Ask the Expert: Darren Tomasso

Darren Tomasso

The expert advice to answer your most pressing questions. This month, Darren Tomasso, a certified personal trainer at the University of Pennsylvania, shares on functional fitness programs.

Describe your functional fitness program.

DT: Our program consists of full body strength and conditioning circuits designed to maximize body composition, strength and health. This past fall we had three small group sessions meeting twice a week for seven weeks. In the program, we cycle through three different training days:

1. Density Day: The group is split into two to four smaller groups, each at a station consisting of several different exercises in a given time period. It’s about high volume and mild intensity.

2. Metabolic Conditioning Day: High intensity circuit training with structured work and rest patterns which increases heart rate to maximize caloric burn.

3. Strength Day: The focus here is on heavier weight for fewer reps. These days are where athletes push themselves to lift heavier weight to get stronger and increase lean muscle mass, while decreasing body fat.

How did you develop the functional fitness program?

DT: Group functional training combines the fun and competitiveness of larger group exercise with the individualization of one-on-one personal training. The program has gone through several changes since its start in January, but it always had core, strength and endurance at its center. I did some initial market research to see what other businesses and gyms offer to have a general idea, but it really came out of reading and studying. I believe it is important not just to know “what” a workout will be or “how” to do it, but “why.” That “why” is easy when you can back it up with science. This includes “macro” — theme of the workout — and “micro” — specific exercises — goals.

How have you increased participation in this program?

DT: It started with eight friends of mine and then 10 for Session Two. It was deemed a success and was expanded through the summer. A majority of the summer participants were students, faculty and staff who heard of the program either from the previous participants or me. Friends joined together and so did a handful of faculty from all over campus.

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in creating this program?

DT: Everyone has a different personality — being a conscious coach is important. Participants have different levels of fitness, needs and limitations. Understanding these and adapting the workout for the individual is key. Understanding the specific goals and needs for each goal helps in individualizing. Also, we don’t need to spend countless minutes doing core and ab exercises. With the right cuing, we can engage our core with every movement.

What should others know when running a functional fitness program?

DT: Be willing to challenge what you know already about fitness. Be ready to make modifications. I thought the very first program of the very first session was perfect and the future of the overall program. I was wrong and the results demonstrate that. Be enthusiastic, have fun and make your participants comfortable.

Bobby Dyer
Bobby is a staff writer at Peake Media. Reach him at

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