“Everyone has dreams, but dreams without goals are just dreams. They ultimately will fuel disappointment. What you need is quiet discipline and consistency because without commitment, you will never start. Without consistency, you will never finish.” Joseph Sakoda, better known as Da Rulk, speaks frequently of consistency and resilience when he talks of fitness. “Our focus is to improve body conditioning, and building some fortitude, inner resilience,” he says.
The US-based Da Rulk recently signed a licensing partnership with Sohrab Khushrushahi’s Sohfit Health and Wellness LLP, to bring his form of exercise curriculum, Raw Functional Training (RFT), to India. RFT, like the name suggests, incorporates bodyweight movements, mobility and conditioning.
“When you do muscle building to be stronger,” Da Rulk says in answer to a question on traditional weight training and how it differs from RFT, “you are not teaching the body how to use those muscles. Functional training not only makes you stronger but teaches your body how to use the strength that you are developing.”
Da Rulk trains US Navy SEALS, firefighters and law enforcement professionals, but is better known for transforming actor Chris Hemsworth to be Thor-worthy for the Marvel films. He also works with Hemsworth on the latter’s fitness firm Centr. Some of Da Rulk’s preferred—and daunting—routines include the forward and reverse (bear) crawls, side crawls, three-step drop (with squats), side gorilla, hopscotch, sit throughs and switches, which he calls the most challenging to execute.
“Sit throughs and switches are the two hardest of my movements and require the most amount of effort,” he says. “They have a holistic component and it means you have to push through certain aspects of the motion.” Da Rulk says the advantage of RFT is it eliminates restrictions—one can workout in a small place, indoors, outdoors, with or without any equipment. “Our goal is to eliminate why you can’t do something,” he says over a call. “That creates resilience. If you are travelling, you can do it in a hotel room. That creativity makes you less reliant on something else but depend (only) on yourself.”
He distinguishes between aesthetic training—working out so as to look a certain way—and RFT, which he calls an ancillary programme to support whatever initiative one may have from weight-training. “My goal is not to make you look a certain way—it’s to make you feel a certain way. It’s more important to feel strong than just to look strong,” the California-based trainer says.
In a response to a question on how social media, pop and celebrity culture influences fitness choices, Da Rulk adds that there may be people who may look amazingly strong and fit, but are not functionally efficient. Since he works with people in the military and first responders who focus on performance and functional efficiency of their bodies—mentally and physically—he tries to bring the same toughness to anyone who wants to do the training.
“I don’t know if doing RFT will get you 30 pounds of muscle mass or have wider shoulders, but you will be stronger,” he says. “It’s not always (about) what you see in the mirror but what you feel when no one else is around. Feeling better about yourself without needing affirmation from those around you or even the reflection you see in the mirror is amazing.”
The 47-year-old agrees that building muscle gets more challenging as one gets older because of aspects of bone density and hormone levels that come into play. But that does not mean one can’t change one’s body composition or get stronger even after a certain age. “Our focus is not to build bodybuilders. If the body builds due to our programme that’s great but our focus is to improve body conditioning. A lot of our movements were created to mitigate risk of injury. It challenges you and pushes you the way other programmes maybe don’t. Whatever age you are, there are ways to get you into amazing shape.”
The other advantage to something like RFT is its adaptability. Through the two years of the pandemic, when the fitness industry worldwide pivoted to finding home-made solutions, people also have become more aware of their personal health and fitness.
“That’s a lot of what RFT is—purpose-driven specific movement. Through sequencing, it’s teaching your body novel sequence patterns. So I think people felt (during and after the pandemic) that if everything is taken away, what do I do. So we saw a lot of people walking, doing things on their own.
“Sometimes, when you go to the gym or are in a group fitness class, you can get lost in the energy of the group. With the pandemic, all of us looked inward and figured our purpose and what we were trying to accomplish, which was good in a lot of ways. Some people struggled with that but we all have to go through that and hopefully with RFT, we provide people that opportunity to have some value they could use. When everything else shuts down...”
In the unlikely possibility of everything shutting down once more, if someone were to be able to do just one exercise, he recommends the crawl. “The only reason is because it’s a fundamental movement pattern—we have all done it as babies,” Da Rulk says. “It’s evolutionary. It loosens the hips, strengthens the shoulder, your core, there is a myriad benefits from doing it.”
Arun Janardhan is a Mumbai-based journalist who covers sports, business and lifestyle.