Let’s talk about Functional Fitness.
Chances are you may have heard this term thrown around in the gym or on the internet, but are not really sure what it means. Get a head start by learning all about functional fitness here.
WHAT IS FUNCTIONAL FITNESS?
In a nutshell, functional fitness means training your body to be physically fit for real-life situations. Here are a few examples where functional fitness training comes in handy:
– Carrying all your groceries upstairs in one trip
– Giving your kids piggyback rides
– Moving big rocks when gardening
– Your car breaks down and you have to push it to the side of the road
– Zombies are chasing you and you need to scale a chain-link fence
HERE ARE 10 COMPONENTS OF PHYSICAL FITNESS:
You have probably been training a few of these components. If you are a runner, you’ve got speed, agility, & endurance down, but maybe not power or flexibility. If you’re a traditional weight lifter, you’ve got strength and power, but maybe not so much the other components. Functional fitness means that you are training for all ten components of physical fitness.
So now that we understand what functional fitness is, how do you train for it?
COMPOUND EXERCISES, NOT ISOLATION EXERCISE:
Compound exercises are a staple to functional fitness training. These are big, multi-joint movements that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Some examples of compound exercises are back squats, pull ups, push ups, lunges and bench presses. You can check out a full list of compound exercises here.
The opposite of compound exercises are isolation exercises. These are single-joint exercises that only work one muscle group at a time. Some examples of isolation exercises are bicep curls, skull
crushers, calf raises, and barbell shrugs. These are great for targeting specific areas of weakness, however, won’t help much with functional fitness. This is because most real-life physical challenges require full-body movements of all your muscles working together – i.e. compound exercises.
FREE WEIGHTS, NOT WEIGHT MACHINES:
Free weights should become your new go-to (if they aren’t already). First of all, free weights are best for performing compound exercises. Very few weight machines allow for compound movements, they are isolation exercises, as they target single muscle groups and allow only a single plane of movement. Secondly, free weights require you to activate your core stabilizing muscles. While weight machines often have you in a sitting position, free weights require you to support & maintain your body’s posture. Much like in real life, you must stand on your feet & support your own bodyweight, while simultaneously lifting heavy stuff.
MASTER BODYWEIGHT MOMENTS:
Some gym die-hards may scoff at bodyweight movements, but ask them to do 20 burpees and they’re dying. While bodyweight movements may seem a bit elementary, they are actually the foundation of physical fitness. Having precise control of how your body can move through space is (in my opinion) the most important physical skill anyone can pursue.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF FUNCTIONAL FITNESS TRAINING?
Functional exercises tend to be multijoint, multimuscle exercises. Instead of only moving the elbows, for example, a functional exercise might involve the elbows, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles. This type of training, properly applied, can make everyday activities easier, reduce your risk of injury and improve your quality of life.
Functional exercise training may be especially beneficial as part of a comprehensive program for older adults to improve balance, agility and muscle strength, and reduce the risk of falls.
ARE FUNCTIONAL FITNESS EXERCISES FOR EVERYONE?
If you are older than age 40, haven’t exercised for some time or have health problems, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program. Similarly, women who are pregnant should check with their doctors.
It’s also a good idea to start with exercises that use only your own body weight for resistance. As you become more fit and ready for more of a challenge, you can add more resistance in the form of weights, resistance tubing or performing movements in the water.
THE FUNCTIONAL FITNESS PAYOFF
As you add more functional exercises to your workout, you should see improvements in your ability to perform your everyday activities and, thus, in your quality of life. That’s quite a return on your exercise investment.