Many of us enjoy working out to achieve a summer beach body or look our very best when walking down the aisle but embracing year-round functional fitness for real-life situations is far more useful.
Ensuring that we’re strong enough to lift shopping bags and agile enough to comfortably reach for items at height, working out for functionality makes daily activities easier while bringing all the other benefits of regular exercise.
Instead of exclusively using machines at the gym, for example, functional training typically involves standing on two feet and teaching your muscles to work together through a range of motion.
Here CashLady looks at functional fitness and working out for real-life situations.
What is functional fitness?
Functional fitness is working out in ways that will help you in your daily life, preparing your body for the range of movement experienced in all situations, not just ones encountered at the gym.
This type of exercise should challenge balance and coordination while improving strength and range of motion.
Improving your functional fitness will help you perform activities more easily, from lifting shopping bags up the stairs, to picking up your toddler out of their car seat and tending to the garden.
Working out for functional fitness
Functional fitness is training in a way that requires your muscles to work together, just like they do when you’re out in the real world.
Instead of isolating one muscle group at a time, like with conventional weight training, functional training uses more muscle groups by adopting primal movements that require your muscles to work in harmony.
It means moving away from the weights machines and adopting exercises that ask more of your body and core stability.
Functional fitness in action
It’s helpful to look at a common exercise performed at the gym two different ways, as explained by exercise kinesiologist Paul Chek, MSS, founder of the Corrective High-performance Exercise Kinesiology Institute in California.
A bent over row performed over a bench using weights will see you hold the weight in one hand with your arm hanging down then pulling the weight up as your elbow points to the ceiling, finishing with your upper arm parallel to the ground.
This is a dynamic move that builds muscle in the back, shoulders and arms and works the whole body.
Outside of the gym, we can see a carpenter repeating a similar motion over a piece of wood, a nurse bending over a bed and moving a patient, a mechanic working on a car.
Contrast that with a seated row on one of the machines at the gym. Here you’re sitting in a chair with your chest pressed against pads, pulling two levers back.
While you may be strengthening certain muscles, your body’s not learning anything, because you don’t have to activate your core stabiliser muscles or the stabilisers of your arms and shoulders.
“In functional fitness, most of the time, you should be standing on your own two feet and supporting your own weight when you lift anything,” says Chek.
Getting started with functional fitness
Working out using functional exercises can feel very challenging at first as you are required to engage several muscles at one time while asking more of your brain.
Begin without using any weights and focus on bodyweight exercises that challenge your balance and exploit your range of motion.
Adding range of motion and planes of motion
Mike Donavanik, writing for Greatist, suggests adding a range of motion and planes of motion to standard exercises, such as squats and lunges.
Instead of squatting until your legs are parallel with the ground, for example, try going further down into a deep squat, which increases the range of motion in your hips.
Instead of simple front lunges, try reverse lunges with an overhead reach or a reaching side lunge to increase the range of motion while working in different planes of motion.
Add rotational movements into your workouts too as this help keep your spine healthy and limber and develop core strength throughout the entire abdominal wall.
Donavanik recommends that functional movements should make up 25 to 40 percent of your workout session.
By working out in this way you’ll see improvements in strength, stamina, and your performance in everyday activities.