Functional Fitness is one of the latest workout buzzwords, but what is it and how can it help you meet your health goals?
Designed to target the muscle groups that you need for your daily tasks, the functional fitness trend grew, in part, from a troubling phenomenon. People who had impressively “gym fit” bodies were still reporting discomfort and even injury after performing routine daily tasks. Normal activities such as bending to empty the dishwasher or lifting their children out of car seats, along with heavier, seasonal chores such as raking leaves or shoveling snow were still causing injuries to otherwise fit people.
In fact, physical therapists have determined that in the rush to build impressive “six pack” abs and firm backsides, fitness buffs forget what they actually need their bodies to do on a day-to-day basis.
It’s Not Just for Those Already Fit
Another group too often neglected by those planning workout regimes are seniors and other people with balance issues. A good “functional fitness” plan, therefore, is one which helps train muscle groups to maintain a firmer center of gravity when in precarious situations.
As a result, the topic of functional fitness is emerging as a way of training many different kinds of people to work on not just individual "problem" spots, but on whole groups of muscles and joints needed for everyday functions. It also gets you moving!
Functional Fitness Classes
Trainers are increasingly adding the phrase “functional fitness” into their class descriptions, and in many cases the designation is justified. Pilates and yoga, for example, have always focused on working large groups of muscles in order to increase balance, strength and flexibility. However, if you see a class simply labeled “functional fitness” and want to verify that it will be useful to you in your daily life, here’s what to look for:
- A variety of provided equipment such as steps or risers, along with weights, stability balls and balance-trainer domes.
- Attention to proper stretching at the beginning and/or the closing of the class.
- Moves that work large muscle groups, including your core, arms and lower body.
- Adequate time spent on cardio.
- Exercises designed to incorporate balance training.
If you aren’t ready to commit to a class, you can always add moves to your current regimen and maybe tackle even more in the future. You’ll be relieved to know that many of those classic moves from your high school gym class -- as well as your old “feel the burn” videos -- were “functional fitness” before functional fitness was cool.
The iconic squat move, for example, not only makes for a shapely backside, but also works on the muscles you need for picking up things on the ground, as well and moving painlessly from a sitting position to standing. The classic lunge is also great to prep you for heavy-duty chores -- just make sure to alternate sideways and backward lunges with the more traditional forward lunge. And stepping onto a stair or riser while doing bicep curls will also combine major muscle groups and cardio, for the ultimate in functional fitness.