What makes more sense — being really good at pushing a weight directly upward while laying flat on your back, or having the strength and endurance for activities such as kayaking, backpacking or rock climbing? Or how about simply building up your body to prevent injuries?
Functional fitness is the concept of focusing on exercises that make it easier and safer to do various tasks ranging from contact sports to chores around the house. It’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from pumping iron to get a hot beach body. Sure, a guy with the rippling biceps may be able to curl a ton of weight, but he’s less likely to have the balance, strength, endurance and coordination needed for movements involving more than one muscle group.
While a bicep curl is a classic part of any workout, a functional fitness exercise for the biceps would be underhanded pull-ups. Not only do these pull-ups work the biceps, but they also strengthen the upper back. Another good example of a functional fitness exercise is a tricep dip. Rather than isolate the triceps with an arm extension, tricep dips work the triceps, back and shoulders. Squats are great functional fitness moves, as they work the legs and glutes. Combine a squat with lightweight dumbbells held out front or overhead, and you work even more of the body with a single move.
Functional fitness is great for people of all ages and abilities. People who are new to fitness can strengthen their bodies and gradually ramp up their workouts while minimizing the risks of injury. Meanwhile, seasoned athletes can incorporate functional fitness to increase their proficiency in their sports of choice. Runners can do lunges to strengthen their cores and lower bodies, while football players can do burpees to strengthen their upper- and lower-body explosiveness. Athletes who are recovering from injuries are regularly given functional fitness rehabilitation workouts by their physical therapists.
As stated earlier, functional fitness isn’t just for athletes. These moves can also help people do things like bend over, carry groceries, climb stairs and lift heavy objects with less difficulty. Parents who engage in functional fitness exercises may have more energy and ability to play harder with their kids, and elderly people who do these exercises are less likely to suffer catastrophic falls. There’s never a point at which these exercises take on less meaning.
You don’t have to look hard for direction if you want to get started with functional fitness. Many personal trainers are adopting functional fitness mentalities, and workout classes in activities such as yoga and Zumba fall under the functional fitness umbrella. Cross fit is a great alternative for more hardened athletes who really want to push their fitness to the next level. Martial arts, boxing and various sports all incorporate elements of functional fitness, too. No matter your fitness goals or athletic ability, you can benefit from incorporating functional fitness exercises into your daily workout routine.