Last updated on June 18th, 2020Time to Read: 8 minutes
Many people exercise to lose weight, improve their health, or to look better. These are all good reasons to exercise, but what if you want to work out in a way that will make it easier for you to do your job, take care of your children, or play your favorite sport? Enter functional fitness.
Functional fitness is focused on making your day-to-day activities easier. It is a variation on some types of sports medicine and physical therapy, which tends to prescribe exercises to strengthen muscles after an injury and uses exercises in a preventative way to prevent injury and make activities easier.
What is Functional Fitness?
The Mayo Clinic defines functional fitness as an exercise system “that trains the muscles to work together and prepare the body for real-life movements and activities by simulating common movements you might do at work, at home, or in sports.” This approach to fitness is quite different from goal-oriented training aimed to enable the participant to lose a certain amount of weight, gain muscle. It is also not intended to improve athletic performance, to break certain time records for running races, or to lift a specific amount of weight.
Functional fitness is designed to improve effectiveness at one’s daily tasks and to prevent common injuries. For instance, a mother who has a history of back problems may want to strengthen certain muscles to avoid pulling something when she has to move suddenly to lift her child. A typist may want to do specially designed hand and arm exercises to avoid developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
What is the Focus of Functional Fitness?
Functional fitness focuses on developing certain qualities, according to Opexfit. These include coordination, balance, strength, power, mobility, and range of motion. For the most part, there is no need for elaborate equipment, such as weights. In fact, it is better to use one’s own body weight for resistance, since this is the most organic way to move and resembles how we execute everyday activities.
Although there are a number of functional fitness routines available through classes or recordings in group settings, many participants opt to consult with a trainer to come up with an individualized functional fitness program that reflects their day to day activities. A trainer can assess strong and weak areas, predict possible injuries that can occur given a person’s profession and routine, and prescribe exercises to avoid fatigue and potential damage.
Functional fitness is the way physical therapists have always worked. They meet with someone who has had an injury or is having difficulty with certain activities. The physical therapist or chiropractor diagnoses the problem and prescribes exercises that are related to the movement they find challenging.
The idea is that, instead of avoiding the movement, they will practice it repeatedly until it becomes natural for them to perform. Functional fitness operates in similar ways to the processes used by physical therapists, although people seek functional therapy to prevent a potential injury rather than treat one that has already occurred.
Benefits of Functional Fitness
Makes everyday activities easier
Doing functional fitness workouts can make your day-to-day activities less challenging. If your work involves doing certain tasks over and over, such as typing, strengthening your fingers, and improving the strength of your wrist can improve your work efficiency and can prevent fatigue and injury. Jogging may improve cardiovascular activity and make your legs stronger, but jogging and lifting weights won’t necessarily help you type more safely or at a faster clip.
Practicing exercises that are similar to the movements you do every day can encourage more fluidity to your activities. We can sometimes lack confidence or approach certain tasks with dread if they involve strain or if we aren’t sure of the best way to approach the job. Rehearsing movements trains the muscles to move in specific ways.
Sharper muscle memory
Our memories are not just cognitive and emotional. We also have physical memory. Once we learn to ride a bike, even if many years have passed since we have sat on a bicycle, our legs naturally know how to move in a coordinated manner that creates motion, and we instinctively resume the familiar posture of riding. According to Orbitfitness, functional training allows the body to acquire and practice muscle memory so that challenging everyday tasks can become automatic.
Enhanced balance and coordination
When you work separate muscle groups in the gym and with traditional workouts, you may end up with firmer biceps or stronger legs, but you may not have enough overall balance in strength and flexibility to perform your daily tasks effectively. For instance, if you are a jogger and go for a 3 mile run every day, your cardiovascular system and legs get plenty of attention and strengthening, but you may find it difficult lifting. Rehearsing everyday activities in the form of exercise creates holistic strength that eases you through necessary tasks with greater balance and coordination.
Functional training, like physical therapy, can guide you through recovery from an injury and can prevent one from occurring. Working vulnerable muscle groups can keep your muscles and ligaments from stress and strain because strength provides the best defense against injury and quickens recovery.
