Getting Functional After Dysfunction with Ross Renberg

After battling depression and a shoulder injury for three months, I need to get back in the swing of things. But I don’t want to come in like a wrecking ball. So I went to see personal trainer Ross Renberg to give me a functional session that will build me up, not leave me worse for the wear.

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I first saw Ross a few years ago, at my old gym. He was every bit the “Tulsa Tank” that his IG handle suggests. I never knew him very well, but I did spend some time on the bench press next to his or in the same free weight room. He might have had a little more weight on the bar than me, but that’s okay.

We ended up being Instagram friends because we both ran in overlapping circles of lifters and grapplers. I’ve always liked him because he has a good sense of humor and he’s very down to Earth, something that is very valuable in the fitness community. That, and, I probably just feel comfortable around Midwestern people. I can feel it in my Chicago bones when someone means what they say and says what they mean, plus has the innate ability to eat and drink their bodyweight in serious food. Those are my people.

I thought he’d be perfect to get a session with, because he trains Jiu-Jitsu and lifts, so he knows what hell I put my body through, plus he is adept at meeting all skill levels. Many of his clients are middle-aged women like me, with kids, or professional men who aren’t athletes. He is even training a client with MS. Ross can definitely handle all abilities. And my abilities are embarrassing right now.

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Why Functional Fitness?

Functional fitness gets a bad rep when you see jerk offs on YouTube standing on a Bosu ball on top of a precariously placed dumbbell, doing a weird one legged pistol squat shoulder press, or trying to jump on no less than 57 old Reebok step platforms that inevitably go flying everywhere when they rack their shins and fail. Functional fitness is not that. Functional fitness is much more than gym fail reels and smug assholery.

Real functional fitness is good for two things: 1. To make you feel like a weak piece of shit when you are struggling with a 15 pound kettlebell, and 2. To actually make you strong, mobile and fit for the rest of your life.

Functional fitness differs from lifting because it also emphasizes mobility and flexibility. Instead of getting proficient at one movement, you can get stronger in all directions. Unlike specific skills that can cause imbalances with the muscles you aren’t working, functional fitness aims for all your stabilizers as well as large muscle groups.

This doesn’t mean you should put the barbells down and head to the TRX station. But you should definitely incorporate functional movements and mobility work into your programs for optimal benefit.

Universal Swell Gym

Universal Swell Gym is located off 3300 S in Millcreek. It’s a Personal Training Gym that is about 5 times larger on the inside than it looks on the outside. It is bright and clean and spacious with plenty of equipment and room to do whatever you need. There are machines and free weights, cardio equipment, functional stations and lane for pushes and carries. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s a great space to work.

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What We Did

Ross knew I was feeling pretty gnarly and that I have a shoulder injury. So we did plenty of foam rolling and shoulder warm ups before we even began.

He had me warm up on the Assault Bike for a few minutes to get the heart rate going and loosen up.

Then, we went through three circuits that were challenging enough to make my body work and adapt, but simple enough that my first day wasn’t a near-death experience.

Circuit 1 : 3x

Split squats (12)

Wall ball wood choppers (10)

Circuit 2: 3x

Goblet Squats (12)

Scissor kicks (30 seconds)

Circuit 3: 3x

Weighted Carry (each arm)

Leg lifts with foam block (12)

My Take Away

Ross convinced me I really need to make mobility work a thing I do and integrate it into my day. I plan to start foam rolling and loosening up my hips and shoulders as often as possible. I’d like to get a functional session in once or twice a week, once I’ve picked a program, so I don’t become a stiff old person, always complaining about every joint and socket in my body.


The Ross Vibe at Universal Swell

  • Personable, relaxed and friendly

  • Knowledge of athletic movement

  • Understanding of the “regular person”

  • Can train a fighter or person with a disability

  • Bright, clean atmosphere

  • No gimmicks, no bullshit

Check out the video below to see more and listen to Ross and I shoot the shit about fitspo culture.

Ross Renberg


Universal Swell

910 E 3300 S

Salt Lake City, UT 84106