There’s a new fitness “buzzword” in the air, and this one takes us right back to the basics. It’s “functional fitness” – a kind of fitness designed to help improve daily life activities.
Every day we use our muscles for things like climbing stairs, bending over to pick up children, and carrying heavy grocery bags to the car. Functional fitness is designed to make those tasks easier to perform – helping you keep your body injury-free.
Which brings up the next point…
Why is Functional Fitness Important?
Functional fitness has been described as fitness for the real world. The focus is not on your Tough Mudder/Spartan dream life, but on your everyday life.
Functional fitness is about training your body for daily activities, and it focuses on the multiple ranges of movement that you use doing everyday activities, rather than just a specific muscle group. For example, when you’re putting groceries away, you may go from squatting to pick up a packet of flour, to reaching up to put it on a high shelf to lunging to shut the fridge door you left open.
And why is this important?
Because more people are injured in life from “everyday” activities. Yes, some people pull hamstrings running marathons, but that’s not what functional fitness is about. Each day, even the fittest person can lift a suitcase or get off the couch the wrong way and throw their back out. It’s not because they’re not physically fit – it’s because their body isn’t functionally fit.
You see, when you train for an athletic event – like a race – you generally train specific muscle groups. You’re looking to gain strength in one key area that will give you an advantage during the event. Even if you’re not training for competition, the average gym routine uses just one plane of motion at a time – i.e. up and down, or side to side – and one muscle group within that range.
But your body doesn’t use just one muscle group at a time during daily activities.
It uses multiple muscle groups, and multiple planes of motion at once as you: pull open heavy doors, lift your child into your arms, push a stroller or a shopping cart, walk a mile during your lunch break, or squat down to pick up your dropped keys.
Functional Fitness for the Real World
Functional training allows you to be agile enough to perform your daily tasks without the fear of pulling a muscle or “throwing out” your back. It’s about all-around strength. The gym is very predictable. You practice – and get better – at the same movements in a controlled environment. But would it transfer to the real world, where those easy-to-hold barbells are now a hefty piece of oddly shaped furniture, or a heavy bag of lawn fertilizer? You can’t lift those things the same way – they take a whole range of movement.
Now, many of you who regularly work out are probably thinking, “I’m youthful and fit! I don’t need to train to do the laundry!”
But even if you’re a “fitness freak”, incorporating functional exercises into your routine can help protect you from potential injuries during a race and around the home.
Most importantly, it will lay a strong foundation for “future you.”
For example, your chances of being injured by a fall at home increase every decade.1 And it’s a fact that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
According to the CDC:
- More than one in four older people (aged 65 and above) falls each year.
- Falling once doubles your chances of falling again.
- Each year, 95 percent of hip fractures are due to falls.
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.2
What causes these falls? Two of the biggest culprits are lower body weakness (especially the legs) and balance difficulties.3 Or in basic terms, strength and balance.
But functional fitness will also allow you to feel good well into your golden years. This is because it can help to protect you against the muscle aches and joint discomfort that unfortunately come with aging. Which means a greater quality of life for years to come!
Hello, functional fitness!
In a nutshell, functional training can help:
- Strengthen your balance and coordination
- Improve your personal range of motion
- Improve your strength
So, What Do Functional Exercises Look Like?
Functional fitness classes are popping up all over the country, but you can easily start working on your functional fitness right in your own home.
Functional exercises focus on multiple joints and muscles. So, instead of just crunching those biceps, you can incorporate using your biceps into a movement that also engages your core, spine, hips, and knees.
All of these exercises focus on simulating real life, daily movements.
Here are four functional movement exercises to get you started.
Aim to do three sets of 10 reps with each of these, taking about a one minute break in between each set of 10.
1. Air Squats
- Place feet shoulder-width apart.
- Raise your arms out in front of you
- Tighten your core.
- Squat, pushing your hips back, keeping your back flat and your head aligned with your spine.
- You’ll want to get nice and low, so your thighs are parallel to the ground
- Now, if this feels too easy for you, you can certainly increase the resistance here by adding dumbbells into the movement
For our woodchoppers, we’re going to use something that you have around the house – a large bag of coffee grounds, a bag of flour, a gallon of milk. But if you’re already a gym junkie, feel free to grab your dumbbells again.
- Start with your feet together. Take a step back, keeping your back heel off the ground. You are now in a lunge position.
- Tuck your glute muscles, drawing in the navel area, and keep your back nice and straight.
- Holding your chosen “weight”, with one hand on top and one hand underneath, rotate to the side – as if you were picking up wood from a pile, whilst still in a squat or lunge position.
- Now, rotate until you’ve completely switched your single leg squat all the way over to the other leg, with the weight raised up into the air (as if you’re now putting the “wood” on a much higher pile).
3.The Bulgarian Split Squat
Using a chair or a couch placed behind you, place one leg behind you, with your toes resting on the chair.
- Hold your arms by your sides.
- Tighten your core.
- Squat down on your single leg as far as possible, keeping your back flat and your chest held high. Don’t let your back knee touch the ground.
- Slowly stand straight up.
- Feel free to add in dumbells to increase your resistance here and don’t forget to do the same amount of reps on the opposite leg!
4. Barbwire Push-Up
We’re going to start in a “downward-facing dog” yoga position here.
To do this you’re going to start in a pushup position, then raise your butt into the air so that your body looks like an upside down “V”.
- Once you’re in your “downward-facing dog”, make sure your knees are bent slightly and not locked.
- Now, bend your elbows, and push your chest down and forward through your arms – as if you were trying to sneak under a barbed wire fence
- Then finish this movement in what we call an “upward dog position”. To find this position, imagine yourself lying face down on the floor. Now push upwards with your arms until they are completely straight and strong, and your body is lifted slightly off the ground. Your toes will still be touching the floor. This is your “upward dog”.
- So you will sneak “under the barbed wire fence” and finish in this upward dog position.
- Now, move back into a push-up position, and slowly lift back up into your original downward-facing dog position.
Your Own Personal Bodyguard
Fitness keeps your organs happy on the inside, and you looking great on the outside. But it’s time to also embrace the idea of being functionally strong. Think of it as having your own personal “bodyguard”, there to protect you from the possible injuries of everyday life.
Because the truth of the matter is… pavements are uneven, your remote control is usually in an odd spot, the dog food bag is always a little bit heavier than it looks, and kitchen floors get slippery. But if your body knows how to move in a multitude of ways, your chances of injury are drastically slashed.
For more health wisdom from Eastern philosophies and the Urban Monk, keep reading here:
What is Feng Shui? (and how to improve your life with it!)
Here’s Why You Should Try Tai Chi (meditation in motion!)
Chaga Mushroom: Looks Ain’t Everything! (3 Incredible Health Benefits + A Tea Recipe)