What Are Some Functional Fitness Exercises?
The box step-up is pretty much what it sounds like. Take a sturdy box that will support your weight, step one leg up and then the other and step down again, one leg at a time. This is a workout that can be done simply according to those instructions or can be made more challenging by holding barbells towards the center of your body with your elbows out or with ankle weights. The step-up can be done slowly or quickly. If done slowly and deliberately, the box step-up exercise can give your muscles a good stretch. If you do this exercise quickly, there can be aerobic benefits.
The box step-up is beneficial for the quads, which do not get much conditioning with level-ground jogging. In addition, working the quads strengthens the knees and can prevent knee injury. The box step-up also strengthens the hamstrings and the glutes. This exercise benefits people who climb a lot of stairs. Delivery people who often go into buildings without elevators can benefit from this exercise. Ultimately, since most people have to climb stairs from time to time, the box step-up can benefit almost everyone.
Seated Chest Press
This exercise is easiest done on a machine at a gym. It is like a standard bench press, but it is done in an upright position. At a gym, sit upright in the chair with your legs apart at a comfortable distance, and your feet placed flat on the floor. Make sure the height is adjusted to a level that is comfortable. Hold the handles firmly and press them outward while exhaling steadily. Pause while your arms are extended and push them back in again, inhaling.
This exercise supports the entire chest and conditions the pectorals, deltoids, and triceps. It is an effective functional exercise for those who push strollers or have to push heavy objects for their jobs. Movers may benefit from seated chest presses because they often have to push items like refrigerators on and off trucks.
Romanian deadlifts are an exercise performed with barbells and conditions all of the muscles in the posterior, including gluteus maximus, adductors, and hamstrings. Romanian deadlifts or RDLs strengthen the core of the body and promote posture and balance. RDLs are used to strengthen the back and are often recommended by fitness instructors as a valuable way to prevent back injury. Doing this exercise properly will coax the body into lifting properly, using the hips instead of straining the back.
To do an RDL stand with your legs slightly bent and your torso at an angle. Your feet should be apart at a comfortable distance. Reach for the center bar of the weight, grab it and lift upward, moving your torso to an upright position.
This functional exercise is helpful for people who have to pick things up on a regular basis. It can make gardening and pulling weeds easier. Parents who have to pick up small children on a regular basis can benefit from doing RDLs. Carrying suitcases is also easier with a strong back developed through doing RDLs regularly.
A goblet squat is an exercise that will work on many areas of your body, including your quads, calves, glutes, and arms. The squat is done by placing your feet a bit wider than your hips and grasping a kettlebell or a dumbbell with both hands. With the torso straight, bend the knees down without bending forward. Once you have reached a full squatting position, straighten your knees and move upward again, grasping the weight firmly in both hands.
The goblet squat is beneficial for a variety of activities since it strengthens the arms, the legs, and the core simultaneously, but it is particularly good for people who have to pick up objects from lower positions. Taking items from the lowest shelves at the grocery store or organizing a child’s room may involve the same muscles developed in goblet squats. In addition, this exercise will teach you how to retrieve objects from a low position or the ground without straining your back. Instead of bending over quickly, you can bend your knees and use your legs to power his activity.
This exercise gets its name from the heavy pails of milk dairy farmers used to carry in each hand. It involves simply holding a kettlebell, dumbbell, or just a heavy bucket in each hand and walking a certain distance with arms straight and the torso erect. Although the exercise may seem simple, it conditions a wide variety of muscles, including biceps, triceps, trapezius, quadriceps, lower back, obliques, and abdominals. This is a good functional exercise for people who have to carry heavy objects some distance, such as suitcases or items for delivery.
These exercises can be done at home or at a gym if you have barbells at home or an exercise bench. If you don’t have weights, simply using weighted objects can replace barbells for some of these exercises. It is a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine. For best results, consult a personal trainer for the first session or so to ensure you are doing the exercises correctly. The trainer can also find the functional exercises that best suit your ability and lifestyle.