Functional exercises offer training for life

Paula Reece
Paula Reece

Think of the movements you go through every day: getting into and out of your car, reaching for an item on the top shelf at the grocery store, bending down to pick up a child. Most of the time, we don’t even think about these movements — until, that is, we can’t manage them with ease. This is where functional fitness exercises can help by training your muscles to handle everyday activities efficiently and safely.

Functional fitness training has become popular in training regimens. Personal trainers include this type of training in their client workouts. These types of exercises train your muscles to work together to simulate common movements. This is different from conventional strength training and working on isolated muscle groups.

Working a combination of muscle groups — your upper and lower body, for example — at the same time could duplicate the movement you make while lifting something off the floor. The exercise that might be performed for this movement would include a squat and then a bicep curl.

Functional fitness exercises concentrate not only on upper and lower muscle groups but also core muscles. The core muscles are those in your middle from your chest to your pelvic bone. By strengthening core muscles, you gain flexibility and stability. As your core strengthens, your balance and posture improve. Strong core muscles reduce injuries, promote stability and improve overall health.

Low-impact, functional fitness exercises can be performed by almost everyone, from beginners to athletes. Step-ups and lunges focus on balance. Try a lunge with hand weights where you step back instead of forward with hand weights. Develop core strength by performing sit-ups with a medicine ball you move from side to side. Use such props as weights, kettle bells, fitness balls, and aerobic steps. Many exercises can be performed without equipment, though, using only the resistance of your body weight.

These multi-joint and multi-muscle exercises are also used by athletes. Sports specific training can benefit from functional training as well.

Personal trainers often use a Bosu — both sides utilized — ball, which is rounded on one side and flat on the other. If you stand on the flat side, your core must be engaged to retain balance. Moving a weighted medicine ball from one side of your body to the other while standing on the ball simulates the movement in a golf swing. This can be used for many other sports as well, such as basketball and hockey.

The benefits of functional fitness training are numerous.  Think of it as life training that prepares you for your daily activities. Try adding these exercises to your own workout.