Functional training or functional exercises is simply any type of workout that adapts exercises that allows you to perform activities that you are involved with on a daily basis without risk or injury.
Many people do 20 minutes of HIIT every other day but this doesn’t necessarily prepare you to lift a 50 pound bag of groceries without throwing your back out.
Functional fitness is about training your body so that it can handle those day to day real life activities, like carrying groceries, picking up your child or throwing a ball to your active puppy.
So, rather than aiming at lifting a certain amount of weight or fixating on a certain exercise– although there is nothing wrong with that – functional fitness trains us to be at ease with real life positions and to carry out everyday activities that we have.
FF Gets Your Muscles Working Together
We know that typical weight training or strength training workouts isolates specific muscles but doesn’t train the body to use your muscle groups together. Functional exercise does this. It integrates the muscle system and teaches them to work together using proper form and motion.
The result is greater fitness to the entire body with your muscles working together.
FF Improves Our Balance
One of our fundamental needs we have is the need for daily balance. Unfortunately weightlifting, weight machines and compound exercises neglect this requirement. For instance balance training using a one legged squat is more useful for everyday life than pressing 250 kilos or 551 pounds.
Stability is what serves your daily life, like when you need to reach for something in a high cupboard or walking up and down stairs.
Our balance system when working properly not only helps us with things like walking and reaching for something it also helps us see clearly while moving, orients us when it comes to staying up-right, assessing speed of movement and making adjustments to our posture and stabilizes us while conducting daily activities.
Balance serves us when we are young and as we age as it makes us stronger, more stable and so allows us to avoid falls. Something that is very important as we age.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention one out of five falls cause serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury; and over 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for all injuries. Falls, due to lack of balance, can ultimately lead to death in many instances.
According to the Government of Canada falls are the leading cause of injury among older Canadians. It is estimated that 20-30% of older people experience one or more falls each year and falls cause 85% of seniors’ injury-related hospitalizations, 95% of all hip fractures and billions of dollars each year in healthcare costs.
FF Reduces Isolated Muscle Weakness
Typical strength training workouts strengthen certain muscles, like legs and torso, but may neglect to train others which means that when you use them together to perform daily activities one works harder than the other and could cause unnecessary injury.
What is happening here is that strength training workouts cause isolated muscle weakness in the body that becomes detrimental to everyday movement.
The difference here is that Functional Fitness exercises teach those isolated muscles to work together thus avoiding muscle strain when picking up a suitcase or your child or reaching for something high up on a shelf.
Now when you include exercises such as bending, pushing, pulling, lifting, sitting, reaching, balancing and twisting and those things that copy your daily activities in your workouts, you are engaging your core muscles while at the same time targeting other muscles in your body, thus providing an overall ‘functional’ state of fitness.
Not only does functional training reduce isolated muscle weakness it also mitigates bone loss and prevents osteoporosis because you are moving your body that supports your body weight. When you engage your body’s stabilizers through multi-joint and multi-plane movements you improve coordination and challenge your brain which in the end serves you well to cope with your daily activities.
9 Ways To Go About Your Functional Workouts
There are several components to functional workouts that make them more effective, but you need to adapt them to your specific goals and needs. Here are 9 ways to tackle your functional workouts.
Direct your workouts to your specific everyday life activities.
Tailor your program to your specific goals and needs. For example your goals and needs may change if your are over 60 and want to avoid falls, or you just want to improve your daily performance, or you are training in a specific sport, or you are engaged in physical therapy and retraining your body. Make sure though that you are focusing on meaningful day to day tasks.
Assess your overall state of health when considering the types of exercises to use and the toll they will take on your body.
Integrate your training program to include power, strength, balance and core exercises that aims at multiple movement planes.
Progress at a rate that allows for increased difficulty.
Vary your exercise related to varying tasks.
Conduct FF training on a regular basis.
Conduct FF exercises either at home by yourself or in a gym with others
Seek feedback by doing your own self-assessment or from a physical trainer or therapist.
10 Functional Exercises You Can Employ
General Exercises. Includes any exercises that involves standing on two feet and supporting yourself while lifting various weights.
Balance Exercises. Different balance exercises without weights that teach the body to stabilize itself for example: standing on one foot, walking heel to toe for 20 steps, steading yourself against a wall for support, walking normally in a straight line, one legged squat.
Exercise Ball. An exercise ball targets your core muscles that are important for stability and good posture for example from the easiest to more advanced:, do a 30 minute sit, ball march, ball squat and sit-ups.
BOSU Ball. Unlike the exercise ball the BOSU ball has a round side and a flat side. It is somewhat more challenging as it has an element of instability to each workout and forces you to remain steady.
Bend Over Row. This exercise mimics life activities by working the back, arm and shoulder muscles. Think sawing a piece of wood, making a bed, repairing a car, plugging in electronics, tying your shoes.
Multidirectional Lunges. This exercise challenges and conditions the lower body in all planes of movement and is used for stability and muscle strengthening.
Step-Ups. A great exercise by just going up and down stairs or standing in place using a stool.
Chin Ups and Pull Ups. Pull ups focus on your back and shoulder muscles while chin ups focus on your biceps.
Single Legged Deadlift. Aides in strengthening hips, knees, ankles and lower back and building strong, stable injury resistant legs. You can use single legged Deadlift with or without dumbbells. Simply bend over straight, stand on one leg, lift the other leg strait behind you, and face your arms downward.
Walking. Walking is an easy functional exercise. Walk with increasing your gait at a comfortable rate, walk straight with arms swinging. An alternative is marching.
Let’s Get Started with Functional Fitness
A cautionary note here. If you are over 40 or have health problems you should check with your doctor before beginning functional or any other type of exercise program. Pregnant women should also consult their doctor as well.
When you are starting out with functional training it is better to begin with bodyweight exercises instead of using weights. Bodyweight workouts are exercise routines that use your own bodyweight to create resistance, flexibility, endurance and coordination. Push-ups are an example of a bodyweight exercise. As you become more fit you can add weights which will add more resistance and in turn you will be more challenged.
If you are an experience fitness individual you can advance to more intermediate and advanced level moves in functional training. If you are just starting out, start slow and gradually progress to the intermediate and advanced stages.
Functional Fitness training that focuses on functional moves also targets strength training, fat burning and heart health so choosing a specific functional exercise has many advantages than those identified earlier.
If you are interested in getting started with functional fitness consider: Watching You Tube videos which will help you at various stages along your way; hiring a professional trainer who can teach you moves, proper form and developing a customized workout plan based on your needs, goals and lifestyle.
Functional Fitness Training requires dedication and consistency, but it is easier on your body and allows you to meet the physical functional realities of everyday life. Whatever you do to engage your body through functional exercise will do you in good stead. The beauty of this type of exercise is that you can do it at any age all the while improving your balance, strength and stability.
Thank you for reading
As Always Stay Safe, Keep Well and become the best you can be.