medicine ball and burpees with resistance bands. At the strength station, you try to do as many rounds as possible of three exercises with weights. One exercises will focus on lower body, like squats, the next on upper body, like triceps kickbacks, and the last one on core, like shoulder taps.
why i like it
I probably sound like a broken record, but this workout also moves pretty quickly. The class is designed to work your full body, and you’ll definitely feel the effects by the end. I also love the emphasis on compound movements, like the ropes and rowers. In day to day life, it’s rare that you isolate one part of your body when you perform any activity. Classes like these reinforce the importance of learning how to work with your body as a distinct unit rather than just try to get you a six pack and biceps.
Like Ropes and Rowers, Pure Strength requires a partner from the beginning of class. Consisting of four six-minute stations, this class focuses on heavy lifting – no weight is under twenty pounds. You do 2-8 reps of the strength movement and then work your core with a counter move while your partner works on strength. This workout is not so fast – six minutes at one station can feel long, but it really gives you time to work yourself to failure.
MetCon3 is also a good option. This class consists of ten rounds that you do three times and ends with a final round of three exercises. The ten movements alternate between strength and cardio and work the entire body, from top to bottom.
what it is
As you can see, I like to start and end my work week with HIIT. For me, Tabata provides a satisfying conclusion to the week. I have the opportunity to sweat out any aggression or frustrating while also getting a great full-body workout.
If you’re not familiar with Tabata, it’s known for being one of the best forms of HIIT. A traditional class will have seven tabatas. Each tabata is eight rounds, alternating between two movements. During these rounds, you work as hard as possible for twenty seconds, followed by ten seconds of rest.
Like Firestarter, the way this class goes will depend largely on the instructor. At the first Tabata class I took at Equinox, the instructor only incorporated bodyweight workouts, meaning that we did a lot of burpees and push-ups. The class I typically go to now uses a lot more equipment. We do a fair amount of mobility exercises, particularly for our wrists, and also do a fair amount of plyometric moves with sandbags. I found both of those classes to be extremely effective in developing overall strength and endurance, so what you like will probably be a matter of individual preference.
why i like it
One trait that I value, both in workouts and in people, is efficiency. I want my workout to work me hard, and I don’t want it to take two hours. Tabata is one of those classes that will directly lead to results if you do it right. Each twenty seconds will feel like the hardest twenty seconds of your life, and those ten seconds of rest will be a lifeline. But the sense of accomplishment you get after completing all of those rounds is unbeatable.
Firestarter is an obvious substitution here. The primary difference between the two is that Tabata has a strength component incorporated, while Firestarter focuses exclusively on bodyweight and plyometric exercises. 30/60/90 is also a great full-body HIIT workout — but I’m not entirely sure that Equinox offers it anymore. The class alternated between 30-, 60-, and 90-second long rounds of strength and cardio moves using medium and light weights and a bench. While effective, I often found this class to also be lacking structure, since no real breaks are built in.
saturday: hot power yoga
what it is
This class is essentially heated Vinyasa. Expect a 90-95 degree room and an hour of yoga flows. I personally love hot yoga. Between the sweat and the stretch, I find nothing more rejuvenating. However, it’s not for everyone – if you don’t handle the heat well, then I recommend one of Equinox’s many regular Vinyasa or Alignment Flow classes.
why i like it
By Saturday, I’m usually sore and exhausted. Hot Power Yoga gives me the opportunity to refresh myself and reflect upon the week. The class is as easy or as hard as you make it, as long as you have a basic understanding of the poses. The heat also helps with flexibility, which I desperately need. In addition, yoga helps me to perform my weekday workouts much better by giving me better mobility and a greater awareness of my body.
Equinox offers a pretty wide variety of yoga, including the forms I already mentioned, as well as Iyengar, Yin, and Ashtanga. The only class that I don’t really recommend is Athletic Yoga — because who really wants to do burpees in a yoga class?
If you’re looking to get started with developing a workout routine, I’d be happy to help. I’m not a certified fitness professional, but I’ve now been experimenting on myself for almost two years, with great results. Even if you’re not an Equinox member, you’ll likely be able to find many similar or parallel questions to the ones I listed.