FUNctional Fitness

Anyone can practice functional fitness

Make Your Workouts Work For You

According to the Canada Food Guide, adults should try to accumulate 150 minutes of physical activity each week (roughly 30 minutes a day). And, there are many benefits to exercise, such as better heart health, mental health, sleep, and so much more! Unfortunately, workouts are not created equally and some are just too demanding. That’s why I wrote this article about the importance of functional fitness at every stage of life.

What is Functional Fitness?

That’s the question we’re all asking, right?

Well, even when we don’t exercise, we are all active. Maybe you have a child (or pet) that you pick up regularly. Perhaps you store your slow cooker on the top shelf of the cupboard. There are times you may have to get up off the floor or sit down on a chair.

Unfortunately, if these are the only times we use these muscle groups, we can get injured. Our risk of injury increases as we get older, which is why you hear so many 30-somethings complaining that they hurt their back “sleeping funny”. Have you ever pulled a muscle while turning in your desk chair? Or maybe your shoulder got a twinge the last time you reached up to that high shelf?

Therefore, functional fitness is simple – it is an exercise routine that prepares you for the demands of everyday life.

According to fitness experts, “functional fitness seeks to build strength, flexibility, and balance for navigating the physical world and the objects in it“.

How is it Different From Other Exercises?

Why is functional fitness different? Why is it better? Who is it for?

So many questions, and so little time.

The Difference

Firstly, functional fitness is different from traditional weight-lifting exercises because it works groups of muscles in practical ways, rather than isolating a single muscle (like a bicep) on a machine. This improves stability, and helps prepare you for movements in the “real world”.

For example, when we are lifting grocery bags onto the counter, we are doing a movement that is similar to a bicep curl, but we are using our shoulders, backs, and maybe even legs to lift those bags filled with canned tomatoes.

This creates strength that is based on reality.

Is it Better?

Likewise, I would argue that functional fitness IS better for the average person because it prepares that average person for their own life.

There is a time and a place for any exercise, but when you are Stephanie, mom of three, who has to carry soccer ball bags back from practice? Functional fitness is right for you.

Functional fitness was also for me the other day when I had to climb down, and then up again, 14 flights of stairs when there was a fire alarm in my apartment building! Carrying a cat in his carrier!

And, don’t get me wrong. You can amp up the intensity of functional fitness as you would any workout! You can increase resistance with weights and bands, and you can challenge yourself with real-world obstacles. Therefore, functional fitness is even appropriate for Josh, the buff travel nurse who regularly has to lift patients.

Who is it For?

Functional fitness allows you to engage in daily movement without hurting yourself.
Photo by Liuba Bilyk

Another plus of functional fitness?

You can do it anywhere, any time. Many of the exercises rely on body weight (push-ups, planks, squats), and the only additional equipment you might need are some dumbbells or maybe resistance bands (depending on your preference).

If you don’t have dumbbells? Well, remember all those canned tomatoes you just bought? You can always hold onto them for some extra resistance in the meantime.

And, just like you can do functional fitness anywhere, anyone can do it! Sure, you may have to start with kneeling push-ups, or maybe you can only do five squats. But you can do it! At any age! And, there are many ways to adapt movements if you have sore knees or an injured shoulder.

What Does Functional Fitness Look Like?

Okay, so I’ve droned on about how amazing functional fitness is, but you’re probably curious what the average workout looks like.

Functional fitness is based on 6 foundational movements:

  1. Squat
  2. Lunge
  3. Hinge
  4. Push
  5. Pull
  6. Carry

Squat movements can include, you guessed it, squats! But also sitting in a chair and crouching to pick something up.

Lunges, again, are pretty basic. There are countless variations of lunges that you can do based on your skill level. Step-ups and step-downs (any movement similar to climbing the stairs) can also help build these muscles.

Hinge movements refer to when we hinge at the hips to pick something up from the ground. Therefore, deadlifts are a critical aspect of building these muscles.

Push exercises can include things like bench presses, as well as push-ups! Again, these exercises are very easy to adapt based on your strength levels. Other movements can include various shoulder presses (reaching for, or taking things down from high cupboards).

Pull movements are associated with “rows”. A basic row involves using your back muscles to pull something towards your body. When I was pulling weeds last week, I was doing an awful lot of “rowing” movements. Pull-ups are also associated with this basic movement.

We all know what it’s like to carry things. Say you are carrying your groceries inside, a suitcase to the car, or a wailing child from a birthday party. That walking movement while holding a weight is critical for building stabilization and proper form to prevent injuries. I suggest starting with the suitcase before tackling the wailing child.

Maui from Moana is an example of what functional fitness looks like!
Maui, from Disney’s Moana, is an example of what functional fitness looks like! True strength does not look like the “shredded” superhero, and it’s important to keep in mind that a lean body type does not denote fitness.

Functional Fitness Workouts

It is easy enough to find functional fitness workouts online. Resources like Nerd Fitness and Girls Gone Strong are great for learning the basics behind building your own exercise program.

You can also seek out a personal fitness trainer who is trained to understand and meet your fitness needs! In the world of COVID-19, it’s especially easy to find online resources that are right for you.

At the end of the day, I believe that we all want to be strong and capable people. Functional fitness is just one aspect of that.

So what’s stopping you?

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