You might be fit, but are you functionally fit? Huh? I’m talking about one of the top workout trends: functional fitness. Just look around your gym or take a peak at the group fitness schedule, functional fitness is quickly becoming the measuring stick for well-rounded strength training. And it should be. Its purpose and design serves the needs of both the athlete and the not-so-athletic; the young and the old; the slight gangly runner as well as the big, strong weight lifter. What is this trend in fitness all about?
What Is Functional Fitness?
Webster’s Dictionary defines FUNCTIONAL as:
“Having or serving a utilitarian purpose; capable of serving the purpose for which is was designed.”
Doesn’t it make sense to train the body in the way it was designed to move? Put simply, functional fitness trains movement, not muscle. Your body was designed to twist, bend, lift, throw, and reach! How often do you replicate a bicep curl in daily life? When is the last time you sat and pushed something with your legs like you do on a leg-press machine? Probably not often enough to even remember.
Functional exercise replicates functional movement, that is, those movements we use to get average things done in our daily lives. Standing from a seated position, placing things overhead, pulling ourselves up, throwing, running, picking things up – these are all functional movements. We want to teach our body parts to communicate with one another and work together to strengthen our neuromuscular pathways.
Of course, your muscles are going to get stronger in the process. But the goal is not to have a more sculpted bicep; it is to train your muscles to help you do everyday activities safely and efficiently.
I’m Already Strong. Why Do I Need It?
Haven’t you ever met someone that seemed strong enough to bench press their mother, and yet they threw out their back hoisting a heavy box into the attic? Or maybe that person was you? When we train our bodies in singular, linear patterns we don’t train for real life. Functional training focuses on:
- Range of motion
The exercises are going to be both multi-joint and multi-directional activities. For example, instead of a simple squat or a simple shoulder press, you might squat down, pick up a weight sitting by your left foot stand up and reach it over your right shoulder. In this activity, you are replicating real life situations where you bend down, pick things up, press things high, and twist. You do all those things! And think of the muscles you are training: legs, glutes, obliques, transverse abdominus, bicep and shoulder. Whew! Now that’s efficient!
What Are The Benefits Of Functional Fitness?
You can ride the elliptical all day long or squat 500 pounds, but neither of these singular activities will help you catch yourself when you slip on the ice or stabilize yourself while you carry a baby in and out of the store.
Here are some of the many benefits of training with functional fitness:
- Improved core strength
- Improved stability and mobility
- Improved overall muscular endurance
- Improved balance coordination and agility
- Increased range of motion
- Improved movement patterns
If you’re still not sold, what if I told you workouts could be shortened because you’re getting more done in less time? Why spend 15-30 minutes doing separate sets of shoulder raises, bicep curls, and push-ups when you can spend 5 minutes doing some bear crawls which takes care of all those muscle PLUS legs, core, and cardio? Think big picture!
So How Do I Get Started With Functional Fitness?
If you are a beginner, start simple. Don’t even use any equipment. Try a one-legged squat without falling over. Most people struggle with this alone. Once you conquer it on both legs, try some instability. Do your one-legged squats standing on a mat or other unstable surface. You could even add a little weight into the mix. Place a 5-lb. dumbbell or even a soup can on a chair and try picking it up on your ascent from the one-legged squat.
If you are already fairly fit and thinking a little bigger; get outside and play! Functional fitness can be done in your own backyard (or in the house if the weather isn’t good). A set of side-to-side leaps down the lawn with a set of bear crawls on the way back is functional and fun! Add a ball to your leaps and toss it from one hand to the other to add instability and weight. If you have a bench or chair, step up and down while pushing light dumbbells over your head. Or substitute the dumbbells with a backyard tool like a garden rake or shovel.
Of course there are gyms and fitness centers and trainers that will guide you through functional fitness workouts, so be sure to seek out some additional guidance if desired. Or try my Functional Fitness 101 workout and start it up in your own home.
No matter what you try, making functional fitness part of your life will be beneficial for now and well into the future!