By Sam Davis, BHS, CPT, FNS
Functional fitness has risen in popularity over the last year or so. It may sound like another craze or marketing gimmick, but functional fitness is actually a legitimate type of workout. Functional fitness simply means there is a purpose behind your training—and it’s something used in many professional athlete training regimens.
The fitness industry has taken “functional fitness” and really hyped up the term by tailoring group classes and charging exorbitant prices for something you can do by yourself. As a fitness professional, I highly recommend adding functionality to your exercise; you don’t need to be an athlete to perform functional fitness.
According to the Mayo Clinic, functional fitness is a classification of exercise that trains your body for real-life movement. There is a purpose behind every movement you do, which benefits multiple spheres of your life.
Functional fitness helps train your body to squat, reach, pull, and lift with ease. It focuses on building up your body to alleviate the struggles of everyday movement, and help you become stronger overall. For example, you may be able to squat 300+ pounds in the gym—but still pull a muscle when you go to lift up your child. The point of functional fitness is to not only be strong so you can squat at the gym, but to also be able to lift without tearing muscles or causing injury. Squatting in a rack and functional fitness go hand in hand.
Nailing the basics of functional fitness is just like anything else; you have to walk before you can run. So in order to prevent injury in our day-to-day, we need to make sure our fitness routines include strength, range of motion, flexibility, coordination, body awareness, and mobility. When you perfect these aspects of training, you will be able to feel the benefits as you go through your routines.
Compound movements use multiple muscles during the exercise, which mimic our normal movement patterns. The pushing, pulling, squatting, and rotating of a compound exercise like the squat, deadlift, or lunge helps us become stronger during everyday activities like lifting your kids from the floor or getting up from tying your shoes. It can also simply alleviating muscle imbalances, so that your body feels better in general.
The majority of functional training movements are multi-joint—so the program should include movements forward, side-to-side, and backwards, as well as rotational movements. It is important to start using your bodyweight, but incorporate free weights and bands as you get stronger to ensure the continuation of your success.
Just like any type of new movement or exercise, it is wise to take it slow and really understand workouts from the bottom up. If you want to learn how to perform the movements safely, you should invest in a functional fitness professional who can teach you the proper form in order to avoid injury.
Start with bodyweight exercises to perfect form, avoid injury—and then after you have perfected form, you can add weight to increase resistance and difficulty. As a fitness coach, I recommend a functional fitness program that is tailored to your individualized needs and goals.
Everyone needs to be incorporating functional fitness into their workout regimine. Whether you are a parent, athlete, senior citizen, or frequent gym goer, functional fitness will improve your body’s health as a whole; improve everyday life; increase your mobility, coordination, and flexibility; improve your balance and posture; and decrease your risk of injury.
Most fitness professionals can agree that functional fitness should be incorporated into your routine. However, it is important to check with your physician before starting a new way of exercising; you want to prevent injury!