The other day I was giving a gym tour and as I was talking I thought, "we talk about our functional fitness area,but I wonder if people know what that is." Hence, this blog post was born. [By the way- if you have any blog post ideas, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org we'd be happy to answer your questions in our most professional blog post form]
So, what is functional fitness?
Basically, functional fitness (FF, from here on out) is exercise that is training your body for daily movement activities. For example, laying down on a bench and pressing weight over your head is not a FF movement [unless you have a kid that likes to be bench pressed as a form of fun] but getting down onto all fours or into a plank is a functional movement. Think about how often you need to bend down to look under something or reach under something to retrieve something that fell. Then think about an elderly person you know- can they do that with ease? The answer will vary from person to person and its entirely dependent on the amount of functional movements they have incorporated into their life on a regular basis.
FF is a very common form of physical fitness, and for good reason! If you are a 25 year old, you likely don't see a lot of reason for FF; if you are a 65 year old, you likely will appreciate this type of fitness training a whole lot more. As someone who works with people of all ages and abilities, I have a profound appreciation for the benefits and importance of FF in everyone's lives.
What types of exercise would constitute functional fitness?
Any movement that would correlate to something you do in your everyday life is a functional movement.
Balance exercises are a HUGE component of functional fitness. As we age this is one of the first things to go. It's also an important factor in preventing falls. An individual with good balance will be less likely to fall when they trip over a slight change in the concrete than someone who practices their balance exercises. Balance exercises, for the most part, should be practiced on a stable surface. Adding unstable surfaces is great for strengthening but is not a very functional exercise- we are not often standing on unstable surfaces.
Coordination exercises are another fantastic FF movement. Creating and maintaining synergy in our systems is important for many daily activities. Exercises that utilize both the upper and lower body at the same time are effective at this. For example, wall ball exercises should be using both your legs (power and stability) and your upper body (strength and power).
Power and Strength exercises that fit into the FF category would include exercises that mimic daily requirements of power and strength- shoveling snow, raking leaves, loading and unloading groceries, crossing the road (as a pedestrian), lifting a box off the floor, etc....
Examples of some of these exercises would include flipping the heavy bag (or tire), kettlebell swings or lifts, TRX rows, step ups, and the list continues...
Lastly, FF should include movement in multiple directions. Although we mostly move in a forward direction there are many reactionary instances in which we are required to side step or walk backwards. Incorporating agility exercises can help to keep the neuromuscular system sharp and help you to maintain your ability to respond quickly to ever changing situations. This should also include rotational movements to help keep the core strong and the spine healthy.
We love to incorporate many of these types of movements into our training programs. We have witnessed the improvements and we have experienced them ourselves. We highly suggest that you incorporate at least one of each type of functional fitness mentioned above into your workout, minimum 3 times per week.