Functional Cardio Commentary

I wanted to discuss one of my favorite fitness videos on Youtube.  In it, Paul Chek crushes a functional cardio circuit.  I’ve spoken about Paul before, as he has been a big name in the strength, rehabilitation and conditioning industry for the past 30 years, working with many high level athletes, individuals riddled with disease and nutritional deficiencies, as well as pain and injury clients .  He has largely been attributed to popularizing the Swiss ball back in the mid 90s as an exercise tool to train and condition the core.  In this video, Paul takes us through his idea of a functional cardio circuit, functional being based off of what he defines as “primal movement patterns”.  So, low and behold, lets take a peak, and then I wanted to provide commentary on it after:

He’s a beast, right?  In this somewhat older video I believe he is in his 50s too… talk about someone who walks the walk and talks the talk!  I know many say that Paul is kind of “out there”, but wow, he moves very well.

So here is my commentary:

– DISCLAIMER: Don’t try to replicate the movements he does without a legitimate movement screen to determine if these exercises are right for you. These are high intensity, highly challenging movements that he has clearly progressed up to. He knows how to load and explode his body in a manner that will produce a challenging, but safe training stimulus that doesn’t exceed his individual thresholds.

– I believe most individuals could complete functional cardio circuit (or a variation of), and get a great cardiovascular workout!  The key here is “variation of”.. meaning, understanding how to tweak exercises to ensure they are performed without compensation. Since most of these moves are fairly advanced, I’ve provided some examples of how to regress the exercises so that individuals can stay within their thresholds for success with each exercise, thus ensuring the most effective training stimulus that will keep them moving away from injury.

1) Battle Ropes

– I love the one rope he uses, as opposed to the typical 2-rope version we often see at gyms, because it allows for greater thoracic spine motion (when we have two arms grabbing onto one object, and then proceed to move in 3d, we get more relative joint movement at the T-spine when compared to the 2 arms acting independent of each other. I also liked how he added on clockwise/counterclockwise movement. To regress this movement, we could go:

– with less range of motion (less amplitude, or shorten the degree of the arm swing),
– or, we could pause between each slam/rotation (reduce intensity),
– or, some version of both.

2) Bosu Ball alternate Lateral Hops

– Bosu balls create a more unstable surface than solid ground. However, for many people, jumping from bosu ball to bosu ball is very challenging to successfully perform, and outside of most people’s thresholds.  Here are a few ways to tweak this exercise to make it safer, but still effective:

– It would be given that we take out the Bosu Balls and stay on a flat surface.  Provided that this is the environment, we could:

– Laterally Hop back and forth while adding in arm drivers (reaching overhead, in front of the body, twisting over/away, side bending over/away)
– switch to a Leap (hopping from one foot to another)
– we could increase the speed of our hops on two legs
– we could increase the depth of each jump (squatting down more before hopping back to original position)
– we could add in 5 lb dbs in addition to the arm drivers (pretty big progression..)

These are just a few that came to me off the top of my head with this exercise in the functional cardio circuit.

3) VIPR Clean to Split Jerk

– Great movement pattern, but also technique-intensive. Paul has great form when he performs it, but most people may not have the prerequisite core stability, anterior/posterior chain strength, or motor control to do this correctly. Therefore, we could regress it by separating it into stages:

– First, work on deadlift pattern… sit back into the hips, keep length in the spine, and drive through the feet by until lock out position (think about standing as tall as possible with glutes/core engaged)

– Secondly, work on hang clean mechanics… this one is a bit tougher to teach, and certainly is more technique-intensive. I would cue the individual to:
– think about creating the initial drive/momentum from the hips thrusting forward.
– think about keeping the elbows higher than the wrists when initiating the pulling movement.
– think about keeping VIPR close to the body while driving the VIPR vertical with the combined forces from the hips and the arms.

– Finally, the overhead pressing pattern:
– again, the initial drive should come from the lower body, in the presence of keeping the trunk stable.
– as you press from the shoulders to overhead, think about dropping into a split stance squat while keeping core/hip actively engaged to provide support for the rest of the body.

4) Stability Ball Push Up to Rotation

– great movement, although most people cannot maintain a solid spine position while doing push ups, therefore, exposing their low back to hyperextension forces due to gravity, the mass of their own bodies, and the momentum of the movement, let alone as part of a functional cardio circuit.

– we can regress this movement though:

– incline pushup to rotation (using a wall, a bench, or some other elevated surface to place the hands on)
– work the push up, pause at the top, then rotate one arm.  do another push up, pause at the top, rotate the other arm
– still do the push up on the ball, except place the thighs on the ball as opposed to the feet (shortened lever)

5) Mace-Ball Frontal Plane Alternating Slams –

– love it. Regressing this movement could be a matter of:

– reducing the weight,
– reducing the length of the rope (aka, reducing the distance of your hands grabbing onto the rope and where the rope attaches to the ball)
– pause between each slam, shuffle away from the ball to create length in the rope, then slam to the other side, repeat

-reduce the height of the arms (they dont have to go high over the head.  the arms can travel side to side across the face instead)

6) Kettlebell 1-arm Frontal Plane Swings

– another great tweak, although this can be risky if you don’t know what you’re doing (think; kettlebell bashing into your knee on the initial drive… not so much fun). But, with proper cueing, this can be a great movement tweak that varies from the traditional KB swing in the sagittal plane. To make this easier, we can:

– reduce weight,
– pause at the top of the movement to slow things down, allow for more control on the reloading phase,
– not squat down quite as low as he does (aka, keep the weight more at waist height).

So, there you have it. Training is a matter of progression/regression, based on clients abilities, goals, and needs. This video demonstration by Paul on functional cardiovascular training is an excellent way to get your heart rate up, while getting a much greater hormonal release in the body when compared to traditional treadmill/stairmaster/biking routines done at moderate intensities, because:

(a) more body musculature is involved, and,
(b), there is a higher motor neuron activation threshold that is demanded upon the body to complete each movement pattern with good form. In layman’s terms, were talking about a workout that has a much higher capacity for burning body fat and promoting lean muscle tissue building/preservation.

Give it a try and let me hear your thoughts!


Leave a Comment