It used to be that the buzzword of the day was “functional” exercise.

And then, as the fitness industry is wont to do, it heaped scorn. Functional is a bullshit word. It’s meaningless. Any time someone says an exercise is functional it means they don’t know what they’re talking about. All exercises are functional. Your mom is functional.

It didn’t help the situation that this guy exists.

I never much cared either way about the use of the term, because I’m not a specialist in exercise science. Yeah, I know some stuff, but when I need advice about the intricacies of improving body composition, strength and speed, I talk to someone who really knows their shit.

Nick Tumminello really knows his shit.

I met him two years ago at The Fitness Summit in Kansas City. I knew of him beforehand, but only a little. He was this guy that talked a lot. But the thing is, when he was talking, a bunch of people were always around listening, and so I too found myself listening, and holy cow the knowledge bombs.

Nick and I quickly became friends, because I respected his immense wisdom in regards to exercise, and he said he liked my writing. I’m always a sucker for that. Since that time, I’ve interviewed Nick many times when I need an expert source for an article.

This is, in some ways, a review of Nick’s new book, entitled Building Muscle and Performance: A Program for Size, Strength & Speed.

That’s a great title for an almost old fart like me. I’m 47, and yeah, I like having some above average muscle mass. But as I get older I’m really getting to be more interested in the “performance” part of that title. It’s great that I can follow a program that allows for both.

I got my copy last week and immediately cracked it to start reading through, seeing lots of new exercises that I’m excited to try. My daughter, a national champion in karate was flipping through the book as well and said, “There is a lot of stuff in here I want to try.” She doesn’t care what she looks like, she just wants to kick ass.

So, yes, the book is full of kick-ass exercises coupled with quality photos and great descriptions along with programming advice. But the reason for the title of this sort of review is that I found the first chapter to be one of the most interesting. It sheds light on the use of the word “functional” and once again reminds me why I hold Nick in such high esteem: because his wisdom on this matter shines through.

The title of the chapter is “Functional-Spectrum Training.” On page one Nick addresses the buzzword nature of “functional” and explains how we shouldn’t just throw it away because some members of the fitness industry don’t like how it’s been misused.

Instead, he instructs on the word functional in terms of it being a “meaningful, legitimate, and fundamental training concept.”

So what does that mean?

According to Nick: “The word functional applies to something that has a special task or purpose; therefore, the term has nothing to do with what an exercise looks like or with the type of equipment used to perform it. Rather, functional training for improve human performance involves applying the principle of specificity to improve in special (i.e, specific) athletic conditions (i.e., tasks).”

As an example, Nick writes, “… to maximize improvement in pushing performance while standing, you’ve got to use standing exercises for pushing.” In other words, bench press alone isn’t going to help you push over an offensive lineman. The bench press will help, but so will the one-arm standing press; it is the integration of both types of exercises that maximizes the training effect. That’s because they have “very different patterns of force production and neuromuscular coordination.”

Nick’s book is a mighty tome, jammed to the gills with information on how to not only build that muscular size that some people like, but muscles that work better for performing specific tasks. While I still like the size stuff, I am getting more and more interested in finding out what my body can do over what it looks like.

Nick’s book will be an invaluable asset in terms of finding that out. I highly recommend you get a copy.

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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.