Chances are you don't live to exercise. For many people, exercise is a way to maintain or improve their quality of life. And that's the focus of functional fitness.
Functional fitness exercises are designed to train and develop your muscles to make it easier and safer to perform everyday activities, such as carrying groceries or playing a game of basketball with your kids.
Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability.
For example, a squat is a functional exercise because it trains the muscles used when you rise up and down from a chair or pick up low objects. By training your muscles to work the way they do in everyday tasks, you prepare your body to perform well in a variety of common situations.
Functional fitness exercises can be done at home or at the gym. For example, you can use resistance bands or dumbbells at home, or do body weight movements such as pushups, situps, planks and squats.
Gyms may offer functional fitness classes. Or they may incorporate functional fitness into boot camps or other class types. They may include high-intensity functional training, in which you do a variety of functional movements at a high intensity. Exercises may include aerobic exercises, body weight movements and weightlifting. Exercise tools, such as fitness balls, kettlebells and weights, are often used in functional fitness workouts.
Functional exercises tend to use multiple joints and numerous muscles. Instead of only moving the elbows, for example, a functional exercise might involve the elbows, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles. This type of training, properly applied, can make everyday activities easier, help reduce your risk of injury and improve your quality of life.
Functional exercise training may be especially beneficial as part of a comprehensive program for older adults to improve balance, agility and muscle strength, and reduce the risk of falls.
Comprehensive physical movements found in activities such as tai chi and yoga involve varying combinations of resistance and flexibility training that can help build functional fitness.
Other examples of specific functional fitness movements that use multiple joints and muscles include:
- Multidirectional lunges
- Standing row
Multidirectional lunges help prepare your body for common activities, such as vacuuming and yardwork. To do a lunge, keep one leg in place and step out with the other leg — to the front, back or side — until your knee reaches a 90-degree angle and your rear knee is parallel to the floor.
If you haven't exercised for some time or if you have health problems, it's a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program. Similarly, if you're pregnant, check with your doctor. Moderate activity is generally safe during pregnancy if you're healthy, but your doctor can assess what's best for you.
It's also a good idea to start with body weight exercises. As you become more fit and ready for more of a challenge, you can add more resistance such as weights or resistance bands. But be careful not to add too much resistance to exercises that require high impact, as this places joints and soft tissues at more risk if these exercises aren't performed optimally. Performing movements in the water is a low impact way of achieving functional exercise.
As you add more functional exercises to your workout, you should see improvements in your ability to perform your everyday activities and in your quality of life. That's quite a return on your exercise investment.