What Is Functional Fitness & How To Train It?
So you are breaking your bicep curl record on a gym machine that left your friends gawking in awe. Wow, good for you!
However, as you pick up your luggage to load into your trunk, or pick up your favorite grandchild, suddenly, your back is thrown out. What gives?! After all that time you’ve spent in a gym taking care of your temple?
If you, unfortunately, know what I’m talking about, it might be time to consider functional fitness training as part of your gym regimen.
So What Is Functional Fitness?
Functional fitness is a discipline of exercise that prepares the body for everyday tasks and motions, simulating actions you frequently do at work, in sports, or simply going about your daily household chores.
It teaches your body’s separate muscle groups to work together with optimal efficiency, making actions like squatting, reaching, pulling, and lifting way easier and at lower risk of injury.
How Functional Fitness Is Different From Conventional Strength Training
While all forms of exercise are healthy and will benefit the body in some way, traditional machine strength training focuses on a specific muscle group at a time, bulking it up and strengthening it.
Functional fitness utilizes the whole body, working multiple muscle groups in a single exercise and building endurance, balance, and core strength, in addition to increasing the muscle strength in each group.
Benefits Of Functional Fitness
While all exercise will benefit your health and body, functional fitness exercises take it a step further and provide a more well-rounded, balanced workout that improves not just strength but other aspects of a healthy physique.
Helps avoid injuries
While traditional strength training works out a particular muscle group, functional strength workout will help improve multiple muscle groups, balance, and stability, reducing the risk of injuries from daily chores.
For example, conditioning your upper body will lead to a powerful upper body but a neglected back and core, which is the backbone of an efficient physique.
Helps build a strong core
A strong core is fundamental in avoiding injury. Most functional workouts center around the core and help build overall strength for more complete conditioning without too much concentration on a specific muscle group.
Improves flexibility, balance, and coordination
When unused and unstretched, muscles grow tight and contracted.
Because functional fitness often features dynamic movements with multiple actions at once, you might enjoy increased flexibility and a greater range of motion by working out numerous muscle groups.
In addition, the movements often have a stability and coordination aspect, further improving your sense of balance and psychomotor skills.
Functional Fitness Exercises
Functional movements are ones that work multiple joints and muscle groups in one exercise. They not only improve muscle growth, but also stimulate nervous system and lubricate joints.
Below are some easy exercises that be incorporated into your fitness routine, giving you a more holistic, full-body workout that can help in your everyday life.
Bodyweight squat is a great functional exercise and a good introduction to other moves in the squat family. It is effective and safe for all fitness levels.
Without realizing it, we use the same muscles as the squat many times a day, from picking up something from the floor to lowering ourselves onto the couch.
However, bodyweight squat does have a major drawback, it stops providing enough stimulus after a few weeks. Add some weights or do a split squat for a more demanding exercise. If bodyweight squat is too hard for you, feel free to do chair stand-up.
Muscle used: glute, hamstring, quad, abs
- Feet shoulder-width apart
- Squat down slowly with your knees bending outwards and back straight (super important!)
- When squat down, your knees shouldn't exceed your toes and your butt should sit at the back
- Stand up slowly and in control
- You should feel your butt and glute muscle working
- Repeat 8~12 reps and 3 sets
When a simple bodyweight squat started to get too easy, lunge is a single-leg crossover of the squat. This is a crucial movement that can be used for stairs, lifting objects off the floor, and simply walking. Lunge is also crucial in injury prevention, such as anterior cruciate ligament injury prevention.
Muscle used: hamstring, quad, glute, calves, abs, oblique
- Start in a standing position
- Step your front leg forward that your front knee is slightly bend. Engage your core to keep your back straight. Don't lean forward or backward.
- Bend your front knee to 90 degree and lower your back leg. Keep your upper body and back leg engaged. When lower down, your front knee shouldn't collapse inward and pass your toes. If your front knee is too forward, it will bring to much pressure to your knee joint.
- When lower down, both your front knee and back knee should be in 90 degree position.
- Push up your both legs back to original position
- Repeat 8~12 reps and 3 sets
Push-ups may seem intimidating, but are a fantastic upper-body exercise that improves arm and shoulder strength while challenging core stability.
If a regular push-up feels too much, place your hands on something higher like a solid, stable chair or the side of your bed instead. Otherwise, you can also lower your knees and bend both legs on the ground. As you grow stronger, you can gradually decrease the gradient until you are flat.
Then go the other way! Elevate those legs for a more intense workout.
Muscle used: abs, back, chest, tricep, shoulder
- Position yourself in plank position. Hands shoulder-width apart next to your chest. Fingers facing forward
- If holding your legs up are too hard, you can lower them to the ground
- Bend your arms to lower your body. Keep your arms closer to your torso
- Engage your core to stabilize your body
- Repeat 8~12 reps and 3 sets
Final Thoughts On Functional Fitness
Whether running errands around town or pushing a stroller up a hill, functional fitness can help you better prepare your body for all of life's little challenges.
With exercises that strengthen crucial muscles and improve flexibility and balance, functional training can help you stay healthy, agile, and energized no matter what life throws at you.
So if you want a fitness routine that will keep you feeling your best every day, give functional training a try!