Functional fitness refers to exercises or workouts that focus on developing overall strength, balance and mobility. In other words it is fitness that supports everyday activities. “It trains your muscles to work together and prepares them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports.” (opexfit.com) It is different from conventional weight training because it teaches muscle groups to work together instead of developing isolated muscle groups.
According to experts functional fitness is a good way to exercise because it not only focuses on using muscles for everyday activities, it aims to improve “...the overall function of your body, boosting muscle strength and endurance, and developing muscle and body stability…” (orbitfitness.com) It is especially good for seniors because of the focus on balance, flexibility and core strength. These abilities will help older adults avoid falls or injuries and provide support for performing common chores such as lifting, getting in and out of a car or shoveling snow. Also, functional fitness can be done at home or at a gym. Many of the exercises use simple bodyweight: squats, lunges, push-ups and planks are all considered staples of a functional fitness program. Also, “Comprehensive physical movements found in activities such as tai chi and yoga involve varying combinations of resistance and flexibility training that can help build functional fitness.” (Mayoclinic.org)
Resistance bands or dumbbells can also be used in functional fitness routines. Other equipment might include kettlebells, stability balls, ropes and sleds, or medicine balls. Classes might include CrossFit, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), Parkour, TRX , or as previously mentioned, Tai Chi and Yoga. Even obstacle courses like those on American Ninja Warrior offer functional fitness workouts. So, whether at home, at the gym or at the playground, functional fitness can be simple or complicated, giving athletes a variety of ways and locations to get in shape.
Although there may be classes and small group training available, another advantage of functional fitness is that it can and should be individualized. Greg Roskopf, MS, a biomechanics consultant with Muscle Activation Techniques suggests that newcomers should, “Start with simple movements, like the one-legged squat, and other balance exercises. You may want to use popular tools that promote functional exercise like stability balls and the ‘wobble board,’ both of which force you to work your core to keep your body balanced while you’re lifting a weight.” (WebMD.com) Opex fitness experts also encourage a slow start with bodyweight exercises, perhaps even starting in the water to avoid stress on joints. Then move on to more challenging movements like burpees, kettlebell swings or jump squats.
Here are 5 good reasons to give functional fitness a try:
- Improves everyday life - Functional fitness targets the whole body, not just certain muscles in order to develop balance, mobility and core strength that will be used in everyday tasks.
- Enhances Muscle Memory - It helps muscles work together not in isolation, and the repetition of daily activities will help muscles recall the proper way to balance and lift when needed.
- Increased Mobility - The focus is on all of the areas needed to move easily and efficiently: balance, flexibility and core strength.
- Improves Posture - Muscles are trained to work together and manage weight properly so balance and posture will improve.
- Reduced Risk of Injury - By targeting everyday tasks and movements as well as working on stretching, flexibility, balance and strength, functional fitness helps reduce falls and other common injuries.
Here are the top ten Functional Fitness Exercises for Beginners:
- Mountain climbers or Bear Crawl
- Jump Rope
- Kettlebell Swings
- Bicycle Crunches
Here are the top ten Advanced Functional Fitness Moves: (See examples at https://www.oxygenmag.com/workouts/the-worlds-10-best-functional-exercises)
- Dumbbell Thruster
- Turkish Get-Up
- Jump Squat
- Crab Reach
- One-Arm Kettlebell Snatch
- Sled Pull/Push
- Woman Maker
- Wall Handstand Push-Up
- Farmer’s Walk