What is Functional Fitness?

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Definition of Functional Fitness

Functional training is a style of exercise which involves training the body for daily life activities. These exercises equip your body to handle real-life situations.

Most functional exercises contain multi-joint movements. What do I mean by that? I mean that in most functional exercises, you’ll probably use your knees, your hips, and possibly even your shoulder joints. It all comes down to being practical.

The “Core” of Functional Style

Practicality is at the core of functional fitness. I would NOT consider a bench press a functional exercise because, let’s face it, how often do we find ourselves flat on our back having to push something up. Unless we’re Christian Bale in Batman Begins and have to bench press a burning beam to save Wayne Manor, we don’t have much use for it in most circumstances.

A great example of a functional exercise would be a simple squat. How often do you squat to get into your car? To use the bathroom? To sit down and stand up? According to our definition of functional training: a squat may arguably be the most functional exercise.

Why Should I Try Functional Fitness?

1. Increased Balance and Stability

There are plenty of things in life that can throw off your balance or stability. It’s important to emulate these things in the gym so we can prepare ourselves for the outside world. Remember, a truly fit lifestyle is not about how fit we look, it’s about how fit we live. What good is working out if it doesn’t prepare us and strengthen us for every day activities?

A great example of a functional exercise that increases stability is a lunge with a shoulder press. If you ever find yourself reaching for a box above the cabinet or a shelf and then walking backwards after you grab it, you’ll be glad you practiced this exercise.

2. Increased Strength

Functional exercises increase your strength.  This is because most functional exercises can increase your core strength and stability. The more stable your foundation, the stronger you are.

Most exercises on machines have a great purpose and isolate your muscles. This is excellent for mass building, but if you want to increase your strength, you should build the stability muscles. By increasing your core strength and surrounding muscles, you can go up on your maximum weight for those isolating exercises.

We rarely encounter isolating movements in our day-to-day life. If I’m shoveling dirt in my flower bed, I’m not just using my biceps and my triceps to move the shovel. I’m using my legs (quads) to push the shovel, my lower back to bend over and lift, and my arms and abs to move the dirt away.

3. Decreased Risk of Injury

Functional exercises can greatly decrease your risk of injury in the outside world. In my time in the fitness industry, I have never seen one person injured by a proper deadlift or a squat. I have, however, seen plenty of people who have been injured picking up a brick, a potted plant, or lifting soil bags and throwing out their back.

These injuries occur to your smaller muscles when you least expect it. A great exercise to equip you for these movements is a Lateral Shuffle Bar Pickup (see description below). This will help you train for the simple movement of picking something up and moving it over.

How to Incorporate Functional Fitness?

I like to incorporate functional exercises in every workout I do. I’ll either do an entire workout with functional exercises, like the one below, or I’ll do a few functional exercises in every workout.

Full Body Functional Fitness Workout

Here’s a full body workout using functional exercises! Enjoy your workout!

  1. 3 sets of 15 squat-to-shoulder press
    This can be done with a barbell or dumbbells. Remember to keep the bar or dumbbells close to your shoulders as you squat and press up at the top of each squat.
  2. 3 sets of 12 lunge-to-shoulder press with kettlebell (each leg and shoulder)
    Core balance is key on this one. Make sure to move slowly so that you can keep your balance. Engage your core, and press up at the top of each lunge. Start with little weight until you get the hang of this one.
  3. 3 sets of 12 suitcase deadlifts (each side)
    Engage your core as you stand up and press your hips forward as your body fully extends.
  4. 3 sets of 12 single-armed cable row
    It helps to bend the knees for balance on this one. Remember to keep yourself from leaning forward or backward. Engage your core and squeeze your shoulder blades together as they contract.
  5. 3 sets of 20 sumo high pull with kettlebell
    Assume a sumo wrestler position, keep your butt lower than your back, and pull the kettlebell up at the top of each squat. Don’t let your elbows go higher than your shoulders.
  6. 3 one-minute rounds of lateral shuffle bar pickup
    Lay the body bar or barbell on the ground, pick it up, and shuffle two steps to the side before placing it down. Repeat. This is a cardio activity as well, so make sure to give it your best for the full minute of your set.

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Luke Andrus is certified personal trainer, writer, folk music drummer, husband, and a father. Most of his writing experience is in poetry and fictional short stories, and he also proposed to his wife with a self-published children's book. He is a Narnia nerd with a degree in History, a minor in English, and a semi-obsession with the French language. He believes that fitness is not just about vanity, but about lifestyle, integrity, and the ability to take control of your life.

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