Functional fitness is an emerging trend in fitness and health. Exercises are meant to mimic activities of daily living to improve quality of life while also improving health. It focuses more on improving balance, flexibility, stability, coordination, agility and endurance rather than strengthening single muscles. Sure, a person may have bragging rights that they can bench press 400 pounds and curl 100 pounds, but can they balance on one foot and lift something heavy off the top shelf in the garage without losing balance? Can they sprint 50 yards after their dog that has broken off their leash? Can they shovel snow off their driveway without throwing out their back or getting too winded to continue?
Weight training is great for muscle tone, hypertrophy, and bone strength, but it is not the only way to exercise. We live in a three-dimensional world, and traditional weight training is two-dimensional; forward-backward and up-down. Weight machines make sure that your two dimensional workout is completely stable; you are working on a fixed course. There is no wiggle room, even if your range of motion differs from that of the idealized machine. At least with free weights you have to stabilize the weights yourself. We still need to add that element of side-to-side, or rotation, to get a complete workout.
What are examples of functional exercises?
Exercises that combine muscle groups and work multiple joints are considered functional. Incorporating medicine balls, stability balls, resistance bands and free weights will challenge your body. Think of an exercise that may be taxing on the body and try to imitate it. Chopping wood is a difficult task, so to emulate it, take a medicine ball and perform rotations with it. Chop from high to low, or diagonally across your body. Perform free weight exercises on one leg or on a balance pad to train stability of the knees, ankles and core. Perform push-ups on a medicine ball or squats with a shoulder press.
Great for older adults too!
The The American Council on Exercise performed a study that involved older adults performing functional exercises such as wall push-ups and lunge and chops for three days per week for four weeks. They were compared to a control group that did traditional exercises. The functional group had significant improvements in lower and upper body strength, cardiorespiratory endurance, agility and dynamic balance.
Are functional workouts the only way to go? Should you abandon all thoughts of traditional weight training? Of course not! You need to know your goals. If you want to be a body builder, or increase tone of specific muscles, then two-dimensional, single-joint exercises need to be incorporated. Just don’t forget about functionality. Substitute a day of training with functional fitness to improve your daily lifestyle, overall fitness level, and health!
Jacqueline Stenson, “Fitness that functions like you do,” Smart Fitness on MSNBC.com
The American Council on Exercise, “Exclusive ACE study proves functional fitness really works: Older adults reep significant benefits in less than a month”