Full-On Functional Fitness

Full-On Functional Fitness

By Eugene S. Robinson

SourceTim Pannell/Corbis


Because, well, look at yourself.

By Eugene S. Robinson

At 36 years old, SoCal transplant and fitness genius Omar Lima, all 5 feet, 9 inches and 210 pounds of him, had made a very important decision. “I decided to live my life like I was rich.” Even if, by many measures, he wasn’t at all.

Listening to the stocky, straight-talking Lima spill from his Mountain View, California, redoubt, it takes but a few minutes to understand that his quest isn’t so quixotic — it’s actually a sane response to lives lived out of balance. “I had a client who had been given six months to live, because of pancreatic cancer,” said Lima. The client wanted to train “as a way to improve what little time he had had left.”

The way this client attached himself to training — with a real joy and appreciation for life — started to reframe how Lima understood his own chosen field.

So while the client ultimately did die — a full six months later than his six-month prognosis — what Lima took away from the experience is something he would come to call Functional Core Fitness (FCF). A philosophy and a practice that tailors functional training for fighters, FCF is a style that Lima in large part created. And even if the basics of functional training can be found spread among all sorts of fitness trainers, it hasn’t quite hit the levels of fanatical buzz surrounding other 21st century fitness crazes. “This is nothing like CrossFit,” Lima declares, referring to the highly popular, cult-like and quasi-questionable fitness following that also branches off from traditional strength and fitness training.

Even as a former football player and weightlifter, Lima “had never felt this feeling before.”

But Functional Core Fitness, itself? Well, it’s more a way of thinking about the human body’s daily activity and motions, and putting the body, and what it does and can do, in context.

“If you think about strength as the walls of a house, balance would be the foundation,” says Lima, “and endurance is what keeps it working together.” Which is a very nice way of saying that his workouts will just about kill you in ways that you would have never guessed possible. The routines sit between yoga, Pilates, bodyweight exercises and weightlifting, and they work heavily on muscle firing points with a total avoidance of isolation movements. Since the body, in total, is a bunch of parts working together in concert. 

Lima’s particular twist was in combining the exercises to serve the sports he knew best: football and then, martial arts. Single leg balance squats and single leg Romanian dead lifts, and working smaller muscles that support the joints. Standing in his kitchen after an early test session, Lima started shaking and trembling, and realized that even as a former football player and weightlifter that he “had never felt this feeling before.”

Omar Lima

Omar Lima inspects Larry Arnold’s form.

And it was all inspired by some less than inspirational tough talk.

“Omar, I love you to death, but you’re a fat piece of shit.” The speaker was Larry Arnold, a friend of Lima’s who was also a personal trainer and who had watched Lima balloon up to 260 pounds. In full agreement, this former fat kid and stepson of a Marine took Arnold’s advice. 

Total body probably starts with total mind.

“What Larry said hit me in the heart, but it was what I needed to hear,” said Lima, remembering that moment as he was starting to think about opening his own business. The year was 2004, and now a decade later Lima is training everyone from professional MMA fighters like King Mo and Tyson Griffin to Silicon Valley wunderkinds in FCF (including, total disclosure, OZY co-founder Samir Rao). Lima’s most recent favorite client though is a woman in her 50s who broke her back horseback riding and just wanted to get healthy enough to horseback ride again. And skydive. And maybe even start surfing. Eventually. In like, a few years.

“Yeah, well we just passed the one year anniversary of when we jumped out of a plane together, and I heard she now surfs as well.” 

“Omar focuses on all of the small things,” said sports agent Mike Kogan, who’s shuttled some of his A-list clientele over to Lima’s as part of their training camps. “Small things that when taken together amount to quite a lot when you’re talking about making the body work well and in concert with itself.” 

Which, if you like living, is pretty priceless.

“Total body probably starts with total mind,” said Lima. “And the reality of it is the body is just the handmaiden of the will. I want you to leave here with both being better.”