Functional Fitness

All fitness is functional.  All exercise is functional.

All exercise will help you do daily activities with greater ease, and therefore allow you to live a more full and adventurous life.

When most people see the words “functional fitness”, one of two things usually comes to mind:

  • Some type of circus-act exercise that makes you look absolutely ridiculous.
  • Exercise that looks exactly like the movement you will be doing in life.

We have all seen the crazy circus-type exercises on social media. Cringe.  And I am sure you have seen our commercial, where you will see people doing exercises that mimic everyday activities.

Sled pushes will help you mow the lawn, but so will any well-rounded fitness program that includes general lower body, upper body, and core strength exercises.  Landmine squats with a press will help you lift your child over your head, but so will dumbbell presses and squats, performed independently as part of a complete workout plan. Farmer’s carries will help you carry your groceries, but so will planks or chin-ups.  What we are trying to say is – full disclosure – the people in that video do other exercises too! And those other exercises are no less functional than the exercises they so expertly demonstrate for us on camera.

Functional fitness is typically considered to be less about isolation and more about integration –   all the body parts and systems working together seamlessly to accomplish a task. The more you can train your body to work as a whole, the more you will benefit in everyday life and the more injury-resistant you will be.  When you work your entire body in multiple directions of movement and ranges of motion, you can avoid overuse injury in a single direction or range and instead allow your body to be strong and functional in all of them. This style of training prepares you for anything unexpected that might occur in your day-to-day life. It’s about being proactive, rather than reactive.

Isolation exercises such as bicep curls are often criticized for not being ‘functional’, but if your biceps are a weak link in the chain of your body, then they might be an incredibly functional exercise for you. What counts as functional exercise all comes down to the individual – what is functional for one person might not be for another.  Getting an assessment from a qualified trainer to find anything that may be preventing your body from working as a strong, complete unit – and finding out what exercises are therefore ‘functional’ for you – is a great idea.  Eliminate the guessing game, save time and invest in a proper program (Shameless plug: svptfitness.com)

All consistent fitness and exercise will help you fend off those injuries that happen simply because your body is not strong enough or fit enough to handle the activities you are trying to do every day.  For some, like an older population, that means preventing falls and creating physical independence, and for the younger population that might be preventing a knee blowout at a weekend flag football game, or on that impromptu ski trip.

Finally, functional fitness is a bit more fun and a lot less boring than bicep curls!  Exercises that tend to involve more movement, in multiple directions and range of motion, can add more challenge. Because let’s face it, moving all the parts of your body at once is harder! Think about a bear crawl – fun but hard, and working EVERYTHING – co-ordination, legs, shoulders, arms and all the core in the land.  Does a bear crawl translate into everyday activity? Not straight across (unless you have to bear crawl for a living), but all the things happening when you are doing it will help you – carry groceries, play with your kids, go for a hike, help a friend move…all that great stuff.

So is running on the treadmill or sitting on the bike functional fitness?  YES! Cardiovascular health is super important for heart health and the ability to be able to sustain physical activity and daily activities longer (i.e. mowing the lawn without breaks ). Is chest and bicep day functional fitness?  YES! If upper body strength is your weak link, chest and bi’s will certainly help you in that regard. Of course, what would be even more optimal would be to include additional training that ties those muscles in with the rest of your body.

The takeaway point is – all fitness is functional and all fitness will improve your quality of life!

Shara Vigeant, BA, CPT, CFSC